Beans: Guatemala Antigua Finca El Valle and Sumatra Lake Tawar
Roaster: Batdorf and Bronson
Rating: 3+ and 3
A short time ago, I wrote a luke-warm review of Batdorf and Bronson’s Dancing Goats espresso blend as served to me at Napoli Coffee in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My feeling at the time, was that the beans themselves probably had more potential than what was realized in the espresso I consumed. Apparently Batdorf and Bronson agreed. They sought me out and offered to send me some Dancing Goats espresso that I could make for myself at home.
I am, unfortunately, without an espresso machine at home (a situation I’m hoping to remedy soon) so the kind folks at Batdorf and Bronson agreed to send me a couple of other coffees they felt represented the best of their brewable beans. The bags of beans arrived as planned, very fresh, just two days after the roast date. The bags themselves are attractively designed, foil-based one-way valve bags, with lots of information about the coffee and the company.
Just to clarify, the company itself is officially known by the vaguely “lion-taming in Vegas” sounding name of Batdorf and Bronson. The owners Larry and Cherry Challain acquired this name when they purchased the roaster back in 1990. Previously, though, the Challains started their coffee business by opening a cafe under the more interesting and coffee-relevant name of Dancing Goats, which is really more the company’s public moniker. Today, the Dancing Goats name can be seen on the company’s five espresso bars, the website, and their espresso blend. Batdorf and Bronson operates its cafes and roasteries in both Olympia, Washington and Decatur, Georgia (which I’ve heard is quite good).
Batdorf and Bronson is socially progressive, using 100% renewable energy and making a concerted effort to support charities like coffee kids, but it’s also progressive in its roast. The two coffees I tried were good examples of medium to light roasted beans, where you could actually taste characteristics of the bean, not just characteristics of the roast.
I point this out, in particular, because Batdorf and Bronson is really too old to fit neatly into the “third wave” of roasters so often associate with lighter roasts (assuming you buy my theory that the third wavers pretty much started with Intelligentsia’s opening in 1995). Yet, they’ve escaped the over-roasted style of coffee produced by second wavers such such as Starbucks and Peets. Batdorf and Bronson might best be grouped with that generation of cafes and roasters, such as Coffee Connection or Diedrich Coffee, that started in the 70s and 80s but largely disappeared over the past decade and a half as they sold their stores to Starbucks. I’m unsure whether Batdorf and Bronson has always roasted the way they do now or has adapted to the times, but the coffee they produce now is certainly worth checking out.
Sumatra Lake Tawar (Rating 3):
I was especially impressed with this coffee’s complexity. Not too many Sumatrans are roasted this lightly, but I’ve had good luck in the past with some that are. I detected notes of chocolate, plum, chicory, and raisin, along with a pronounced tobacco aftertaste and a crisp, dry acidity. I was a bit put off, however, by the herbal, slightly musty, aroma that became especially prominent around days 5 to 9 after the roast. I believe this is the aroma described on the label as cedar and sage, but my wife and I concluded (independently) that this coffee smells a lot like pot. The coffee brewed very well as a French Press, but I thought the pour over drip method overly muted some of the coffee’s sweeter notes.
Rating this coffee was tough. I found it tricky to determine whether the unpleasant aromas I encountered would be as equally unpleasant to others. It’s the old Indonesian “earthy vs. musty” debate as framed this month by Ken Davids. Two years ago this coffee (or at least its predecessor) was clearly well-received, but as a critic, I can’t ignore the opinions I form about my sensory experiences. I think this coffee is a nice example of a lightly roasted Sumatran coffee and at times can be very enjoyable. You shouldn’t shy away from trying it, but be aware that it is also not a coffee for everyone.
Guatemala Antigua (Rating 3+):
It’s hard to follow up a Ken David’s review, which he recently did for this Guatemalan. My own take was that this Guatemalan coffee produced a sweet, medium-bright, well-rounded cup with notes of pear, apple, lime, a hint of wet earth and dry, fruity sake. What caught me by surprise, however, was the viscous mouthfeel of this coffee. My coffee science is a little fuzzy, but to me this starchiness resembled what you get when cooking tapioca or arborio rice. It took a bit of adjustment, but lead to hours of enjoyment; the coffee’s flavors really lingered on my tongue.
I enjoyed this coffee both as a French Press and as a pour over drip, but found the drip slightly preferable because it brought the mouthfeel into better balance with the rest of the cup. I’d certainly recommend this coffee both to experience coffee texture at its most intriguing while enjoying a solidly good and very enjoyable cup of coffee.