Fruit Bombs Are the Point: Natural-Processed Espressos Defy Convention

Coffee cherries drying in the whole fruit. Courtesy of Felala Coffee.

The Coffee Review lab has smelled like a candy store for the last few weeks — a Willy Wonka factory for grownups. Of the hundreds of coffees we cup every year, a growing percentage of them are natural-processed. In the wine world, the word “natural” doesn’t mean anything in particular, is more of a marketing term designed to imply minimal intervention in the winemaking process. In coffee, “natural” processing means something very specific: that the beans or seeds are dried inside the entire coffee fruit. This approach differs from the “washed” (or wet) method, in which the beans are stripped of their fruit before they are dried. Both approaches have profound impact on the sensory character of the green coffee.  As in winemaking, natural processing of coffee is a minimal-intervention process in its most basic form.

But now, “basic” … Read more

Brazil Naturals: Tradition and Innovation

Mill devoted to smaller-lot specialty coffees at Ipanema Farms in the Sul de Minas growing region, Brazil. Courtesy of Ipanema Farms.

 

When I first opened a specialty café in Berkeley, California 40 years ago, a Brazil always appeared among the standard whole-bean coffee offerings in the 10 or so glass-fronted bins that held our whole-bean coffees. All of the popular and glamorous coffee origins of the time were there: Guatemala Antigua, Kenya AA, Costa Rica Tarrazu, Sumatra Mandheling, Colombia Supremo, and the new, game-changing Ethiopia Yirgacheffe. Brazil Santos, as we liked to call it (all of these origins had to sport at least one secondary qualifying name), was usually down at the end of the row, largely looked past when customers ordered a pound of Kenya or Guatemala.

But some customers did buy Brazils. I remember one particularly coffee-savvy young employee who skillfully worked our Gaggia two-group piston espresso … Read more

Darker-Roasted Coffees: Not Just Old-School Anymore

 

Coffee plants growing at Finca Cruz Loma in Ecuador. Courtesy of Simon Hsieh.

 

Every few years, we at Coffee Review like to survey the dark roast landscape. Dark-roasted coffee is a daily staple for some coffee drinkers and anathema to others. But there appears to be a sweet spot that appeals to a wide range of coffee-drinking styles that’s not too light and not too dark, making equal space for those who drink their coffee black and those who doctor it with dairy, nut and oat milks, coconut cream, etc. As with everything we consume, personal preference rules, and it was nice to learn, by way of cupping for this month’s report, that there’s a great deal of range offered by today’s darker-roasted coffee profiles.

Of the 14 coffees we review for this month’s report, four were purchased as benchmarks for the darker-roasted category. They include two widely … Read more

Interview: Kenneth Davids Discusses His New Book, 21st Century Coffee: A Guide

Kenneth Davids’ new book, inside and out. Courtesy Kenneth Davids.

 

“When my first book about coffee came out in the 1970s,” Coffee Review editor Kenneth Davids says, “people I met at parties used to wonder how I managed to find enough to write about coffee to fill a whole book on the subject.” Given the explosion of coffee innovation and change since then that Davids describes with affectionate yet thorough detail in his latest book, 21st Century Coffee: A Guide, coffee insiders today may wonder how he managed to get away with writing one new book this time rather than two or three. Nevertheless, he appears to have gotten most of the latest innovation and excitement in coffee into his latest volume, enriched by a perspective afforded by his over forty years of active engagement with the specialty coffee world.

The book offers particularly detailed chapters on … Read more

Reflections on the Art of Coffee Blending: Daily Drinkers With Personality

Diedrich IR-7 coffee roaster at Old Soul Co in 2006, used to roast the original Whiskey Dreams Moka Java Blend. Courtesy of Andri Tambunan.

The idea of the coffee blend is a long and winding road. Blends give roasters an opportunity to create a coffee that evokes specific sensory properties, and blends are often designed to give consumers a consistent experience over time (much like a Champagne house approaches the non-vintage brut). But before consumers began insisting upon knowing the origins of what’s in their cup, it wasn’t all that common for roasters to label blend components on the bag, or even necessarily indicate that a coffee is a blend.

In this month’s report, we consider the “house blend,” a full 25 years after Kenneth Davids, co-founder of Coffee Review, wrote this publication’s first-ever report, which happened to be on this very topic. Embedded in that first report … Read more