I'm about half way through Michaele Weissman's new book God In A Cup, which chronicles the rise of direct trade coffee relations in general and specifically the roles played by Intelligentsia, Counter Culture, and Stumptown. At times the prose it too clever for its own good (i.e., song titles and lyrics are worked into descriptions of people and situations), but overall it does a solid job of describing the work that goes into delivering a coffee like the Nicaragua Los Delerios to market. The book has flown pretty much under the radar (unless you are in the coffee trade). As one of our customers pointed out this morning, Salon.com has a new interview is Weissman up that is worth reading. There's also an extended audio interview with her over on the coffeegeek.com website.
With an onslaught of new coffees about to be released by our roaster, we've cooked up a coffee cup-off to pick what we'll be featuring on Volta's daily coffee menu. Think of it as a world cup head's up competition of coffee origin, where you are the winner because we'll be featuring the coffees picked by our customers as the best-of-lot. This week's cupping will be on Sunday, 29 June, at 3pm and will feature Nicaragua vs. Colombia vs. Panama. We have more information about our cuppings on the special events page.
We had eleven people turn out on a blustry Sunday afternoon for the cupping. Third place in the cupping: Panama El Machete, with two votes for best-on-the-table. Everyone liked the cured tobacco, fig, and orange peel that turned up in the fragrance/aroma section of the cupping, but El Machete's assertive sharpness and winey, off-sour finish wasn't what the day's cuppers were looking for.
Second place, with three votes: Nicaragua Los Delirios. Everyone liked the thick body and the walnut-spice aroma, but today's Los Delirios exhibited a slightly dry, smokey aftertaste that people either loved or hated. Among the three who place it at the top, it was by far the most complex and interesting coffee on the table.
And the winner of the first round of Volta's World Cupping with a tally of six first-place votes: Colombia Tres Santos, from Huila. On the fragrance and aroma section of the cupping, we found hints of dried flowers, lime custard, and hot sweet bread. When it came to the slurp, everyone was knocked out by the green apple tart flush at first taste, the lingering bright, ripe sweetness, and the slightly leathery/woody notes of the off-dry finish.
The Tres Santos will go head-to-head with the Nicaragua Finca San Jose and the Tanzania Edelweiss Finagro Estate in next Sunday's cupping.
Our customers often ask me why we decided to partner with Intelligentsia and not a regional roaster. For me, it comes down to two reasons: the quality of the coffee and the positive impact that Intelligentsia has on its partner-farmers. Intelligentsia doesn't try to stock coffees from every possible growing region year-round. Instead, they stress freshness of crop (by not warehousing large amounts of last year's crop) and care in mastering the roasting of a few coffees at a time. It can be maddening at times; just when we dialed in the Panama El Machete we discover that they only brought in 50-some bags and are already sold out for the year (but not before we picked up one more order for ourselves-- we'll have it for at least another ten days). As one of our customers said, at Volta you have to learn to practice Buddhist non-attachment: just as you come to love a specific coffee, you have to let it go to make way for the next experience.
Los Delirios is exactly the sort of coffee that shows Intelligentsia at its best. It is one of those coffees that has a great story behind it. The coffee is the product of the work of the families of Daniel, Milton, and Donald Canales in the Nicaraguan town of Jinotega. Intelligentsia's Geoff Watt's explains the history behind the coffee:
Los Delirios comes with quite a pedigree, hard-earned through a particular focus on details at the farm and a visible dedication to continuous improvement of the farm infrastructure. Our first experience with this farm was in 2004 when it took first place in the Cup of Excellence competition, making history by becoming the first certified organic coffee to win a CoE event. It was a victory for organic coffees worldwide as there has long been a misconception within the industry that organic coffees are not quite of the same caliber as traditionally grown beans when it comes to cup quality. I had the fortune of being on the jury for that competition and remember well the excitement in the room when Los Delirios was announced as the top prize winner. It was completely electric, just like the coffee itself.
In addition to the coffees from Los Delirios, we also purchase coffee from the El Eden group whose members include three of Sr. Canales’s sons: Norman, Donald, and Milton. Each of the three manages his own small farm adjacent to Los Delirios. These farms were originally part of Los Delirios but were recently given their own names, and what we sell as Los Delirios is actually a combination of the best tasting coffees from the whole family and some close neighbors with whom they collaborate in El Eden. This year’s version is made up of coffees from La Florida (Sr. Benedicto Gonzales, member of the El Eden cooperative) and Las Termopilas (Milton Canales). The coffee is milled nearby by Prodecoop, one of the first coffee cooperatives in Nicaragua to really establish a quality reputation in the Specialty market. Their operation is gorgeous, and their success has made them a model for other cooperatives to follow.
Here's how the QC crew at Intelligentsia describes Los Delirios: Los Delirios ardently welcomes you with its buoyant acidity and creamy mouthfeel. Hints of honey dot across the palate as caramel and almond persist throughout. As the cup blossoms, snippets of fruit surface adding complexity to its clean body. Melted milk chocolate and fudge emerge in the finish lending to an overall impression of remarkable approachability and poise.
When we cupped the coffee today with our staff and customers, here's what ended up on the board: Fragrance/aroma of sweet orange, cedar, hickory, and roasted peanut shell; medium-high body; tastes of blood orange caramels, red grape, tobacco, and a pleasingly bitter aftertaste that gives a nice bite to the roundness of the flavors. The coffee sweetens as it cools, and a splash of cream brings out the fruit flavors.
