Jan – Feb 2006: Sweet Maria’s is now “Peaberry Depot”; A Rant About Electric Drip Brewers. Or, How “Hamilton Beach” Made a Liar Out of Me

Sweet Maria’s is now “Peaberry Depot”

Okay, we are not changing our name. But for some reason we have a lot of peaberry offerings on our list. I am at a loss to explain it. There are people in the coffee trade who think peaberry is special for some intrinsic reason … there’s even a roaster in the Northwest who carries only peaberry regardless of origin or quality! I “blind cup” all our coffees against many other lots. I never know if it is a flatbean or peaberry, I only judge the cup flavors. So what’s the deal with all the PB? And what is a peaberry anyway? Peaberry is the rounded bean shape that forms when one of the 2 seeds in the coffee cherry fails to develop. The remaining bean forms the rounded shape of two flatbean “halves.” A peaberry is a mutation, not a defect; it is a sound coffee seed that can reproduce, that roasts up without a problem, and can have a fine cup. Peaberry has some physical qualities that are different that flat beans (higher cell density) but do not necessarily taste different because of their shape. The only case that can be made for a real “Peaberry difference” that affects the cup is the way a peaberry tends to behave in the roast chamber. In a fluid bed roaster it will “roll” easier and rotate better in the hot air stream. In a drum or air roaster, it will transfer heat a little better from the exterior to interior of the bean due to the fact that peaberries usually have higher bean density. But these factors have a minor influence on the final cup results. The fact is, a particular coffee is either good or bad, and that is determined by the altitude where grown, the soil, the health of the plant, the selection of ripe cherry in harvesting, prompt processing, quality wet-processing and good dry-process preparation, etc, etc. All these things play a large roll in cup quality. So why all the high quality coffee that happens to be peaberry? Well, I guess it’s due to the way the coffee market works. Sweet Maria’s buys small lots of special coffee, lots that have received the best care, the best preparation. We pay far more than market value for these lots. Sounds great for the coffee farmer right? Yes and no. Coffee farmers want to sell all their coffee at good prices. But on the average farm, if 1000 bags of cherry are picked, then the result is 500 bags of saleable coffee. Of those 500, 400 are going to have lower cup quality due to harvest factors (too early in the crop, lower farm altitudes, off-size or broken beans). So you pick 1000 bags of cherry and end up with 100 bags of specialty grade coffee. But what I want from a farm is extra attention, extra hand sorting, special care above and beyond specialty grade. All farmers know about peaberry, they know it commands a slightly higher price. So they are already prepared to separate it in the screening process (when the coffee is shaken through metal screens that mechanically separate 17-18 screen from 15-16 from peaberry, etc.) and give the peaberry special care. Of those 1000 bags, the result is just 10 or 15 bags of peaberry … a perfect lot size for Sweet Maria’s! My cupping process begins and ends with the cup quality of a coffee. It is interesting to try to “explain” why a coffee is good afterwards, to posit that cultivar, or a drier than normal season, or the shape of the seed might account for an exemplary cup. But I have been wrong enough in such conjectures to stay humble about these fanciful thoughts. I can’t prove them, but if we put cup quality first, I think the rest will fall into place. Don’t get hung up on peaberry vs. flat bean too much, just enjoy the flavors! -Tom

A Rant About Electric Drip Brewers. Or, How “Hamilton Beach” Made a Liar Out of Me

