Plainspoken Coffee. A Coffee Review for Ordinary People by Ordinary People, #7.
In a previous post, I discussed the political situation in East Timor, and the role of coffee in the economy. I promised short reviews of several Timor coffees, and here they are. These are all Fair Trade, organic, and grown in shade.
Counter Culture — Maubesse. City roast, very little oil. The beans had a spicy, smoky aroma. Freshly brewed, it had an amazing woodsy, cedar odor. Both Star[bucks]ling and Nighthawk immediately exclaimed that it evoked the cedar bogs of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Soon we found out that it tasted very different than it smelled.
The first few sips of hot coffee had a momentary sparkle. After, there was a very subtle butterscotch element that lingered slightly. But overall, we were very surprised at the simplicity of this coffee. East Timor’s nearest coffee-producing neighbor is Sulawesi, and it, like other Indonesian coffees, seems to have a lot of character (in fact, we really didn’t like the pungent Starbucks Sulawesi we reviewed). Yet this was much friendlier coffee, without a lot of easily distinguished flavors, to our palates. We rate this 2.75 motmots.
Sweetwater Organic Coffee Company — Maubesse. This was the first time we tried the same source, different roaster (unfortunately, not at the same time). Billed as a full city roast, it was medium brown, with only the faintest hints of oil on the bean.
Brewed, it did not have the initial citrusy sparkle as the Counter Culture, but overall it was more distinctive. It had the woodsy, cedary taste and especially aroma, that we are learning is characteristic of Indonesian coffees.
We decided to really bring out the character and tried it in a press. Doing so evoked strong reactions from all tasters. Those who like Indonesian coffees liked the cedar/woodsy flavors that popped out with this preparation. Those that don’t really care for those tones thought it tasted like bark. There were distinct leather flavors as well, apparently typical of this source but not everybody’s cup of tea (so to speak).
I don’t very often drink milk in my coffee, but since Con Leche was not available, both Kingfisher and I tried it this way, his with soy milk. We both liked it better with milk, but it gave it a kind of chalky mouthfeel.
I’m not a huge fan of Indonesian coffees, but kept trying this every other day or so. I was amazed that it seemed each time I tried it, some other taste combination cropped up, variations on a theme, depending on how I prepared it, or even with what I considered pretty minor differences in the strength. Some cups I thought I liked more than others, one batch was just alarming — it took Kingfisher by surprise and he exclaimed that it was terrible on the first sip. By the time it cooled, he ended up thinking it wasn’t too bad. All in all, a testimony to the complexity of this bean.
It seemed that Sweetwater was able to bring out a little more of the terroir of this bean, which would have been an asset if there were more Indonesian fans in this tasting round. It ended up with 2.25 motmots. Also available as decaf.
Sweetwater Organic Coffee Company — Carpe Diem blend. Side-by-side with their Maubesse, we tried Sweetwater’s blend of Timor, Sumatra, and Bolivian beans. It was also labeled a medium roast, although it looked just a tiny bit darker. Both as a brew and in a press and Cafe Solo, this coffee had the characteristics of the Timor, mellowed just a bit by the South American bean.
It was nicer as a drip, rich and interesting. In the press, the Sulawesi, perhaps, contributed to an earthier tone than the single-source. This earthiness intensified as the coffee cooled; some of us detected a nearly musty flavor. The woodsy flavors were also pronounced, and it was a bit spicier and smokier as well. There was a cocoa/carmelly lingering aftertaste. I consistently tasted a rubber note in both of these coffees…but I liked the blend better than the single source. We gave the Carpe Diem 2.5 motmots.
These were tough reviews for us…their complexity often left us at a loss for words, and for the most part none of us were huge fans of the distinctive flavors of the coffees of this region. If you are fond of Indonesian coffees, though, absolutely give these a try. The timid can drink them brewed to be teased by the character, or prepare them in a Chemex, press, etc. for much more intense flavors. We would not recommend a Timor in a dark roast…we did try a darker roast Timor from Heine Brothers prior to getting into these formal reviews, and none of us liked it.
To get a load of what the experts think, go read the Coffee Review reviews of Timor coffees (sounds like I have a stutter).