For many of you, this coffee needs no introduction. If you are not one of those people, then let me clarify that this coffee, or at least the espresso-roasted version of it pictured on the left (“Black Cat” is the name now given to all of Intelligentsia’s espresso roasts), is the coffee that Intelligentsia barista, Mike Phillips, used to win the 2009 United States Barista Championship. The coffee on the right is that same coffee, but roasted for non-espresso use. For those of you who still don’t know what I mean when I say something like “barista competitions,” then I’d recommend my description of a related, past competition as a good place to start. You also might want to note that Mike Phillips will be representing the US at the 2009 World Barista Championship this upcoming weekend in Atlanta.
That said, I should point out that this coffee didn’t win the competition. It was a combination of Mike Phillip’s technical and presentation skills along with the tastes he was able to produce with this coffee that won him this competition. What I can produce at home, especially in the espresso department, will most certainly be a lesser form of the drink that wowed those judges. Nevertheless, I was excited to get my hands on some, especially since I missed out on Kyle Glanville’s 2008 USBC winning coffee (oh, and in case you missed it, Kyle Glanville also works for Intelligentsia).
Over the week or so I explored this coffee, I really came to like it. Neither roast wowed me at first, but the espresso and non-espresso versions were quite good and offered a subtle complexity that I really enjoyed exploring over time. It’s the kind of easy going coffee that sneaks up on you a little when you realize how nicely balanced everything is even if there isn’t a wealth of flavors or aromas.
The tasting notes on the bags – mostly grapes and figs with a bit of cocoa – were pretty much spot on, with a few additions. To the regular roast, I’d add apple and some floral, perfumy notes. To the espresso roast, I’d add, in particular, a kind of buttery mouthfeel along with red wine. For both, I very clearly noted blackberries.
I was an equal opportunity brewer. I gave the non-espresso roast some time in the espresso machine and the espresso roast some time in the french press and pour over ceramic cone. I never did try the espresso roast in the siphon, but I did use the siphon for the non-espresso roast. Not surprisingly, I preferred the espresso roast as espresso. For the non-espresso roast, I waffled between the siphon and the French Press, depending on whether I wanted clarity or aroma – but appreciating both equally. While it was passable as espresso, the espresso roast, was, not surprisingly better in that medium. While the non-espresso roast worked well enough as a pour over, I thought it lacked some of the complexity that came through in the other brewing methods.
One of the more interesting points about this coffee is simply that it hails from Bolivia, a country that’s been struggling to produce quality coffee over the years, largely due to its extreme elevation and the impact that has on transportation. The country has been producing some increasingly impressive coffees in the past few years. This win will likely be a big boost for their coffee.
There is a twist to the story, however. Mike Philips has now announced a last minute coffee switch in advance of the WBC. This time around, he’s picked a coffee from another emerging coffee country, Rwanda. The details of that coffee are yet to be released, although I’m sure Intelligentsia will be selling that coffee in due time as well. Until then, I’m going to pull my second bag of Anjilanaka from the freezer this weekend, kick back and enjoy some good old barista competitions through…some kind of live feed…or blogging effort…or…well, at least I’ll have the coffee.