Since my passion for coffee is solidly evident, friends and acquaintances approach me asking me for recommendations, or a personal favorite of my own. The task can be a challenge. Coffee is produced in 62 countries and each one adds special characteristics that makes it unique. So how can you find that special coffee to call your own?
(Originally published in the Spring 2010 issue of Food & Dining)
There are so many variables that affect the development of coffee. Soil conditions, rainfall, eco-climates and processing methods all put their spin on how that coffee comes to the consumer.
Take South America. Coffee in this region has been grown for centuries, the soil has truly matured and the coffees become mild and medium bodied. Since the coffees have low acidity, they are excellent breakfast coffees with round full flavor. Colombian Supremo and Brazil Bourbon Santos are choices for the coffee drinker that enjoys coffee all day long.
Even though they are grown only a short distance away, the coffees from Central America differ from their southern “cousins”. They are grown at higher elevation with less tree cover, which gives them a unique sweetness. That, coupled with their balanced taste and full body flavor, makes Central American coffees some of the world most prized selections. In fact, coffees from Costa Rica, Guatemala, and El Salvador continually are found to be named some of the world’s best coffees. From the consistent quality of Costa Rica La Minta to the smokiness of Guatemala Anitigua, Central American coffees are rich and predictable.
It has been acknowledged that there are remarkable similarities between coffee and wine. Both are agricultural products, both have confined growing regions, they come in distinct varietals and can also be blended to form new products. The various varietals of both have distinct characteristics, yet weather conditions and soil conditions can greatly affect the end product. So using that parallel, Central and South American coffee can be likened to the Sauvignon blancs and Chardonnays.
Looking for the Pinot Noir of the coffee world? Go to the dark, mysterious continent of Africa. The characteristics of the coffees grown in East Africa are fruity with high acidity. Their floral and berry aromas make it the choice of coffee connoisseurs that desire a coffee that is complex and full of flavor.
Africa has produced coffee for a relatively shorter period of time, so the soil is rich and fertile. Like a Pinot Noir, the coffees are floral, complex and very smooth. For years Kenya AA has been a benchmark for coffee excellence. The coffees from Ethiopia; Yirgasheffe, Mocha Sidamo, and Harrar, are all valued for their “coffee roots heritage” – Ethiopia is the presumed cradle of coffee origin. Or explore the profiles of coffees from Zimbabwe and Tanzania, where the coffee plants are inter-cropped with bananas and breadfruit to incorporate some of those crops’ taste components. Truly for the coffee aficionado.
Some wine lovers enjoy the heavy, intense nose and flavor of a well-oaked Cabernet sauvignon. That same heavy and earthy profile can be found in Indonesian coffees. Since most of the Indonesian islands consist of volcanic soil, they produce coffee with intense, full-rounded flavors.
Coffees from this region are known for their rich, syrupy, almost thick, full-bodied taste. Much of the coffee produced is stored for over a year in open-air warehouses that subject them to monsoon rains and winds. Then the coffee is dried on clay or earthen drying floors, where they acquire deep clay and earthy traits. If you desire that type of coffee then Sumatra Mandheling will not disappoint you with its sweet, subtly rounded, and full-rounded taste. But not to be left out is Indian Malabar, with its full and aged mouth feel, along with Papuan Sigri and its balanced aroma and taste. All coffees from this region are excellent after-dinner coffees that accentuate desserts. They have enough body to hold up with rich and decadent chocolate. Currently these are my personal favorites.
Now if you really have deep pockets or if you are looking to reward yourself for any good deeds, then you can turn to two of the most publicized and expensive coffees to be found.
One is Jamaican Blue Mountain. Known for its rich, delicate flavor with nutty aftertones this coffee possesses a smoothness not to be duplicated. But buyers beware! Blue Mountain blends and styles are a common sight, but have very little if any actual Blue Mountain coffees. So make sure that your purchase is genuine and you will be rewarded. Since the coffee is so very expensive, and is a slow mover, you want to make sure that the product is fresh. You want to know the retailer is reliable and moves the product religiously.
The other, Hawaiian Kona. Our only native American coffee has a floral aroma and sweet, intense flavor. Because of the limited supply of 100% Kona, Kona style or Kona blends may actually have no Kona coffee in them. So once again, make sure that your purchase is genuine. F&D