BoingBoing.net just posted a very nice video tour of Intelligentsia's LA roasting works. The coffee used at Volta comes from the original Chicago roastery, but the BBtv piece provides a solid view into how the coffees we serve are crafted by the Intelli roast masters. We'll post part 2 of the video as soon as it is online:
Saturday, 21 June 2008; 11am
The wait is over: the summer coffee crops are on the way to Volta, and old favorites like Rwanda Zirakana and El Salvador Matalapa are being eased off the menu until next spring. With our next cupping we will be tasting the first two new coffees of the season: Intelligentsia's latest direct trade coffee from Panama, El Machete, and the Nicaragua Los Delirios.
The cupping is free and open to the public. No prior experience (beyond a love of coffee) is necessary; we'll provide instructions and guide the cupping from start to finish. A cupping is a structured tasting that is used in the specialty coffee industry to evaluate the quality of specific coffees, both in the field before auction/purchase and at the point of roasting to determine the best roast level. We'll start by evaluating the dry and wet aromas of the coffees, then move on to the "slurp" to develop an evaluation of each coffee's taste.
...and just to show that we're ahead of the curve, here's the NYTime's recent article on cupping events in New York. Be sure to watch the video of the cupping with the guys from 9th Street Espresso, in the East Village.
Our tea buyer assures us that the new crop Chinese green teas are on their way. While we wait for the samples to arrive, we've added two teas that are back in stock with our supplier:
Sencha is a classic Japanese bittersweet green tea from Japan with a grassy aroma and slightly nutty flavor, specifically one made without grinding the tea leaves. Our sencha is less aggressive in its bite than the karigane. 6oz pot, multiple infusions.
Intelligentsia's blend of peppermint, chamomile, and rose hips. Soothing, yet refreshing.
Here's where we really start geeking out over coffee, in a (hopefully) nerdy-but-interesting way. When you ask people "what makes espresso coffee espresso?," most are at a loss to really nail down a definition. It isn't the roast level; although certain Italian espresso roasts are on the dark side, the idea that espresso roasts need to be dark and oily is just a myth. There's more truth to the idea that espresso roasts are a blend, although you can argue all night long about just what comprises an espresso blend. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, an espresso blend is "any combination of 'single-origin' coffees. Because few single-origin coffees provide all the flavors and aromas necessary for good espresso, baristas often blend several coffees together to achieve the taste they desire." Most espresso roasts blend together at least two different origins (like blending an Ethiopian and a Brazilian); many espresso blends also include different roast levels for the individual origins.
Every so often, a single-origin coffee contains the right combination of flavors, acidity, and mouthfeel that it can be used to create a "single origin" espresso. Single origin can mean single country of origin (drawing from many farmers or regions), single geographic region within a country, or single growing cooperative. With Intelligentsia, it more often means a directly traded coffee that involves a single farmer's crop. To celebrate the amazing work of these farmers, Intelligentsia has created a new program called the Black Cat Project. From the Black Cat Project website:
This project is rooted in our belief that espresso brewing is still coffee brewing and that only the best coffees can make the best espressos. We want to push the boundaries on flavor. We want you to experience amazing single origin, Micro-Lot and seasonal espressos with truly distinct flavor profiles that reach far beyond “chocolate” or “caramel”.
A few weeks ago, Volta was able to acquire enough of the micro-lot Black Cat Project Finca Matalapa espresso to offer it as an extremely limited espresso. Our supply lasted for about a day and a half.
This morning we received enough of the Black Cat Project Bolivia Anjilanaka to be able to offer it as a choice for any of our espresso drinks for the next week. We have many, many fans of the Anjilanaka as we serve it as a brewed coffee from the Clover. It is an entirely different beast when developed as an espresso shot. Taken as a ristretto shot, the Anjilanaka has a malty-caramel sweetness ahead of a bright mango tartness. As a cappuccino or latte, the Anjilanaka takes on a profound almond-walnut flavor.
The Black Cat Project Bolivia Anjilanaka is available served as any of our espresso drinks for a 25-cent upgrade.
We're very excited by Intelligentsia's commitment to seasonality in their coffee offerings, but it means that familiar favorites will only be available for a month or two at a time. The upside is that new coffees are always appearing on the horizon. The first new coffee of the summer season is now available at Volta: the direct trade Panama El Machete. To quote from Intelligentsia's overview of the coffee,
El Machete bursts forth with notes of berry and candied maple without hesitation. Its body is round, buttery and smooth, complementing the acidity of sweet citrus fruits. The finish champions the juiciness of its acidity as cocoa notes surface in the finish in tandem with immensely tantalizing floral notes.
Our take on El Machete? Yowza! It is one of those coffees that elicits an immediate "I didn't know that coffee could taste like that." Or, as of of our barista says, "sharp and classy."
With a new offering from Nicaragua available to us next week, we'll be waiting a few more days before we schedule the next public cupping.
The Vosges Mo's Bacon Bar was one of the first chocolate bars to sell out at Volta. Really. There's much love for chocolate and bacon in Gainesville. As Aufeya would say, how can you go wrong with crunchy, bacon-y goodness mixed with a medium-dark chocolate. The bacon bar is back in stock, and we've added two flavors that didn't make it into our first stocking order. The Naga bar was named and inspired by the tribes of Northeast India. The Naga melds the flavors of toasted milk, sweet Indian curry, nutty coconut and an overall sensation of warm, rounded spice. Next up? The Woolloomooloo bar. As Vosges describes it, this chocolate bar is named after the famed suburb Woolloomooloo in Sydney and meant to honor the Aboriginal claim to the scrumptious macadamia nut. Hemp seeds are the true secret weapon in this bar—packed with essential fatty acids vital to your body. Boost your vanity too; hemp oil will provide softer skin, stronger nails and thicker hair. Shine inside and out.
We've also picked up a new assortment of the indulgent Vosges exotic caramels. This sampler includes the Brazil nut and cocoa nib caramel, the guajillo chile, licorice root, and pumpkin seed caramel, the Hawaiian red sea salt caramel, and the anise myrtle carmel.