Coffee review: Intelligentsia Hacienda La Esmeralda Especial

by on July 10, 2006

Plainspoken Coffee. A Coffee Review for Ordinary People by Ordinary People, #5.

As promised in my previous backgrounder, a review of Hacienda la Esmeralda from Intelligentsia.

The beans: This was quite a light roast, just at city, medium brown with no oil on the beans.  They had a spicy odor that several of us immediately identified as smelling like pizza crust.  It was amazingly distinctive, and we thought that five of us coming up with the pizza analogy was remarkable.  Pizza crust is probably not an odor you’d want in your coffee, but rest assured, it did not taste like it smelled.  On day 2 post-roast, the freshly ground beans had a strongly floral smell, like a meadow in the hopper.  It faded quickly, and we couldn’t find it later.

Brewed: We tried this brewed in a drip on days 2 (gold filter) and 4 (unbleached paper) post-roast, and in a press on days 7 and 8.  We all agreed that the Ethiopian heritage was easy to distinguish, citrusy and very reminiscent of a Yirg.  In the press it was especially citrusy, with a mouthwatering juicy taste at first sip.

Several of us found it to be quite tea-like, in particular the aftertaste which was the most pleasant and non-coffee-like I’ve ever experienced, astringent like a good Darjeeling.  Kingfisher tasted cherries, and the Risky Kingbird could detect floral notes.  Overall, we were unable to pull out jasmine, green grape or apple, or some of the other exotic flavors experts found.  While we used a burr grinder and measured more carefully than usual, our pedestrian home gear and brewing style probably did not do this bean any favors.

We we blown away?  Not really, although some of us were pretty impressed. Star[bucks]ling thought this would be a coffee that could turn him on to a light roast. “This is the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had, but I don’t know why.” Coal Tit merely said “Whoa!”  She paused.  “That’s all I have to say.”

Other opinions: In the previous post I linked to reviews of earlier crops at bread coffee chocolate yoga; here is her take on this one.

Jim Schulman of Coffee Cuppers summarized the opinions at a tasting on one of the Coffee Geek forums:

“The Geisha had the across-the-room aromatics on Wednesday, but lost steam in the subsequent days.  The taste was sweet…with musky florals and cinnamon notes when warm, cooling to a spicey apple when cool. … In general the feel was that it tasted intermediate between a typical Central and an Ethiopian coffee; and that it would not have caused the same sort of sensation among tasters if it had been entered in the Ethiopian auction.

Is this worth the price of $50 green? In terms of absolute taste, probably yes. But there are other coffees in the same league…that sell for $8 to $12 at auction. After it’s performance and reputation in
the last two years, the bidders came ready to pay any price for this now legendary coffee, and the price reflects that, rather than its superiority to the other great coffees out there.”

Bottom line: No doubt, this was a lovely coffee, and in no way do we mean to dis it here. But for those of us without trained palates — and for the average, less-careful home consumer — it was nowhere as distinctive as the hype suggests.  We would not pay $30 a pound for it, much less $100.  We think, in fact, it would be a disservice to offer this coffee to a Maxwell House drinker with the idea of converting that person to quality coffee.  They would taste it and think it was great, but to an average joe, it would not be wildly removed and in a completely different class from what they were used to. We fear they’d think that if this was an example of the finest coffee in the world, there wasn’t a real need to change from commercial coffee. And that would be a shame.

Nonetheless, we are glad we tried this. With me, it averaged 3.75 motmots, but I was the stick in the mud with this coffee.  I just didn’t get into it.  So I will exclude myself from the scoring, which leaves it with a solid four motmots, with two people giving it over 4 motmots.

When to drink this coffee (field oriented): At the banquet when you are celebrating discovering a new species.

More on this coffee:

Interest percolating for rare cup of joe, Chicago Sun-Times.

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Revised on April 2, 2012

Posted in Coffee reviews,Latin America

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