Jan – Feb – Mar 2007: When Excellent Isn’t Good Enough; It Could Be Worse…

When Excellent Isn’t Good Enough
I’m not a wine guy. It just seems impossible to dedicate so many brain cells to one beverage, coffee, and have anything left over for another. But who can ignore the influence of vinoculture over all other liquid refreshments, hot or cold. All descriptive language about coffee has a root in that of the oenophile. And yet, coffee is not wine, and deserves its own descriptors. It doesn’t taste like wine (although wine notes can be found in Kenya and other origins), it cannot be aged like wine (although people keep experimenting with extending green coffee storage), and I don’t think your wine snob friends would appreciate a brewed wine served in a porcelain mug. But I would like to highlight a couple aspects of the wine buyers’ sensibility that I have always appreciated. For one, they see their purchases as an exploration of their personal sense of taste, calibrated in a sense against their expectations of enjoyment. And secondly, the wine buyer likes to be surprised. In particular, they appreciate the notion that more money does not equal greater quality, or greater taste enjoyment. The later is a critical point; how do you justify what the cost of a wine is, versus the perceived quality? Is a wine, or a coffee, that costs 5x as much going to deliver 5x the enjoyment? And in relation to the taster’s exploration of flavor, and the relation of price to quality, what is the responsibility of the buyer/taster? Okay, “responsibility” is a heavy-handed word here; after all, we are talking about something we enjoy, coffee, not a chore. But I always feel that the best tasters are the ones who are truly “sensory explorers”, people interested in discovering new and unexpected flavors. I am always sheepish about writing that a coffee is savory, brothy, cheesy (yes, it has been used in a review), or reminds me of the sweetness in chayote squash. Can you convince a taster that squash in their coffee is a welcome encounter? And yet the more omnivorous, the more open taster will be eternally curious about flavor experiences, if not to find the squash as much to not find the squash, but instead something of their own; green apple? leeks? Who knows what. It’s been said that the best reader is a writer, not because they actually are a writer, but because as they read they interpret. Interpretation is creative; they are in fact creating a new text with their interpretation, they are writing as they read. I think this is doubly true with the interpretation of flavor. What could be more personal, more dependent upon ones own history of taste, and culture, as well as physiological factors? All these variables, (let alone the variables of the thing being tasted!) lead to the widest possible range of interpretations. I was very hesitant to add some cursory flavor notes to our labels on the green coffee bags. I don’t want to tell anyone what they should be experiencing. But then it occurred to me that I wasn’t showing enough faith in our home roaster folks: after all, I have never met a more skeptical and willful bunch. If I write that a coffee has a hint of dried blueberry, I will undoubtedly receive customer input that it was blackberry, raspberry, lignon-berry, or no berry at all. That’s the beauty of interpretation. Which leads me back to my point: I too am a skeptic. I resist being told what is “good,” and how much I should enjoy some coffee. I make coffee prove itself to me in the process of blind cupping, which I do every day. And the joy of this impartial evaluation is that, at any moment, everything that “should be” can get turned on its head. A coffee that is hailed as 90+ points by an international jury and sells for 10x the market can get whipped into place by a pooled lot of export grade coffee (as was the case with Colombia Excelso Lot 13556). And on the flip side, look at our Jamaica offerings from last year … not! Why buy an overpriced coffee when they entire crop year tasted like cabbage soup? We have offered some extremely spendy coffees in the past year, the #1 Cup of Excellence Guatemala, the #2 El Salvador, the set of top 3 Panama competition coffees. And with each I promised that these were excellent coffees, but not 5x as good as all others. The Sweet Maria’s offering sheet represents an immense amount of work, to offer a carefully chosen collection of coffees that represent the best “origin character” of the land on which they are grown. But I invite your skepticism, I invite you to consider that a $15/lb. coffee might not be as much to your liking as a $4.50/lb. selection. I invite you to find that perhaps, for you, Indonesia is a coffee wasteland, or that Kenyas (sadly) bite your palate in the wrong way. I invite you to explore our offerings, to use the reviews as a resource, and to discover your own taste in coffee. And may we all share this enjoyment and avoid the exclusiveness of the so-called “wine snobs,” because, after all, coffee is (thankfully) not wine! So indeed, “excellent” may not be good enough, because what attains the highest rank according to someone else’s taste, or even in some empirical scoring method such as I use, might not be exactly what you are looking for in the cup. And only you can define what that is. I hope the Sweet Maria’s web site, all the reviews I have written, the articles on roasting, and the vast array of green coffee offered, is a help, not a hindrance, as you seek a bit of coffee enjoyment. –Tom

It Could Be Worse…
How does the word “Nesco” strike you? Not that appealing, eh? Well, that is the new name for the Zach and Dani’s roaster, so I actually consider it a step up. The later is now out of the home roasting business, and the name has reverted to the company who actually manufactured the machine: Nesco. I updated the reviews, and have tested the new machine, despite all indications that it is the identical model as the Z&D. I have noticed a couple minutes shorter roast times, a good thing because the old Z&D risked baking coffee, not roasting it. Actually, I have been impressed with the model, which really does eliminate the bulk of the roast smoke using its catalytic converter. And I was able to attain good dark roasts, and excellent, full-body espresso roasts with the new Nesco. So I have edited the review to be a bit less dour, even though the name could
till use some improvement.

