When it comes to coffee.... today was one of those days.
Last week I decided I wanted to do a multi-roaster, blind cupping (as with the State of SF Coffee experiment). This time I wanted it to be some hand-selected roasters from all over; and with a larger group of cuppers. And while I was at it... I wanted to include a bunch of espresso.
In the end... here were the coffees:
4 Barrel Espresso
4 Barrel Costa Rica Cafetin "wee berry"
4 Barrel El Salvador La Montanita
Ecco Caffe Brazil Sertaozinho Reserve Espresso
Ecco Caffe Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Dama Co-op
Ecco Caffe Colombia Loma Redonda
Ritual Kenya Kiambara
Ritual El Salvador Finca Los Andes
Intelligentsia Kenya Gichathaini
Stumptown Hairbender Espresso
Stumptown Ethopia Yirgacheffe La Michella
49th Parallel Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Wondo
49th Parallel El Salvador Los Planes
For consistency's sake, all shots of espresso were pulled by me and experimentation was largely limited to dose, volume and brew temp.
Cuppers consisted of 3 coffee professionals (representing roasters, baristas and green bean buyers) and one food and wine professional (highly respected sommelier and coffee fan). All cupping was the usual blind set up with coffees coded with playing cards.
All three espressos were good to excellent. The Four Barrel Espresso was sweet and heavy, with an interesting savory note in the finish. It has great fruit and a really nice powdery chocolate tone. The Stumptown Hairbender was fabulously balanced, with great sweetness and soft bitter tones in the middle before finishing with fantastically clean fruit notes. The Ecco Sertaozinho Reserve had fantastic honey/caramel and stone fruit with a chocolate/butter finish.
In the end, those tasting the espresso felt the Hairbender was the "preferred" coffee of the three. We felt it managed the unique and challenging task of being familiar and comforting while tasting new and exciting. We loved the rainier cherry notes and the not-cloying sweetness. The finish was incredible and long-lasting. In our opinions, the Hairbender is a great benchmark for American Espresso.
After cupping the remaining coffees, we felt that four of them stood out as the class of the table. These four were all absolutely lovely coffees - and the gap between our favorite of the four and our fourth favorite was 1.5 points (out of 100). The Stumptown Ethopia Yirgacheffe La Michella was outrageously balanced and nuanced, with a beautiful balance of milk-tea and lemon zest with cantalope and apricot flavours. Aromatics of lemon skin, assam tea and jasmine complemented the experience. Just a very elegant cup in all ways. The Intelligentsia Kenya Gichathaini was the complete package, with a solid backbone of dark molasses, leather and pluot/pear supporting fantastic dried blackberry and marmalade high notes. Aromatics were overwhelmingly rich and sweet, with tons of molasses and jam. The Ecco Caffe Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Dama Co-op (a past favorite of course) was wonderfully sweet and balanced - with tons of layered citrus (bergamot, lemon zest, tangerine, sour orange) and a lovely lactic/honey body. Deep layers of honey, lemon, assam tea and sweet fruit aromatics were an elegant and mouthwatering introduction to the cup. The 4 Barrel El Salvador La Montanita was dominated by sweet tangerine-marmalade and persimmon notes and had a lovely, clean finish. Clean and with layers and layers of unfolding citrus, this coffee had a fantastic, deep resinous finish. Aromatics were subtle and soft with a nice savory soy sauce note.
In the end, the differences between these coffees were almost too tight to call - and there were some disagreements in ranking between those cupping - but when push came to shove we were forced to rank as follows:
1 - Intelligentsia Kenya Gichathaini. Clean, sweet, complicated, rich, deep - perfectly roasted.
2 - Stumptown Ethopia Yirgacheffe La Michella. Sophisticated, classic, balanced - wonderful nuance.
3 - Ecco Caffe Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Dama Co-op. Polished, rounded, complex - wonderful structure.
4 - 4 Barrel El Salvador La Montanita. Clean, balanced, rich - deeply satisfying.
It's important to keep in mind that all four of these coffees are fantastic - and that the spread from 1 to 4 is miniscule. Not only that - the difference between 2 and 3 was small enough that they were effectively tied (one cupper in fact had it tied for 1st rank with the Gichathaini).
On the national stage, Intelligentsia and Stumptown have established themselves at the "gold standard" for coffee. The SF roasters should be very proud that they were able to hold their own on this table.
It was a good day indeed.