coffee@home: Yin and Yang


Beans: Kenya Muburi Kirinyaga and Guatemala Finca Semillero
Roaster: Ritual Roasters & Stumptown (via Four Barrel Coffee)
Rating: 4 & 4-

This post isn’t a Ritual vs. Stumptown taste test even though it does compare one coffee from each of these two roasters. What I’m hoping to illustrate with this comparison are the varied extremes that two very good coffees can imbue.

Ritual’s Kenya Muburi Kirinyaga, an understated, delicate, yet highly complicated coffee. The barista at Ritual’s Flora Grubb branch recommended it to me – it was her personal pick at the time. After just one taste of this coffee as brewed for me on the Clover, I was ready to take some home. I was certainly hoping for a redemption for Ritual following my last run in with their perfectly good, yet seemingly overrated, COE Finca Matalapa.

Ritual’s Muburi is much less intense than your typical Kenyan; it lacks that bright punch. Instead, I tasted a mellow pastiche of lemon and strawberry, sweetened with white sugar and blended with just a touch of mint and milk chocolate. It worked wonderfully brewed via my French Press and in my Siphon. Given the lighter roast, it understandably didn’t work that well as an espresso – far too sour and bright. Overall, the clean, crisp cup reminded me of bright, cool Winter sunshine.

What stands out most to me about the Muburi is how subtle it is. I like to think that this coffee represents Ritual’s recent shift away from bolder, more braggadocio-style roasting to one that’s more refined. Of course, I very well may be falsely attributing a trend to Ritual’s roasting based on (relatively) recent staffing changes. Even if I am mistaken, however, I doubt there is little harm done in proclaiming that several of Ritual’s more recent coffees share some of the more positive attributes I typically ascribe to coffees by Ecco Caffe.

Completely opposite of Rituals’ Muburi is Stumptown’s Finca Semillero, which I picked up at Four Barrel Coffee based purely on its description and my particular mood at the time. This coffee is brash, bold and no-holds barred although oddly enough that isn’t what I thought I was getting. The sign for the Semillero made it sound sweet and fruity. For better – at least I think not for worse – I never found that particular flavor profile.

Stumptown, oddly, seems not (or possibly no longer – anyone know what’s going on here?) to sell this particular coffee so I suppose you’ll have to take me at my word for what it’s like. I found the Semillero to be a thick and savory coffee that conjures up images of a heavy, hearty breakfast, with notes of maple bacon, pepper and just a dash of sea salt sprinkled over roasted tomatoes. The mouthfeel is slightly viscous with the overall effect one of satisfying umami. The coffee works particularly well as a French Press with some potential when pulled as espresso. My shots tended to be just a tad bright and touch bitter – lots of lime – but still successfully carried off that savory and just barely sweet quality of the brewed coffee.

Overall, this is a remarkable coffee to try for its intense boldness that stands in stark contrast to the delicate qualities of the Muburi. The Semillero’s only drawback might be that it’s simply too much coffee; the intense flavors, I found, actually tired me out and tended to distract me from my work.

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6 comments to coffee@home: Yin and Yang

  • Your palette serves you well. It is interesting that you should make the comparison between Ritual’s recent efforts and the coffees of Ecco, as one of Ritual’s current roasting techs (for lack of a better term) was, in the not too distant past, in the employ of said North Bay roasting operation.

  • One more thing I though I would add and pertaining to your description of the Semillero is that Ritual recently had a coffee that exhibited the same savory character that you attribute to the Guatemala. This was a coffee from Panama: Finca Berlina Boquete. I had never tasted anything like it and have not since. I have no idea weather they still sell it. I wrote a little about it here:

  • James

    That’s odd about the Semillero; here in Manhattan, Ninth Street Espresso has been pressing it for several days now, and I’m consistently noticing sweet cherry and chocolate stuff going on, especially right up front.

    Also odd about the Semillero: I can’t find it on Stumptown’s website, either, but Ninth Street definitely has it in official Stumptown packaging (complete with the little cardboard insert describing the profile and origin, and with an added Ninth Street logo sticker, of course).

    And you’re killing me with the description of the Kenyan, and reminding me of how long it’s been since I was back in the land of Ritual and Blue Bottle and Barefoot and Verve and Lulu Carpenter’s.

  • Your description is much closer to what I expected and to how the coffee was described to me. I’m curious if it’s something about water temperature or brew time, although I played around with it quite a bit and just couldn’t shake the savory sensation. I’d be really interested in what others have found as well with this one or what gives with the strange availability of this coffee – maybe it’s a coffee Stumptown has reserved for only certain choice vendors?

    I guess the grass is always greener. I’ve been dying to get back to NY to try all the promising places that have been popping up like wildfires around town. Actually, I just made plans. I’ll be there fairly soon! Can’t wait.

  • James

    Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m enjoying the proliferation of exquisite coffee in New York to the fullest: Gimme! (their recent Sidamo and Nicaraguan Linda Vista are both sublime), Abraco (Jamie from Blue Bottle pulling formidable Counter Culture shots), Everyman Espresso (more Counter Culture), Ninth St., Cafe Grumpy (they were (are?) using beans from the aforementioned Verve, by the way, who had a killer Sumatran Blue Batak several months ago), El Beit (49th Parallel, although their Clover use can be slightly imperfect) in Brooklyn, etc. Plus a few places I haven’t tried yet, like Kaffe 1668 (which I’m told features Intelligentsia). I apparently picked the right time to move east.

    But that doesn’t diminish the urge to get back and revisit all the notable Bay Area locations, naturally!

  • Hey Dan, Not sure what happened. Your comments got lost in a plague of animal porn spam in the spam filter. Glad I could salvage them from the flood of dreck that was jamming up the blogworks.

    Who knows – maybe my Semillero was misbagged and was actually from Panama!?

    And sorry if I was being too oblique in my reference to roasters (the people, but yes, I was referring to Steve Ford’s migration from Ecco to Ritual. I’m not sure if I’m imagining his influence or actually tasting it. My approach is far from scientific, but I’d like to think that there is a little cross-pollination going on here that is leading to better coffee.

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