Minita and Mamuto Mumblings
I'm a firm believer that the quest for coffee excellence requires tasting a lot of different coffees with an open mind. For my purposes, I try to taste a lot of different stuff purely to build up my own palate, as well as to get an idea of what others are writing about and what is possible in the world of specialty coffee. All of the good roasters that I know also believe in tasting a lot of different coffees - they view it as an exercise in benchmarking, without which they will quickly be proclaiming the virtues of utter crap; emperors with no clothes. Conversely, I don't think it's a coincidence that the very few roasters who I have heard of who don't taste widely do not produce a good product. (That applies equally to home roasters as it does to commercial roasters.)
Several years ago, I never would have imagined ordering coffee from the US of A. Over the past few years, coffee from the US has made regular, but infrequent, inroads into my usual rotation - fuelled in part by the prolific writings of the US bloggosphere and other coffee web pages.
It would not surprise me if the USA's coffee mainly does live up to the stereotypical Starbucks ashy espresso or the pot of drip coffee that has been sitting on the burner for a week, but they have a lot of good things going for them. As the world's largest economy, they have considerable buying power and they are conveniently placed near south and central america; two great producing regions. Their roasters appear to have developed against a background of a drip coffee culture, in which single origins are appreciated for their unique characteristics ... even if only because of the forehead-slappingly obvious contrast between a smooth colombian and a winey kenyan. In comparison with Australia, their espresso roasts have developed in the vacuum of Starbucks' shadow. Finally, they have an active specialty coffee association and are home to various programs such as the cup of excellence and the coffee quality institute. The USA has well and truly emerged as a big player in both the worlds of espresso and brewed coffee - one that leads the charge in many respects.
(Unfortunately, I appear to have misplaced my bag of Mamuto. I have taken a page from the book of barismo and borrowed this photo from Steve Ford. Steve ran an excellent project where he took a photo of the first cup of coffee that he drank each day over a year. You can check out 'First Cup' here.)
Terroir and George Howell
This particular coffee comes from Terroir in Massachussets. Terroir is run by George Howell, the man who founded the multi-site roastery 'Coffee Connection,' which he later sold to Starbucks before co-founding the Cup of Excellence and winning the SCAA's lifetime achievement award. Avid PQ readers will note that this is not the first time that Howell has rated a mention on this blog and I reiterate that his Long Road To Coffee Quality is a must-read.
The lovely thing about the prevalence of e-commerce in the USA is that the person on the other side of the web site is usually quite responsive and adept at getting around all sorts of problems, which included the difficulty of getting the coffee sent out as soon as it was roasted and correcting for an incorrect credit card number on my part. Nonetheless, postage is still a significant problem, with my package taking about three weeks to get here. Ugh. This activity is also not for the faint of wallet.
Costa Rica La Minita
La Minita has a reputation of being one of the great coffees of the world. It is also a model of quality and ethics working hand in hand. In a nutshell, my understanding is that they are very stringent on their picking and processing, to the point where they pay the pickers a premium to ensure that under-ripe fruit is not harvested. In turn, this means that their product is consistently good, justifying the premium for the roaster. This is a delicate, washed coffee that is really ideal for brewed coffee (drip/filter/siphon/clover). However, I first tasted this coffee in Klaus Thomsen's 2006 WBC winning blend, where it was paired with Daterra Sweet Collection to create a light, clean, crisp and sweet blend.
Siphon/Drip: Bright, slight apple flavour. Slight bitterness emerged on cooling.
This particular coffee simply didn't stand up to the battering that it received in shipping. I have no doubt that it would be better if it were fresher. That said, it wasn't exactly bad, but this struck me as a relatively subtle coffee that was always bound to be overshadowed by the Kenyan powerhouse. Read on.
The Mamuto has gained notoriety due, in part, to the ridiculously high scores that Kenneth Davids has awarded it over the years. Again, this coffee also demonstrates that quality and ethics can happily coexist at the pointy end of the market - when I bought it, Terroir's web page said that $2USD per 12oz went back to the farm, which is a helluva lot of cash in the world of green coffee.
Siphon/Drip: Bright, sweet, smooth, ribena, coffee cherry, tomato.
This coffee was simply fantastic. I turned off the espresso machine for a week and gladly scrubbed my siphon out. If it was that good after its shipping ordeal, it's kind of scary to imagine what it would have been like earlier. Simon James was of a similar opinion:
Well I’ll cut to the chase! The Kenyan Mamuto was STELLAR! No wonder it scored a 97 at Coffee Review. I can’t say that my description of the flavours I experienced was the same as those of the Coffee Review, but it was certainly sweetly powerful, with a smooth balanced finish. But I got blackcurrant aroma with stewed apricot in the cup. A very tasty coffee!Needless to say that this coffee stood up to its trip a lot better than the Minita did. I actually took both the Minita and the Mamuto along to a cupping at BBB. The Minita fared well, but was not a standout. The Mamuto was the absolute stand out; it was everyone's pick, regardless of their level of experience.
From my description above, you can see that this cupped up like an exceptional, but classic, Kenyan coffee - very different to what one would expect from a Colombian, for example. It's worth pausing to reflect that perhaps it is the fact that these coffees tend to have the least 'classic' profile that makes them so clearly special. Coffeecuppers deal with the distinction between classic cups and unusual coffees in their short coffee tasting primer. Howell that this consistent and unusual cup profile merited the title 'Grand Cru' - on his fondness for wine analogies, see CG podcast 63 (link directly to 29 megabyte mp3 file).
Yeah. I admit it. I have some different stuff on the way from Terroir - readers with less respect for their wallets are invited to taste vicariously through future posts. I'm also keen on getting some stuff from the outstanding Ecco Caffe if anyone wants to split postage at some stage.