Coffee Review: Thanksgiving Coffee Co. Cerulean Warbler coffee

by on March 25, 2007

Plainspoken Coffee. A Coffee Review for Ordinary People by Ordinary People, #20.

Thanksgiving Coffee Co. Cerulean Warbler Coffee.

Update: We re-reviewed this coffee, and the results of the second tasting are below the first.


Background:

This coffee is being marketed as part of the Save the Cerulean Warbler campaign.  I wrote about the importance of shade coffee farms to Cerulean Warblers in this post, which introduces the conservation status of this beautiful bird, and the establishment of a Cerulean Warbler reserve in Santander, Colombia. I followed it up in a post about the Save the Cerulean Warbler campaign, and provide more background on this coffee.

As I noted in that post, the Cerulean Warbler reserve is in Santander, but this coffee is sourced from COOPERAN, a cooperative in southwestern Antioquia province (see that post for a map). This coffee is not certified organic, and is labeled shade grown but is not certified as such by Rainforest Alliance or Smithsonian.

Review of first bag:
This is listed as a light roast, but all beans were generally dark and there was oil on most of them. I say “generally” because there were a fair number of lighter beans, too — it reminded me a bit of a “black and tan” blend, except that the beans were not uniformly dark and light, there was a range of colors, so much so that I wondered if the batch didn’t roast evenly. Or it may not have roasted evenly because there was also an easily-seen variety in the size of the beans.  I showed these beans, without comment, to several people, who immediately made the same observations.

Very disappointing to me were the large number of defects in this coffee.  I doled out five two-tablespoon (~12 gram) portions of beans and sorted through them. The average portion had 23 “bad” beans (113 total) — mostly broken beans, shells, and insect damage, but also some malformed beans and a few sticks. The pile amounted to two tablespoons, or 25% of the total volume (click to enlarge the photo at left, a portion of the defects).  If this is a representative sample, then no matter how kindly I look at it, using the SCAA’s standards for imperfections, this is off-grade coffee, far from specialty grade. This was shocking to me, and I can only hope this bag was from a bad batch (the defects appeared throughout the bag).

Fortunately, it tasted better than it looked or smelled. There was no roast date on the package; there was a modest bloom when the hot water hit the grounds in the French press.  In the cup, it was a bit thin-bodied despite being prepared in the press. There were no distinctive flavors, and it was just semi-lifeless. It quickly became bitter when it cooled.  It was less bitter when brewed through a paper filter, but was nonetheless unremarkable.  We ran this coffee by more people than usual, because the cause — helping the Cerulean Warbler — is one we strongly believe in.  But the average rating still came out to only 2 motmots.  Maybe this was a bad batch of coffee, but if so it shouldn’t have made it out the door. We’d be willing to try it again, but frankly are unwilling to pay for another bag.

Review of second bag:
We received a new bag of this coffee from Thanksgiving Coffee, which they sent after seeing the review.  It was clearly roasted with more care than the first bag. (I had a coffee expert look at the photos of the beans, and he agreed it was a problem with the roasting, including a too-fast and hot roast that causes beans to explode; the divots that I thought might be insect damage were in fact from a rapid roasting process.) The bean size and roast color were much more uniform.  The smell was far more pleasant, as was the flavor. A few people noted they thought that there was something really special in this coffee that could be coaxed out with an even lighter roast.  Maybe Thanksgiving would offer this coffee in more than one roast in the future! Anyway, a new round of tastings boosted the rating to 2.75 motmots.

ABC also contacted me and once again emphasized that their Colombian bird conservation counterparts, ProAves, is inspecting the Antioquia farms where the coffee is currently sourced to insure the coffee is grown under shade.  And, they are working hard to transfer the sourcing of the Cerulean Warbler coffee to the newly-purchased shade coffee farm adjacent to the Cerulean Warbler reserve in Santander. This information has now been posted on their web site.

I encourage you to support the Cerulean Warbler campaign by donating directly to the American Bird Conservancy.

We will be tasting this coffee again when we receive news of the switch, and look forward to providing updates on the success of the Save the Cerulean Warbler campaign!

See this review for an alternative coffee from Santander, Colombia closer to the reserve and certified organic, Rainforest Alliance, and Smithsonian Bird-Friendly.

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Revised on March 23, 2014

Posted in Coffee reviews,Latin America

Jonah March 26, 2007 at 4:17 pm

I'm perplexed! I just had a delicious cup made from a French Press. It was sweet, lively, and full of floral notes. It retained most of the sweetness even when the coffee cooled.

I measured two different 12 gram samples to determine the broken bean ratio (taken from a 12 oz. unopened bag). The first one had only 4 out of 84 broken beans and the second one had 5 out of 79. The roast color is certainly more light than dark, and although there is some oil on the coffee, it is not substantial. The coffee is evenly roasted.

I would be happy to send the reviewer another bag to sample. I can be reached by email: jonah@thanksgivingcoffee.com

BirdBarista March 27, 2007 at 7:28 am

So hang on people! I'll be taking Jonah up on his offer and posting the results. I hate to think we got a bum bag.

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