One of the primary goals of our blog posts is to keep you up to date on the menu we are constantly creating in an engaging manner. That being said, one of the goals of this post is to inform you that we now have the Espresso Tonic drink back on the bar. Summer is officially here on South Jefferson. If you’d like to follow me down a conceptual rabbit hole for a few paragraphs about how we got to this point, keep on reading. If not, now you know you can come in and get that sweet sweet tonic drink you’ve been asking about.
Typically when we write a post about a specific coffee in the shop, we have a positive angle or spin which helps to showcase that coffee. What do you do though when you have hundreds of pounds of a coffee that just isn’t really that great? It’s not bad. Some days it’s even good. The coffee just never really shines though, and if/when it does it’s the exception to the rule, not a consistent daily experience. Before going any further, I want clarify that this is no way a slam against any specific importer or farm; rather its just me trying to puzzle through the process of trying to transform green coffee seeds into exceptional cups of brewed coffee. As someone who both roasts coffee on the back end and prepares coffee at the front end, I think I have a unique perspective on this process, although I will not say unique should in any way be read as complete or correct.
Moving along, I recognize the fatal flaw in this equation is that I/we as roasters/baristas/‘coffee professionals’ will always be extra critical of the coffee products that we offer and that we consume. Scott has written before about the coffee selection process; about how we sample roast and cup coffees, diligently tasting them and taking notes; extrapolating from there what the coffee could become when roasted in larger quantities against specific roast profiles with brewing equipment more sophisticated than just hot water and soup spoons. There is plenty of conjecture in the world of coffee about how we ‘scientifically’ extract coffee in an optimal manner. I would suggest that the only truly scientific thing we do day in and day out is that we try to brew the same coffees over and over while taking mental and physical notes about the experiences. The picture periodically gets a little clearer, until something that doesn’t fit in to our experience happens. Then we try to adjust accordingly. Ultimately though we are working with time sensitive fruit seeds, whose relative moisture content is constantly changing and whose initial organic makeup isn’t guaranteed to be consistent from seed to seed in the first place. This isn’t meant to sound so woe-is-me, but rather is just an acknowledgment of the fact that it is miraculous anyone ever made a decent tasting cup of coffee in the first place.
Such has been the case with our most recent Ethiopian coffee, the Ethiopia Limu. This coffee took on multiple personalities during its tenure in the shop. Unsurprisingly, Scott and I had been discussing concepts of first crack development and the heat system within the roasting drum more than usual, so in a variety of ways this coffee gave us a canvas on which to work out some of those discussions, allowing us to see how much different amounts of convective and conductive heat would affect the same coffee. When we first moved the coffee to the bar, it had a number of typical washed Ethiopian coffee qualities. The coffee was delicate and floral, with notes of black tea sweetness. There was nothing bombastic or excessive in the cup, a la Ethiopia’s typical natural processed coffees; just a quiet yet pleasant cup. However, as we worked more with the coffee we began to question whether it was a quality we were accentuating or a quality we were diminishing which was leading to this understated cup characterization.
Subsequently we began to push the overall time in the roasting drum a little longer, allowing for more sugars within the coffee to caramelize. This allowed for a more traditional sweetness and robustness to come through after brewing. Typically when we do this, we are able to create a more familiar chocolate-oriented flavor profile as well as create a little more brewing stability. The risk we run is that as the coffee spends more time in the drum we begin pushing further into the territory of bold or over developed coffee, which for us inevitably ends up implying a smokiness or darkness to the cup. The more developed roast profile did offer an aspect of consistency, which is sometimes missing in our lighter roasting style. While more sweetness and dark chocolate came through, a residual flatness to the cup persisted.
We performed yet another profile modulation, pulling out the first crack development longer still, but adjusting total temperature of the system to keep the final bean temperature slightly lower. This best of both worlds approach ended up being the best we could achieve; some batches were super floral and sweet, with a lot of lemon-lime acidity and on given days would make excellent ristretto shots. Regardless we still felt we could not create an exceptional brewed cup of coffee. At this point, we were frustrated. Here we were with a coffee, which we just were not capable of producing a memorable product with. Was it the coffee’s fault or was it our fault? Was there something we were overlooking or missing? Were we just over-analyzing ourselves into a corner? Maybe it was a little bit of everything. Regardless, there wasn’t a consistent buzz or hype coming from our team about the Limu. Which is unusual for a washed Ethiopian coffee.
Returning to my initial point, its taken us awhile to officially bring back the fabled Espresso Tonic beverage, specifically for these reasons. In our experience, the tonic drink falls flat on its face when the espresso being used isn’t the proper balance of both aggressive acidity and fruit sweetness, woven together with the delicate floral aspects of a properly roasted heirloom Ethiopian varietal.
As the Limu leaves our shelves this week, we are happy to introduce the Ethiopia Reko, a washed coffee from farms in Yirgacheffe and Kochere. Rolling into summer properly, the Reko does not disappoint and we have been looking forward to officially releasing this coffee for weeks now, ever since we first cupped it back in the early spring. The coffee offers guests a peach bomb with its subtle stonefruit notes, soda-like pop and acidity reminiscent of carbonated lime and orange beverages, and a mild black pepper and milk chocolate backdrop against which the more subtle fruit flavors and intense acidity can do work. The Reko has become an immediate favorite internally for the shop, shining strong on the Slayer, in the v60, and through our slow drip Kyoto brewers.
In addition to the Reko Espresso and Fever Tree tonic water combo, you can be sure to look forward to other cold coffee cocktail explorations with this coffee in the coming heat of Saint Louis summer. As we move forward with our ever growing roasting operation, we will continue to learn lessons from the coffees we roast, by doing what we’ve always done: taking lots of notes and drinking lots of carafes.
Here it is, very tardy Nashville Coffee Fest post from several weeks back. Enough time has passed so that all the details have blurred into a collect myth (all of which I swear is true and not fake) on how we won the espresso competition and threw a baller party in Nashville.
Cheers and shouts (some taunts too) of ‘higher’ (in Spanish) from the assembled crowd accompanied each lot up for auction. The atmosphere was electric. The top lot went to one of the buyer's from South Korea, Coffee Libre. Pil, from Coffee Libre, had won the top lot from last year's auction. His bidding technique included several poker 101 strategies -including wearing sunglasses to avoid any tells. The pricing on the top lot closed just beyond $22 a pound. Since I knew he paid over $30 a pound the year before I wasn't going to provide any really challenge to his run at the top lot. My paddle stayed locked in my lap.
Last September we had the good fortune to participate in a very special annual coffee auction descriptively named Best of Cauca. The Best of Cauca is now an annual event established by Cafe Imports (a US headquartered coffee importer) and Banexport (a Colombia based coffee mill and exporter). This year's event included coffee buyers from six different countries (Russia, Colombia, Canada, Singapore, South Korea, and the US). Banexport selected the top 31 single estate lots and the top10 (give or take a lot or two, my memory is spotty here) regional select lots from over 2000 small farm submissions.