Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Hacienda La Esmeralda Especial

About the coffee:

I probably don't need to write too much about this one. If you have been living under a rock, or if you just happen to be one of the few people who doesn't follow the coffee auctions, you might not know that this is currently the world's most expensive coffee. Previously, that dubious honour went to kopi luwak. (I'll spare you the jokes - google it if it's news to you.)

Esmeralda has an impressive back story; in a nutshell, the gesha varietal that makes up the Esmeralda Especial lot seems to have basically gone extinct except for a few random rediscoveries in Panama. It just so happens that this particular farm's gesha offering has won something like four Best of Panama auctions and every single other cupping competition it has been entered in. In terms of scores, the consensus seems to be that it's a 92 at a minimum, with some tasters going as high as 97!

So how much of it is hype? How much of it is mystique? How much of it is actually in the cup? Recently, a very generous person coming to Melbourne from the US of A offered to drug mule some coffee over for me. So naturally I asked for some Esmeralda. (Before you ask, no, this was not the auction lot stuff - it was the pre-auction stuff that sold for exorbitant but comparatively sane prices.) As fate would have it, the coffee arrived right in time for the first of this year's Melbourne Barista Jams, which I was running. (Perhaps I will blog quickly about that in the future; for now, you can take a look at my crappy photos and Syd's rather better photos.)

Strange shaped beans. Reminds me of a Harrar Longberry.

Tasting Notes:

Syphon/Vac Pot: Dominant and unnatural mandarin. This is a definite shock to the system. In Peter's words, "coffee shouldn't taste like that." Dry finish. Hints of Earl Grey tea (is this what they call "bergamot"?) in the first few days after popping open the bag, but these subsided. I didn't get the cornucopia of subtle aromatics that many others have waxed lyrical about, but I put it down to being ten days after roasting and having travelled half-way around the world. Most of the US coffee that I have tried just gives up the will to live on the plane trip, so the phenomenal coffee that we were producing really is a testament to either, or perhaps both, the inherent quality of the bean or Miguel's roasting and packaging.

French Press: Mandarin. Dry finish from the syphon wasn't really there. Creamy finish (I usually associate "creamy" with "vanilla," so I hasten to add that there was no vanilla flavour.)

Espresso: Yes, I couldn't resist the temptation to pull two shots with some of the remaining coffee. No, none of them were perfectly dialled in. The better pair had a fair whack of orange, but a slight astringency that I tend to associate with coffee being roasted a bit too light for espresso. This coffee has gained notoriety against a backdrop of Americans who drink drip, so it is unsurprising that it was more suited to preparations other than espresso. Indeed, a lot of the commentators online say so quite explicitly.

The Wrap Up:

A sensational coffee for anything except for espresso. Espresso is unique and interesting, but I didn't feel that it showcased the coffee as well as the brewed methods. Perhaps it would make a good foil to a rich, heavy style of espresso as a small component in a blend.

More Information:

Many of these people have tasted the coffee under fairer conditions ... ie. without it having travelled half way around the world. It is interesting to read their taste descriptors.

Hacienda La Esmeralda - the farm's webpage; quite a bit of info on gesha

Stoneworks - final auction results

CoffeeCuppers.com - tasting notes for green Esmeralda roasted by Jim and Bob

Coffee Review - Kenneth Davids tastes Esmeralda from multiple sources

Sweet Maria's - tasting notes from Tom

Paradise Roasters - where my lot came from

Digression 1: Syphon coffee - dryness + bitterness

The dryness of the syphon coffee warrants more investigation. To my mind, there were three possible causes:

(1) a taint inherent in the coffee;

(2) contamination from past brews in the hario cloth filter;

(3) the sunbeam grinder that I bought for non-espresso use not cutting the mustard.

Number 1 was eliminated with the french press preparation. However, I used the ditting at work to grind the coffee, so numbers 2 and 3 are still on the cards. I am now storing my cloth filter in a solution containing cafetto and doing a cleaning brew with just water before brewing, following some tips from Toshi. We'll see how things turn out.

Digression 2: Back to Basics

Well, it has been a while since I started this blog and I can't say that I have been prolific in generating a set of tasting notes for me (and others, I guess) to refer to. I will endeavour to correct this in future. This might entail me just putting up some basic posts; just the notes, with a minimum of chat and without photos.

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At 3:34 AM, Blogger Jaime van Schyndel said...

The astringent sounds like a bit over extraction, try cutting a bit of time or temp. Crack a bean and examine the interior. Is it all one color throughout with no variation? Is there any sign of tipping? Astringent flavors also tend to be a byproduct of uneven roast taht are elevated in a vac pot brew. The orange/bergamot notes have been offered before in slightly darker raosts so it's not uncommon.

One more thing. Smell the vac brew as it nears the end. When the bouquette opens up, you are done so pay real attention to those changes.

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Thanks for the photo links from Saturdays Barista Jam. Shame after all those shots of me dosing I had to dump it back into the doser. Was great to get some tips from Dane & have a play on a few different machines.

Only problem is I think I've come down with a severe case of upgraditis after the proceedings.

At 2:52 AM, Blogger tangie said...

luca what type of bunsen burner is tha?

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Luca said...

Hi guys,

I replied to this before, but it didn't seem to post. Briefly;


Thanks for that. Unfortunately the beans are long gone, but I do remember that there was no tipping.

Hovering above the syphon sniffing as I go; the TCA-2 seems to direct the aroma right into your nose, like a Riedel glass.

I think that it might have been due to the filter or, as you say, overextraction. Final brew parameters ended up being 26g/40seconds/stir at beginning and end. No cold towel, so the draw down took 20 seconds or so.


Don't worry; I won't tell anyone ;P

Upgradeitis - as I have said time and time again, and as you know, do make sure that you actually use the machines and taste the results.


It's one of the Rekrow burners made for vac pots. Like the one that you can get at sweetmarias.com



At 12:43 PM, Anonymous FELIPE BUENO ANGULO said...

anyway, Colombian coffe is the best of the world, Santahelena┬┤s coffee specially,and we are proud of our coffee indeed.
Best regards from Colombia.

At 1:16 AM, Blogger Kiril said...

hi Luca,

It was very interesting to read your thought about Esmeralda, i noticed that you relate to mandarin both in espresso and vacpot, to be perfectly honest i didnt get any mandarine what so ever. hints of sweet orange were present, but overpowering acidity made it close to lemongrass. Have a look at my notes on my blog, i think you might find it interesting :)


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