Coffee review: Barrington Haitian Highlands Ferrace

by on July 3, 2008

Plainspoken Coffee. A Coffee Review for Ordinary People by Ordinary People, #36.

In a previous post, I gave background information on coffee growing on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. We reviewed two selections from the Dominican Republic, and now were on to Haiti.

Haitian Highlands Ferrace, Barrington Coffee Roasting Co.

This is the only non-Haitian Bleu coffee I found, and is a project between Barrington and the non-profit Fondation L’Espoir. The coffee is grown in the Grande-Anse region of Haiti, in the nation’s southwest, by 140 farmers around Pic Macaya, the second highest mountain in Haiti (highest elevation 2347 m). Pic Macaya is one of the most biodiverse and important areas on the entire island. While much of the area is protected, at least on paper, within the Macaya Biosphere Reserve, the area is threatened by subsistence agriculture, charcoal making, and other unsustainable practices. Assisting farmers with

You can view powerful images from Pic Macaya in a slideshow by author and photographer Eladio Fernandez, who is a well known champion of Hispaniolan biodiversity and conservation.

The roast was very light — around 7 or 8 at this visual guide to roast levels by Sweet Maria’s. When I smelled the beans, I thought perhaps too light. Having under-roasted a few beans myself, this sort of grassy aroma was familiar to me.

In the French press, it had a mild, sweet, chocolate taste, with a bright peak when very hot. Despite my trepidation due to the lightness, I was happily surprised, although I was equally pleased with its potential  as its actual taste. Others trying it out noted “bland peanuts,” “cereal, maybe Cheerios,” or a “yeasty-ness”. I believe these are signs of undeveloped flavor from not roasting quite enough. Brewed, it was disappointing, dull and sort of lifeless. The light roast wasn’t too light to spoil it totally, but had the roast gone just a tad further, it would have preserved the soft sweetness and brought out more chocolate and candy notes, eliminated baked goods from the mix, and give it enough oomph to stand up to a drip. I’d be anxious to try a fresh batch (this had no roast date) just a tad darker. I think it would be a super breakfast coffee.

One taster commented, “I’m tasting rioting and political strife.”  No way to roast that out. Overall, we gave it 2.75 motmots.

For another perspective on a non-Haitian Bleu, some rustic dry processed coffee, check out this post at Dan Humphries’ blog.

We’re waiting for a new crop of Haitian Bleu. When that’s available and we can order some, we’ll post a review.

UPDATE, Sep 2008: First, we are still waiting for Haitian Bleu to become available. Meanwhile, Barth Anderson from Barrington sent along the new 2008 crop of Ferrace. Here is a photo of Pic Macaya with the microregions Barrington is working with in the foreground.

We discussed the issue of our perception of a too-light roast. I offered that it was entirely possible that what we felt were flavors due to under-roasting might be part of the character of that bean, and/or that pushing those beans a little farther would be ruinous. Barth explained that Barrington’s goal with their coffees is to find a roast that doesn’t overwhelm the character of each bean and that, indeed, going any further with this Haitian coffee would have “blown out the coffee.”

Overall, I found this crop nicer than the first, although upon our first taste of it we reached the opposite conclusion. We found a really unexpected, sort of plastic or chemical flavor it the cup. Barth explained that they felt there was a rough or unpolished side to this coffee. While it’s possible that this was what we were picking up, the fact that I never came across it in subsequent tastings leads me to think we might have just gotten a bad bean in our first tasting.

Nobody voiced any of the cereal-like or yeasty qualities that we found in the 2007 crop. A few people found it a little thin and lacking in body which ended up offsetting the ratings from those who found it light and sweet and quite nice. For that reason, it ended up with a very similar rating as before — the devil of averages. I did something I don’t often do, which is using this coffee in a blend with a darker roasted bean (in this case, a Brazilian washed coffee), 75% being this light Haitian. I thought it gave it just what it needed, and can offer this as a great option for those who favor a little darker roast.

This is a project and coffee worth supporting, and Barth Anderson and Barrington continue to work to “reveal the extraordinary potential [they] know can exist with this coffee.” Kudos.

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Revised on February 8, 2013

Posted in Caribbean,Coffee reviews

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