Wednesday, October 8

Exploring the Dutch connection

Coffee has travelled round the world thanks initially to the Dutch and the sea trading rivalry typified by the days of the British East India Company and the VOC. It is a not too secret fact that my favourite coffees come from the Indonesian islands, from the chocolates of Java and organic earthiness of Sumatra to the soft herbals of Sulawesi. Coffees from this region are less promoted despite the term Java tending to be a generic term for any coffee in some countries, although with their heavier body and fuller flavours these really are great coffees at this time of year.

So it is that a comparison of three currently readily available supermarket coffees was deemed due and undertaken. The three coffees in question were Taylors Java Jampit, Union Handroasted Sumatra and Taylors Hot Lava Java. Buying your coffee in the supermarket comes with it's own pros and cons, but more and more space is being given to choice on the shelves and should not be ignored necessarily. That said, all links will take you direct to the roasters sites and not the supermarket, giving you the option of buying direct should you prefer!

First to taste was the Hot Lava Java - an absolutely awful name as far as I'm concerned but I won't deny that for most people it will help to capture their imagination and draw them in. The darker of the two Taylors coffees I was tasting this certainly had a distinct roastiness to it - think smoke and charcoal and you'll be along the right lines. In the same way that burning hickory on a barbecue can add flavour and character to your food, restricting the flow of smoke from the drum of your roaster can add character to a coffee.

The body was medium and exhibited a fairly clean finish which is less usual for Indonesian coffees though unfortunately I found this coffee too dark and slightly scorched (a sign generally of fast roasting giving the beans little time to develop flavour properly) - on closer inspection the addition of robusta for the caffeine levels probably necessitates this intensity in order to disguise the poor flavour and peanuttiness and it certainly has done that.

Drinking a coffee based on it's caffeine kick is, in my book akin to drinking alcohol based only on it's percentage and demotes a coffee to a gimmick. Flavour should always be first and foremost to a quality product though sadly it has its place in the current market.

Following on from such a dominant coffee is always tricky, though the Sumatra was up to the job. Less herbal than I was expecting but still exhibiting the dark, earthy notes that are the key characteristic in a good Sumatra, this is darkly roasted and compliments the heavier body well. Again slightly more roastiness is noticeable in this rather than just the flavours present in the bean, but this exhibits the roastmasters personality and taste rather than the need to cover anything up. Think of as an evening coffee with a good port or whisky (though my favourite would be an aged Rum) and you'll be along the right lines.

Lastly was the Taylors Limited edition Java Jampit. An actual estate rather than a funky marketing name, this coffee exhibited slightly more of the cocoa notes you'd expect to find in a Java, and despite being slightly lighter roasted than the other Java offering still had a touch of the roastiness about it. What was most pleasing with this coffee was the effect when it cooled, taking the edge of the roastiness and becoming much smoother with a slight buttery mouthfeel which would hint at lending itself to something cooler, perhaps with a simple vanilla or dark chocolate ice cream or classic syrup tart with cream.

All seemed to have that darker roast style generally favoured for the fuller bodied coffees and more favoured by American and American influenced coffee roasters. Adding a subtle level of sweetness to a coffee that does not have much in the way of acidity to mute in the first place is one of the things that draws me in to these coffees and makes them so rewarding, but sometimes it's worth seeking out something a little lighter to understand the character of the origin itself.

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Wednesday, September 24

Return of the Ugly

Earlier this year I talked about 'El Guabo' or 'the ugly' from Peru. It is hard to find a good Peruvian coffee but this has been an exception to that and one that I have been interested more in tasting throughout the year to see how the bean develops and if it fades at all.

I definitely feel it has softened in profile, and has lost a little of the sharpness to make itself an excellent Autumn coffee. This still works very well as an espresso coffee though now works better as a Cafetiere coffee and dare I say it will work excellently for those of you that drink with milk and sugar. A good strength of roast has left this as a beautiful coffee for me, but then I always was seduced by power in my coffee! Imagine this with a dark chocolate mousse while you're sat at home in the evening or outside watching the sun fade amongst the browning leaves on the trees, beautiful!

Introduced back in the 1700's as Typica to the upper mountains of Peru before cultivation in the 1850's by the Jesuits and later introduction of the Bourbon mutation in 1950 I've found good tobacco notes there, as well as body, though the El Guabo has a lighter body than you'd expect from something like Sumatra or Java which really helps to bring it to a wider market and make it slightly more versatile.

In the next couple of weeks I hope to have a bit of a session with some old and hopefully new favourites to compare, contrast and pair with foods - a new season is upon us and my thoughts have certainly started turning to a whole new (food) menu, and so, therefore coffee. There are also some very exciting African thoughts there floating around, more of which later too!

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