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

Sweet Maria’s Green Coffee Offering List
as of January 17, 2007 – check the web page for the latest list

Central American 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
Costa Rica Dota Tarrazu Hermosa $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
Costa Rica SM Select Peaberry $5.75 $10.93 $25.01 $47.73 $88.55
El Salvador Cup of Excellence #2 -Los Planes $21.90 1 lb limit
El Salvador- The Juan Francisco Project $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
Guatemala “Blue Quetzal” Bourbon $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $43.99 $81.62
Guatemala Fraijanes – Finca Agua Tibia $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
Guatemala Huehue -Finca La Providencia $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
Guatemala Quiche – La Perla Estate $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Guatemala FTO Quiche – Maya Ixil $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $43.99 $81.62
Honduras Pacamara – Santa Marta Estate $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Mexico Organic Nayarit Terruno $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
Nicaragua Matagalpa -Pacamara Peaberry $6.10 $11.59 $26.54 $50.63 $93.94
Nicaragua Limoncillo Estate Var. Java $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Nicaragua FTO Lozahoren (Dipilto) $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $42.33 $78.54
Panama Hacienda La Esmeralda Gesha $15.70 Limit 1 lb
Panama Boquete – Maunier Estate $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
Panama Organic Los Lajones $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
South American 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
Brazil Fazenda Boa Sorte Natural Bourbon $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
Brazil Fazenda Brauna Flatbean $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $42.33 $78.54
Brazil Screen-Dried Moreninha Formosa $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $42.33 $78.54
Brazil Cachoeira da Grama -Yellow Bourbon $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $46.48 $86.24
Colombia Cup of Exc #3 – El Placer $9.20 $17.48 $40.02 $76.36
Colombia Cup of Exce#12 – El Descanso $8.80 $16.72 $38.28 $73.04
Colombia Cauca Organic -La Esperanza $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Colombia Tolima Planadas – El Jordan $5.70 $10.83 $24.80 $47.31 $87.78
Peru Norte Especial $4.70 $8.93 $20.45 $39.01 $72.38
African- Arabian 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
Congo Kivu Peaberry $4.50 $8.55 $19.58 $37.35 $69.30
Ethiopia FTO Dry Process Sidamo $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
Ethiopia Organic Idido Misty Valley DP $6.20 $11.78 $26.97 $51.46 $95.48
Ethiopia Late Harvest Yirgacheffe $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
Rwanda Migongo Bourbon $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Tanzania Mount Meru Nkoanekoli $5.50 $10.45 $23.93 $45.65 $84.70
Yemen Mokha Mattari – Full City+ $7.20 $13.68 $31.32 $59.76
Yemen Mokha Sana’ani $6.40 $12.16 $27.84 $53.12 $98.56
Indonesian- Indian 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
India Monsooned Malabar “Elephant” $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $44.82 $83.16
Indonesia Flores Sasandu Dry-Process $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
Java Government Estate Djampit $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Papua New Guinea -Kimel Peaberry $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
Sulawesi Grade One Toraja $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $42.33 $78.54
Sumatra Classic Mandheling $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
Sumatra Blue Lintong $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Sumatra 19+ TP – Lake Tawar $6.00 $11.40 $26.10 $49.80 $92.40
Timor FTO Maubesse $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
Islands- Blends -Etc. 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
Hawaii Kona – Kowali Farm Typica $16.60 $31.54 $72.21 $137.78
SM’s Moka Kadir Blend $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $46.48 $86.24
SM’s Espresso Monkey Blend $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
SM’s Classic Italian Espresso Blend $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
SM’s Decaf Espresso Blend $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $46.48 $86.24
SM’s Liquid Amber Espresso Blend $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $43.99 $81.62
SM’s French Roast Blend $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
SM’s Puro Scuro Blend $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $44.82 $83.16
SM’s Roasted French Chicory $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
Decafs 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
African Highlands WP Decaf $5.80 $11.02 $25.23 $48.14 $89.32
Brazil Mogiana WP Decaf OUT $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $42.33 $78.54
Colombia WP Decaf OUT $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $44.82 $83.16
Costa Rica Tres Rios WP Decaf $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $43.99 $81.62
El Salvador PN Las Ranas WP Decaf $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $43.99 $81.62
Ethiopia Natural (DP) Sidamo WP Decaf $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $43.99 $81.62
Guatemala San Marcos WP Decaf $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Indonesian Organic SWP Komodo Blend $5.90 $11.21 $25.67 $48.97 $90.86
Mexico Organic Chiapas WP Decaf $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $43.99 $81.62
Panama WP Decaf -Panamaria Farm $5.50 $10.45 $23.93 $45.65 $84.70
Sumatra Organic Gayoland WP Decaf $5.90 $11.21 $25.67 $48.97 $90.86
Premium Robustas 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
India Organic Washed Robusta $4.60 $8.74 $20.01 $38.18 $70.84
Thumbs Down: Vietnam Robusta Gr 1 $1.00 1 lb limit

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