Maria and I went to Chicago for Christmas this year. I took two recent coffee arrivals along with me, two complex coffees that I really wanted to brew and taste and share with family: Rwanda Typica from the Gatare washing station, and the late-arriving Kenya Auction Lot known only as “#54.” Both these coffees have an interesting fruity subtext to the cup. Rwanda has what the wine snobs call a “well-structured” flavor profile (hinting at the Typica varietal), with some variation of black tea with slight floral and citric suggestions. It has that zestiness in the cup you get with really good, fresh Earl Grey tea. It needs to be roasted fairly light, easing it through 1st crack, finishing the roast before it nears 2nd crack, looking for the dark wrinkles in the surface to disappear and some smoothness to the surface color. On my Probat roaster it’s around 432 f, but the numbers change on various roasters, as you know. And then there was Lot 54, my precious Kenya that has such an unusual character to it. It lacks the high-toned acidity of Kenyas. It’s not one of those Nyeri region citric explosions, that biting pink grapefruit tartness. If it were wine, it would be Syrah, a fat, dark, fruited, deep cup. There’s plum and blackberry, a sweet cup at first that has a little tannic effect in the finish. I haven’t nailed down the roast on it yet, but it seems to fall apart a bit at Full City, just at 2nd crack. It’s another coffee that peaks in a window around 430 to 435 f, and has darker cup character that belies a lighter roast treatment.
Anyway, I gush with praise for these coffees to make this point: I really wanted to spend some time and taste these two beauties. So imagine my shock to brew a pot of Lot 54 and taste a flat, flabby, formless cup, devoid of character except an awfully dirty, bitter finish. I was in shock. What did I do wrong? Was the coffee misroasted? Did I mix it up with some bad sample someone had sent in? Was it too dark – if so, even a good coffee should be able to stand up to overroast better than this … did I get one bag that was a “dud?” Was there a mix-up in shipping the lot? Did I grossly misjudge this coffee? All these things went through my mind. After all, being a coffee buyer has a way of keeping you humble, since every time you think you really know what you are
doing, you get kicked in the rear. Customers don’t know about the lots I reject after I get so excited about them, lots I have to beg a broker to take back, coffee that fills the potholes in the street outside our warehouse. Yet all the while I was thinking about that coffee brewer at the inlaws. I had cleaned it thoroughly. I always do so, when nobody is looking. They make all these electric drip brewers in black plastic to hide the coffee scum that accumulates on them, that bitter awful stuff that permeates the plastic, that smells worse that gym socks when you take the time to smell it. Okay, so I cleaned the coffeemaker again, and brewed the Rwanda, made sure I ground it a bit finer to slow the drip rate, watched it do it’s thing, tasted it, spit it out. I dumped the pot in the sink. How could such a lovely coffee brew into such a vile beverage. Was it me? Were my expectations too great for these coffees? Was I experiencing jetlag and couldn’t taste right? What was really on my mind was this: how many people read my effusive reviews about these, and then brew it like this, in a Hamilton Beach coffeemaker (as this was, or the equivalent) and think “that guy is full of it! I mean, this is how the majority of people make their morning cup., right? I tell you this, Hamilton Beach (or the equivalent) is making I liar out of me in some kitchen, somewhere, every week. The point is this; home coffee roasting is pointless if it is going to be brewed in a $30 electric drip maker. It turns out the brewer was making coffee at 180 degrees. I am told some of them brew at 185 off the shelf, new! Coffee needs to be brewed at 195 to 205, with about 202 as an optimal temperature for me. That explains the dullness in the cup. Tap water kills coffee flavor in most locales (but I was using good spring water, which is ideal). But the bitterness, the bad aroma … all that was due to foul old coffee scum,. Even with repeated cleanings I could hold the plastic drip basket to my nose and still smell it. And this brewer had some sort of built-in water filter that was probably ruining my nice bottled water anyway. They are not all evil: We use the Technivorm drip brewer every day for the staff here, and it makes very fine coffee. We use the “hold back the water” technique described on our Technivorm tip sheet, and the results are awesome. But anything, anything, is better than a cheap, dirty, low-temperature brewer. If you think you too may be a victim of Hamilton Beach (or the equivalent), brew the same coffee by pouring water just off boiling temperature, meaning 200 f, through a paper filter held in a clean filter holder. Brewing should take at least 3 minutes, preferably 4. Does it taste brighter, cleaner, less bitter? Or brew it in a clean French press. Use good tasting spring water. Is it better? I’ll bet it is … -Tom

Sweet Maria’s Coffee
1115 21st Street, Oakland CA 94607
web: www.sweetmarias.com
email: [email protected]

