I picked up a bag of this year’s El Yalú at the Berkeley Whole Foods being careful to check the roast date. I’ve noticed that the coffee sent to Whole Foods is not only often Ritual’s second tier coffees, but can sometimes be a bit old. I checked this one and it turned out to be only seven days old (although I did spot a few of the other Ritual Coffees on the shelf that were around two weeks). I might typically be a bit pickier for local coffee, but I was serving it the next day at my kid’s birthday party, so I was using most of it up and wasn’t gunning for the gold standard either. I merely needed some quality coffee to help a few sleep deprived parents through a birthday morning with an above average caffeinated drink. The fact that this was a repeat of last year’s El Yalú that I liked so well was merely a bonus.
At least I’m reasonably certain that this is this year’s crop of El Yalú and not dregs of remaining beans. First, I have faith in Ritual’s coffee integrity, even if they (probably smartly) approach their grocery distribution with a little less scrutiny than their in-store operation. Second, this bag also contained no note about it being ranked #3 in the cup of excellence competition like last year’s did. Third, the description of this coffee, unlike last year’s, specifically notes how it was vacuum packaged at origin. Unfortunately, this coffee is no longer listed on Ritual’s website so you’ll simply have to take my word on it. Besides, it doesn’t really matter because regardless of when and where it’s from, it’s good coffee.
Before I get to my tasting notes, I should add that returning to a coffee from last year is intriguing on a couple of levels. It’s interesting to see how a coffee has changed, and without this blog, I may not have had so many good notes to which I could return. That said, I find it terribly embarrassing to return to old posts. I see things that make me cringe both in my writing (the fact that I had spelled the coffee “El Yalo!”) and in the way I viewed coffee at the time (e.g. on par with Novo’s Lake Tawar, which is good, but not that good). Frustration, embarrassment and other humbling thoughts aside, I think that last year’s El Yalu really was more or less as good as I said it was, even if I’ve begun to be a bit more conservative in my numerical ratings these days. This year’s El Yalú is good, but probably not quite as good.
The package describes it as “delicate and sweet with creamy caramel sweetness complemented by white peach and lingering flavors of lavender and raspberry tea.” My notes were of a similar, but slightly different vein, a bit darker and sweeter, at least when brewed as a French Press. I noted something a bit closer to dried apricots, caramel and hints of clove. Then again, I didn’t have a lot of chances to really fine tune my technique since most of this coffee was consumed by guests. To round out the bill, I fired off a couple of shots. I never fully nailed it as an espresso – it definitely veered towards the sour (I think my machine isn’t set quite hot enough) – but what I got from it as an espresso was much closer to the description. It was more fully peachy with vanilla cream.
You will consistently find better, fresher coffees at Ritual itself. I would be very excited, however, given its proximity, if the Whole Foods selection was regularly this good.