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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Wednesday, September 17

Seasonal Fruition: Kenya, grapefruit and tomatoes.

African coffees have unique to their continent an ability to express incredible bold citrus flavours, be it floral lemons from Ethiopia, the brassy bold oranges of a good new season Rwanda (recently these have tended to fade throughout the year so be warned) or the perfect breakfast compliment of grapefruit in a Kenya. Most definitely not to everyone's taste, but incredibly rewarding to those who do, African coffees cannot fail to register surprise with the first time coffee explorer, and so it can be when pairing them to food.

Being as it is now the ideal season for the home grown tomatoes (unless, like in my garden your veg got too damp and went mouldy) it is the perfect time to try out one of my favourite pairings, Kenya with Curry. To make this really work you need to get your taste buds ready and make your local supplier work that little bit harder and definitely taste before you buy.

Kenya in particularly I find can vary between the Grapefruit and tomato, though sometimes the tomato flavours only become more prevalent in the brewed coffee aroma rather than translating so much to the mouth. This for me has made it perfectly suited to a Rogan Josh, but recently I have been reinvigorated by these wonderful recipes from Skye Gingell writing in the Independent newspaper.

The freshness of the citrus in the works excellently with the fresh juiciness of the tomatoes in the Squash and tomato curry with lime and coconut, and the bite of the grapefruit balances with the lime and curry notes making for a surprisingly smooth crossover of flavours in the mouth.

Alternatively pairing it with a lunchtime gazpacho soup or a tomato and mozzarella tart and again the flavours work perfectly, but take heed, coffee and basil are opposites. If you combine these flavours you will have a more noticeable transition in the mouth and find that the flavours clash rather than compliment.

So which coffee to choose? Again, James Gourmet Coffee would appear to have got hold of an excellent Kenya, though on my 'to drink' list I feel happy enough with his expertise and opinion to recommend this Mount Kenya. Alternatively I would take the slightly controversial recommendation of Starbucks Kenya, not always what everyone expects, but having roasted for them for quite some time I can verify that some of the Kenyans they get hold of are truly wonderful coffees; if you don't believe me then just ask one of their staff to open a pack for you to taste. One word of warning though, as a country blend, you are likely to find larger variations between bags than you would from a local micro roastery. Check too the roast date - not actually on the packet but if you are close to the expiry date then don't bother buying it as the high notes are more likely to have faded.

As a point of interest, despite the fact that coffee originates to the North in Ethiopia, it was the English that introduced coffee to Kenya after it had travelled around the world to Indonesia and the Americas. The Fathers of the Holy Spirit experimented with propagation in the late 1890's, and records suggest the earliest introduction was actually from Brazil, though it would appear to be the Bourbon varietal that naturally mutated on the French owned isle of Reunion that succeeded commercially in 1901.

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Wednesday, September 10

Panama with Goats cheese and honey.

Following a refreshing return trip to the Netherlands, I wanted to share an excellent pairing with you. Like many people, coffee is enjoyed with food, and in the same way a sommelier advises which works with what so it shall be here. Food pairings have been a passion of mine alongside the coffees I drink not only those that work, but those that don't; making 'mistakes' is where you can learn a lot more than you think.

Simplicity often holds the greatest of pleasures for me, as is the case with the bagels at Beans and Bagels in Haarlem. My favourite was the fantastic goats cheese, honey and walnut on multigrain and has caused me to make many bagels at home since. Lightly warmed cheese works best with the honey becoming less cloying as it melts. Toasted walnuts add a complimentary difference in texture and would hint at a Colombian coffee working well, and I'd definitely recommend a good dark roasted Colombian with this too, but this time I am pairing it with Panama to counteract the body of the honey. Ripe as I like it a slightly firmer goats cheese works best for this recipe, I'd recommend something like Whitehaven for less need to grill the cheese or the fantastic little Gevrik for a slightly firmer cheese with a nuttier flavour.

Warm your bagel if you haven't made it fresh, cut the goats cheese in half and place on the bagel topping it with half a toasted walnut and drizzle with a good quality honey. Bang it under the grill to lightly melt the cheese and liquefy the honey a touch, no more than a couple of minutes and in the meantime grind your coffee and prepare your cafetiere. The coffee I used for this tasting was the Panama Hacienda Las Esperanza Estate. I would disagree with James 'peanut' description, particularly as peanut is often (with my taste upbringing) associated with Robusta beans and not Arabica. However, the syrup notes with the honey work perfectly, and the lightness in body of the coffee compared to the food really helps make this a perfect light lunch or afternoon snack.

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