Sweet Maria’s Green Coffee Offering List
January 1, 2006 – check the web page for the latest list
Central American 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Costa Rica Dota Tarrazu -Coopedota $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $73.92
Costa Rica La Candelilla “Miel” $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $81.62
Costa Rica La Minita Tarrazu $6.80 $12.92 $30.26 $108.80
Guatemala Acatenango Cooperative $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
Guatemala Organic Coban -El Tirol $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $75.46
Guatemala Huehuetenango -La Maravilla $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $78.54
Honduras Cup of Excellence -El Mirador $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $83.16
Honduras Cup of Exc -Nueve Posas $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $83.16
Honduras Fabio Caballero $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $73.92
Mexico Organic Oaxaca -Finca El Olivo $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $80.08
Nicaragua Cup of Exc -La Esperanza $6.80 $12.92 $29.58 $104.72
Nicaragua Cup of Excellence -La Pinauete $6.40 $12.16 $27.84 $98.56
Nicaragua Pacamara Peaberry $6.10 $11.59 $26.54 $93.94
Panama Carmen Estate $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $80.08
South American 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Brazil Fazenda Brauna Peaberry $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $78.54
Brazil Fazenda Ipanema “Dulce” $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $75.46
Brazil FTO – Poco Fundo $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $75.46
Colombia Narino -Caracol del Abuelo $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $73.92
Colombia Cauca FNC Excelso $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $75.46
Colombia Huila – Los Idolos de Bellavista $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $75.46
Colombia Huila – Oparapa Micro-region $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $78.54
Peru Organic Norte $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
African- Arabian 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Ethiopia Dry-Process Ghimbi $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $75.46
Ethiopia FTO Harar -Oromia Coop $5.05 $9.60 $21.97 $77.77
Ethiopia Wet-Processed Sidamo $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $75.46
Ethiopia Yirgacheffe (MAO) $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $78.54
Kenya AA Auction Lot 293 -Gicherori $5.90 $11.21 $25.67 $90.86
Kenya Auction Lot #54 Peaberry $5.90 $11.21 $25.67 $90.86
Kenya Auction Lot 622 Peaberry $5.80 $11.02 $25.23 $89.32
Rwanda Gatare Grade A $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
Yemen Mokha Sana’ani $6.40 $12.16 $29.76 $102.40
Indonesian- Indian 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Indian Monsooned Malabar “Elephant” $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $83.16
Java Private Estate – Type: Prince $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $73.92
Java Government Estate – Djampit $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $80.08
Papua New Guinea – Arokara AA $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $75.46
Papua New Guinea -Kimel Plantation $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $75.46
Sulawesi Toraja Grade One $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $73.92
Sumatra Blue Batak Peaberry $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $86.24
Sumatra Iskandar Triple-Pick $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $81.62
Sumatra Lintong Dry-Process $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $83.16
Sumatra TimTim Blangili Long Bean $5.90 $11.21 $25.67 $90.86
Sumatra Volkopi Supergrade $5.80 $11.02 $25.23 $89.32
Timor FTO Gr. 1 Maubesse $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $73.92
Islands- Blends -Etc. 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Hawaii Kona – Kowali Farm $16.60 $31.87 $77.19 5 lb limit
SM’s Moka Kadir Blend $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $86.24
SM’s Espresso Monkey Blend $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
SM’s Classic Italian Espresso Blend $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $73.92
SM’s Decaf Espresso Blend $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $86.24
SM’s Liquid Amber Espresso Blend $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $81.62
SM’s French Roast Blend $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
SM’s Puro Scuro Blend $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $83.16
SM’s Roasted French Chicory $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $73.92
Decafs 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Brazil Mogiana WP Decaf $4.60 $8.74 $20.01 $70.84
Colombian WP Decaf $4.70 $8.93 $20.45 $72.38
Costa Rica SHB WP Decaf $5.50 $10.45 $23.93 $84.70
Ethiopian WP Decaf (Sidamo) $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $86.24
Guatemala Huehuetenango WP Decaf $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $86.24
Indonesian Organic SWP Komodo Blend $5.90 $11.21 $25.67 $90.86
Kenya AA WP Decaf LOW -More Coming $5.90 $11.21 $25.67 $90.86
Nicaragua Matagalpa WP Decaf $5.50 $10.45 $23.93 $84.70
Sulawesi Toraja WP Decaf $5.90 $11.21 $25.67 $90.86
Sumatra Mandheling WP Decaf $5.70 $10.83 $24.80 $87.78
Tanzania Peaberry WP Decaf $5.70 $10.83 $24.80 $87.78
Premium Robustas 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Indian Robusta and Robusta Peaberry coming in January
We have about 10 new lots arriving in the early part of January!

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