A not so secret perk of running a blog is that a lot of people like to send you stuff. The often unexamined aspect of this perk is that much of the stuff that people want to send you is crap.* Managing this blog has improved my crap filter immensely, especially when it comes to sussing out quality coffees from start-up roasters. Here are a few of the questions I ask myself as I look through a roaster’s website:
- Does the roaster seem to be sourcing good green coffee (e.g. Is there information on regions/farms/lots rather than just countries? Is it seasonal? Does it come from a reputable farm?)?
- Do blends have some transparency to them?
- Does the roaster provide recommended espresso brewing instructions and reliable filter coffee brewing instructions?
- Is there a modicum (or ideally an absence) of flavored, dark roasted and pre-ground coffees?
- Does the roaster provide roast dates or information about the roasting cycle compared to purchase?
- Does the roaster seem to have an awareness of, even if they don’t fully participate in, coffee culture (links to reputable coffee boards, blogs and/or participates in various professional organizations)?
A positive answer to these questions isn’t a substitute for trying the coffee, but it goes a long way in helping me separate the bean from the chaff. Evocation Coffee Roasters, which I had never heard of prior to their email, passed the pop quiz so I asked them to send along some samples.
The two, above-pictured, gorgeously packaged coffees arrived a short time later. While an attractive package also doesn’t guarantee anything about a coffee, different aesthetics – visual and taste – do seem to share a connection. Perhaps it’s just that people who care enough about their label happen to also care about the taste of their coffee.
I’ll start with the Guatemala. I had a pretty complicated set of tasting notes, including: chocolate, vanilla, sassafras, earth, apple, tea, and wood. That’s a good start. This coffee also had a crisp, dry acidity and a viscous, syrupy mouthfeel. I’d say the one limitation was a somewhat consistently thin body, regardless of brew method. As far as a favored brew method, I liked it fine with paper filter, siphon and even a SO espresso, but I preferred it as a French Press or with a gold cone filter in my Abid Clever Coffee Dripper. Overall, this was a nice coffee (3) and worth considering.
The Spitfire was the clear winner for me. It worked well as an espresso but also as a filter coffee – a rarity in espresso blends that needn’t be there but is something to celebrate when it is. The Spitfire had a lot of nice clean, not overpowering fruit notes, mostly in the strawberry spectrum. But I also noted bergamont, honey, pineapple and tobacco. In terms of overall profile and brewing versatility, it reminded me a lot of Verve’s Sermon blend, only with lighter fruit (the Sermon leans more towards the blueberry end of the fruity spectrum). Like the Guatemala, the Spitfire suffered slightly from a thin body, but if you like this profile for espresso, I definitely recommend it (4-).
*The other important lesson is that filtering through all those emails can take time – a scarce commodity in my life these days. To all the good roasters out there that I’ve somehow ignored, please accept my apologies.