Coffee review: Coffee Labs Doghouse Blend

by on April 27, 2007

Plainspoken Coffee. A Coffee Review for Ordinary People by Ordinary People, #22.

Coffee Labs Roasters Doghouse Blend, Peru and El Salvador.

Coffee Labs Roasters is a cafe/roaster located in Tarrytown, NY (northwest of White Plains). Owners Mike Love and  Alicia Kelligrew are devoted to sustainable coffee. Dogs, too — they are welcome in the cafe, featured in their logo and name, and honored in their Doghouse Blend, which we review here.

This coffee is certified by both Rainforest Alliance and Smithsonian (SMBC Bird Friendly), and is certified organic and Fair Trade.

Coffee Labs sources Peruvian coffees from La Florida, which comes from the Cooperativa Agraria Cafetalera La Florida, a co-op of over 1000 members in the central Chanchamayo Valley, Junin department. Peru is the second largest producer of organic coffee (after Mexico). While much of Mexico’s organic coffee is grown in rustic shade or traditional polyculture, Peru grows a lot of its organic coffee in commercial polyculture or shade monoculture (definitions here), a less-desirable situation for biodiversity.  Therefore, knowing that La Florida is certified by Smithsonian as Bird-Friendly is reassuring, as their environmental standards are the strictest in the certifying business (see more info after the jump). Also, Peru produces a lot of inexpensive, mediocre organics often used in blends, but Chanchamayos are often considered the best in the country.

The El Salvador portion is from “Santa Rita,” in Sonsonate department of western El Salvador. I believe this is a farm or group of farms, certified by Rainforest Alliance, in the big Las Lajas cooperative.  You can read a lot more about El Salvador coffees in a previous post outlining coffee growing in the country and its importance to birds.

This is a “black and tan” blend — French roasted Peru, medium-dark with oil; and light roasted El Salvador, tan and dry. This was the correct choice for this blend — a dark roast would have overwhelmed the El Salvador’s more delicate flavor. It was a really pleasant cup — even brewed in our neglected office pot through a paper filter (what we consider to be the most punishing circumstances for a coffee being reviewed). We would describe it as subtle rather than complex, but the careful roast of each variety and the just-so proportions of each seems to have harmoniously balanced the flavors; each brought what it should to the cup. Several people independently noted that the flavor stayed consistently stable as it cooled, and even tasted decent cold. It didn’t acquire any funky flavors the way some dark roasts do when they cool.  The Doghouse Blend ended up with 3 motmots.

Coffee Labs does not have online ordering yet, but you can order the Doghouse Blend by email (coffeelabsroasters@mac.com) or phone (914-332-1479) for $12.50/lb. They have quite a variety of organic, Fair Trade, and SMBC Bird-Friendly coffees. Coffee is shipped within 48 hours of roasting.  It’s also available at several Whole Foods Markets near their Tarrytown location, with plans to distribute to the entire Northeast region in the future.

A little further information on Peru:

It’s important to be careful when purchasing Peruvian coffee. Here is an excellent example. At one time there was great bird diversity of rustic shade coffee in Villa Rica, central Peru (in Pasco department, north of Junin), and a Smithsonian survey in 1998 found Cerulean Warblers on these farms. A survey for Cerulean Warblers in these same farms in 2006 found none. Survey leader Gunnar Engblom noted,

“We hardly found any such habitat [rustic shade]. Most that was there 6-8 years ago has been replaced with fast growing Inga and Albizia as shade trees species that carry no epiphytes and less leaf cover. [There is a] strong indication that the coffee boom of shade-grown coffee does not promote the more bird friendly “song bird coffee” plantations (rustic), but rather promotes more monocultures with Inga and Albizia. It seems that both yield and quality is higher in such conditions and that the market (ultimately the consumers) does not know how to separate between terms such as organic, song bird coffee, shade-grown coffee, etc. We interviewed people at the farms and it is clear that many of those area considered rustic has converted to being mono-cultures today. Maybe this is also the case with other areas north of Villa Rica.”

You can read his full report (PDF) here.

The Smithsonian Bird-Friendly certification requires a minimum shade cover of 40%, and the overstory should include at least ten different species of shade trees, with no more than 70% of the trees being Inga species, which means more habitat remains appropriate for birds.

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Revised on November 30, 2012

Posted in Blends/Multiple,Coffee reviews,Latin America

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