Monday, October 27, 2008

PNG Elimbari, Market Leaders and Blog Followers

Sometimes you've gotta laugh. I went to buy some coffee a few weeks ago and ended up getting some PNG Elimbari that I was told was roasted by Five Senses' recently set up Melbourne branch, though it was in another bag. So I'll attribute this coffee to them!

When it comes to PNG coffee on the Australian market, there is a broker that is basically the authority and there is a roaster that is the authority. That roaster is Five Senses. Dean set up the company after working in PNG and getting to know the local farmers. They started their direct trade program years before the phrase came to be prominent. And while we're talking about direct trade, I'll take this opportunity to point out Watts' take on it, if you haven't read it already.

A better name for 'direct trade' would be 'fair trade', seeing as the former results in the exchange of a sum of money that the farmer is happy with for coffee of the quality that the purchaser is happy with, whereas the latter results in the exchange of a fixed sum of money for coffee of unspecified quality. Pity about that whole 'fair trade' movement having the 'fair trade' name - maybe we should think about calling it 'fairer trade' or 'fairest trade'!

The point is that Five Senses' direct trade relationship has enabled them to get spectacular coffee from PNG in the past and the same is true for the Elimbari.

Brewed: Good body, mid level acidity, hints of tomato.
Espresso: Decent body, long finish, clean, sweet, hints of apricot.
Cappuccino: Average ability to cut through milk, but, amazingly, on a few occasions I was able to coax the fruit flavours into the cappuccino.

To date, I haven't dabbled much in trying to score coffees on this blog, preferring to describe and get acquainted with the various numerical score systems in my own time. However, I will mention that I tasted this coffee soon after a cupping of Costa Rican Cup of Excellence coffees at BBB. The Elimbari clearly trailed behind the top two, but was up there with numbers 3 through 9. On this basis, I think that it would be fair to say that this is a mid to high eighties coffee on the SCAA cupping form, which is a bit of a rarity on the Australian market.

And Another Thing ...

I must be like - totally - the best person in history or something. My "followers" list has tripled! To three!

I guess that I should add the "followers" watchumcallit, but to do that I'd have to switch to templates ... and the last thing that I want to do is to lose all of the links on the right-hand-side that I have spent an eternity cultivating for the benefit of y'all, dear readers. Help?

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Supremes

The company: Coffee Supreme.

The blend: Supreme.

Following discussions about Coffee Supreme on the Melbourne Coffee Review facebook group, I decided to wander on down to supreme and pick up half a kilo of the supreme blend to try it out for myself. Back in the day, this blend was a light, clean and acidic blend with a relatively low body. I liked to think of it as being similar to Campos' superior blend and you can bet your bottom dollar that Campos would start sweating if Supreme decided to put supreme up against superior. (Supreme vs Superior ... seriously.)

Unfortunately, my enjoyment of this blend was interrupted by the palate training course that I did recently, so, with considerable irony, I apologise that my descriptions of this blend will be incomplete and based on recollection.

Drip/Siphon/Cupping: A classic cup; flawlessly clean, somewhat sweet, mild acidity, medium body.
Espresso: High in acidity, low in body when young, but improving after several days' rest.
Cappuccino: As expected, no presence in milk whatsoever at 3 days resting time, improving considerably at 7 days.

So there you have it. Not very useful, but it's something.

Supreme clearly put excellent coffee in the blend, but I think that a lot of people expect their espresso to be very high in body and very low in acidity. Here, Supreme demonstrates why a company has multiple offerings - try their FTO blend instead.

A clean cup in a dirty world.

As a quick addendum, I got to have the briefest of plays with a new WBC spec NS Aurelia. As with the other NS machines, the steam lever is totally awesome. Beyond that, I think what my tastebuds and my thermocouple readings told me are best summarised by the following photo:

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Palate Training and Sensory Analysis of Coffee - A Course at William Angliss

William Angliss Coffee Academy not only covers the basics in one of the most well set out training rooms that I have ever seen, but also affers a selection of courses covering more advanced topics. Jill Adams' latest brainwave has been to rope Lindsay Corby from La Trobe University into making the leap from viticulture to coffee culture. Having done the basic 'prepare and serve espresso coffee' course at the academy about a million years ago, I decided to give this course a whirl. Simon James - dedicated latte artist, barista competitor, coffee trainer and somewhat less dedicated coffee blogger - was also in on the action. You can see the flier here on Simon's blog and I'm sure that he will have something to say about it at some stage in the future - be it forseeable or distant.

