It’s been quite a while – far too long – since I’ve actually reviewed Four Barrel at Four Barrel, but I have been tasting their coffees quite regularly both at Modern Coffee, Subrosa and the occasional cupping event. Fortunately for me, the mountain does occasionally come to Mohammed, such as when Four Barrel recently contacted me about sending a few samples. I gladly accepted and was happy to receive said samples, which arrived, nested neatly inside a gigantic Four Barrel bag.
It turns out that Four Barrel sent four, pretty wide-ranging samples my way. They included two African coffees – one of them a decaf, one Central American coffee and one coffee from South America. I broke each bag open and took a look. Here’s what I found.
Decaffeinated Ethipia Sidamo Shoye (4-)
Decaf, eh? Brave to send it in a bag of non-decaffeinated samples. Maybe that clever Four Barrel staff read my blog and knew that I was a sucker for a good decaf. Or maybe they knew they happened to have one. I read that Jeremy Tooker drinks a lot of decaf and thus has a vested interest in raising the bar. This decaf does just that. After looking back at some of my previous decaf reviews, I can’t help but feel a little dissatisfied with my own inconsistent ratings. I’ve always struggled whether to give decafs a nudge up with the qualification that they are decafs. Why penalize them for something that’s not their fault? Then again, this could just be a failing of my own learning curve. Or, it’s just possible that decafs really have improved substantially over a short period of time. From this point forward then, I’m going to set the record straight and treat decafs like any other coffee when it comes to rating them. If not for my sudden need for self-correction, this coffee would have received a 4.
Numbers aside, what I can tell you is that this coffee is delicious! These teeny, cute little beans could easily compete with caffeinated beans twice their size…and…er…quality. I will say that the body was sometimes thin, but the buttery mouthfeel, earthy body and hints of apple, blueberry, and bergamont were beautiful. This kind of complexity is pretty much unheard of in a decaf, which I found benefited most from a Clever (I’m currently using it with V60 paper filters) or an Aeropress. The latter accentuated the floral notes while the former brought out the fruit. Even if you don’t drink decaf, I strongly encourage you to buy this coffee. Just save a little for me.
Kenya Kangunu (4-)
I thought I’d kick this review off with the Shoye, giving a voice to the underdog, since the Kangunu, one of Four Barrel’s pricer coffees, seems to be getting all the attention these days. Sprudge raved about it and Stumptown’s version of the same coffee got the God Shot bump during Chris Tacy’s post-HB personal cupping.
To start things off with a puzzle, I have to admit, I tried this coffee at the above-linked to HB cupping event and did not like it. It was actually one of the few coffees on the table that I didn’t like. What was confusing was that I had been drinking this coffee for several days at home and had been liking it quite a bit. Don’t ask me to explain, but the coffee on that table simple didn’t exhibit the really delicious raspberry, currant, milk chocolate and floral notes I found when cupping it and brewing it on my own. What was most pleasant about this coffee was the way it aged. On day 3, I got pure raspberry jam. More than a week into tasting it, this coffee was full of chocolate and currant with subdued floral notes. I think the thinner body of this coffee suffered from a paper filter. I found a gold cone in a Clever to produce the best, most satisfying cup. I may never solve the mystery of why I didn’t like it at that cupping, but I’m glad that that one experience didn’t cut short my lovely relationship with this coffee.
Guatemala Concepcion Pixcaya (3+)
The Pixcaya is a lively, bright Guatemala that challenged my assumptions about coffees from Guatemala. Instead of chocolate, fruit and full body, this coffee offered a tea-like body with bright citrus acidity, hints of plum, sugar and cocoa. What I liked most was the interplay of lighter body and the thick, syrupy mouthfeel. I felt it was a little too bright, especially at first, but what started off as almost lemony, did mellow into a nice, sweeter orange acidity well past the roast (10+ days). For brewing I’d suggest a non-paper brew method, even thought the strong acidity of this coffee might suggest otherwise. True to form with many of Four Barrel’s coffees, I found this one worked best with a French Press or gold cone filter in a Clever.
Colombia Norby Sancho (2+)
There always seems to be a black sheep of the bunch. That coffee would be the Colombia Norby Sancho, named after the farmer and not the lot/farm. Don’t get me wrong, this coffee isn’t flat or lifeless; it’s very complex. It’s just that this coffee has some difficulty pulling itself together in a presentable way. On the cupping table, I really didn’t like it. I found it very vegetal: pea, lemongrass, corn and compost (yes, my reaction was strong). If I had stopped there, I probably wouldn’t even be writing about this coffee, but I did brew it a number of a ways, waited some time and then brewed it some more. What I concluded was that this coffee was mercurial. At times, I liked its really round mouthfeel, with roasted tomato acidity. At others, it just tasted off. I found the latter results especially so when I used more concentrated brew methods such as the Aeropress. This review may be a moot point since this coffee is no longer available. If you do see it, I would say try before you buy.