The entire course involved a good amount of smelling, tasting and spitting. By the end of the weekend, I could hit a pinhead from a mile away. The first day, run by Lindsay, covered some of the myriad of compounds found in coffee. The second day consisted of three sessions in which we cupped coffee.

Day One

The wine world seems to be pretty far ahead of the coffee world in terms of recognising the role that individual chemicals play in the final product and deliberately trying to maximise or minimise said chemicals. Lindsay was enlisted to muster up some relevant chemicals and to guide us through tasting them separately, in combination and in coffee. Part of this involved painstakingly working out the levels to which said chemicals should be diluted and bottling them; a job that I'm glad I didn't have to do:

The chemicals that we covered included acids, sugars, phenols, alcohols and aromatic alcohols and the session was structured around identifying the differences between each and what each does on one's tongue. For example, I found citric acid to have a sharper and brighter presence than malic acid, which, in Lindsay's words, dragged across the tongue.

The later brackets included combinations of the earlier brackets. Finally, the various compounds were tasted in coffee:

Day Two

This session involved three cuppings. It was amusing to see the anxiety and trepidation of those who hadn't cupped before give way to delight as they realised - 'hey, I can actually pick the differences.'

The first session was a totally unique opportunity. A dude by the name of Tony Marsh is running a project in Aceh to determine which coffees should be planted and how they should be processed. The project involves planting a number of different varietals at different elevations (800m to 1500m), processing them in different ways and sending the samples to a number of coffee buyers for feedback. Our first session involved tasting five pairs of varietals; one fully washed and the other wet hulled. The difference between the two is that fully washed is dried in parchment, whereas wet hulled is dried with the parchment removed, giving the coffee its distinctive dark green colouring:

The session vividly illustrated the futility of using origins alone as an indicator of flavour or quality - my cupping scores showed a spread of 18 points across the maximum of 55. (I digress to note that I didn't score in any particularly standardised way - I simply allocated the first sample middle-of-the-road scores and scoring everything else relative to it ... which was kind of odd, because the first ended up being my most highly rated.) The fully washed coffees, which I have usually referred to as 'wet processed' on this blog, generally had higher acidity and lower body than the wet hulled coffees. The group generally felt that the body on the wet processed coffees was quite good and that the wet hulled coffees were slightly dirtier or muddier.

The second session involved Andy Freeman stepping everyone through different roast profiles of the same bean, taken to the same finishing temperature and roughly the same colour/agtron/colorette reading:

In a nutshell, the fastest roast produced a much brighter cup than the bitterer cup produced by the slowest roast. At the end of the day, Andy and I pulled some shots of these two coffees for people to compare head-to-head.

The third session was a bit of a grab bag, people having been asked to bring along their own coffee to see if they could pick it out of the lot. Jill provided a number of African coffees; two harrars, a sidamo, two roasts of the same yirgacheffe and a baggy tanzanian.

Simon and I agreed that the aroma of the harrars made promises that they failed to keep. The yirgacheffes actually tasted totally different, one having been roasted on a sample roaster and one roasted on a shop roaster. I took along the infamous coffee number two, now twelve or so days old, and Guatemalan CoE #3 of 2007, kindly sent along to the session by Mark for the purposes of comparing with the notes on the internet. #2 was not as potently objectionable in cupping as it was in espresso and had mellowed in its old age. I missed it on the first pass, but caught it later on after Jill gave me the tip that it was next to the CoE; it cupped up exactly as my notes for drip recorded. I hadn't tasted CoE #3 before, but it was roasted for cupping and, so, wasn't hard to pick against a field of espresso roasts. Most people thought that it tasted clean and of citrus.

Closing Thoughts

The session certainly provided some in-depth and specific tasting experience that is seldom found elsewhere. The first session of day two was my highlight.

In conversation with others, it became apparent that people live up to the stereotype of Australia being 100% espresso, so I will predict a rash of enrolments in the masterclass. This course appears to have subsumed the espresso-focussed 'pulling shots' course that Chris Natoli ran whilst he was at the Academy and also appears to be pretty good value.