I was going to include a briefer version of this list in my post on “My year in beans: 2011,” which focuses on cost. But as I began to compile it, I noticed some common threads regarding the characteristics of my favorite coffees of the year that were interesting enough to warrant a separate post.
These are some of the coffees I considered outstanding in 2011. They are in no particular order. The price is converted to per-pound, and the flavor descriptors were from the roaster or reviews — the opinion of others, not my own.
- Nombre de Dios, El Salvador (single estate) by Kuma Coffee. Washed, 1500 meters, bourbon. $21.33/lb. Floral, honey, brightly acidic, citrus, apricot, apples.
- Capucas, Honduras (cooperative) by Irving Farm. Organic, Rainforest Alliance; washed; 1400+ meters; caturra, pacas, catuai, bourbon; $19.33/lb. Honeysuckle, apple, honey, cashew, pineapple.
- Carmen Estate 1750 Reserve, Panama (single estate) by Klatch Roasting. Rainforest Alliance; washed; 1750 meters; caturra, catuai, typica; $15.93/lb. Honey, tangy bright, citrus acidity, floral.
- Cafe Takesi, Bolivia (cooperative) by Zoka Coffee Roasters. Organic; washed; 1900+ meters; $25.33/lb. Citrus acidity, floral, fruit (raisins), honey, graham.
- La Golondrina, Colombia (cooperative) by Counter Culture. Organic; washed; 1500+ meters; caturra, castillo; $18.07/lb. Bright citrus, fruit (cherry), caramel.
- El Manzano, Colombia (single estate – microlot from one farmer in a cooperative) by Kickapoo Coffee. Washed; 1700 meters; caturra, colombia; $17.67/lb. Mandrin citrus, caramel, toffee.
- Haru, Ethiopia (cooperative) by Counter Culture. Organic; washed; 1700+ meters; $17.27/lb. Lemon, honey, tea.
- Kenya Karibu (specific origins unknown) by Caribou Coffee. Rainforest Alliance; washed; $14.99/lb. Sparkling brightness, blackberry, current.
What does this say about my coffee tastes? I strongly favor washed coffees. In fact, one of my biggest disappointments is the trend to pulped natural (“honey”) and natural process coffees now coming out of Central America. I’m not a big fan of the berry-like fruitiness that tends to be imparted by these types of preparation, except on occasion. I’ve had quite a few of these new preps, and some of them were quiet nice. But my go-to coffees have always been bright Centrals, and I have sometimes found nice washed options hard to find lately.
The high elevations of my favorite coffees also stood out to me. The average elevation of these coffee was over 1600 meters! Higher elevation slows bean development, resulting in a denser bean and typically more well-developed flavors. Alas, we may be seeing more coffee grown at these high elevations in the decades to come. This doesn’t mean there will be a proliferation of coffees with characteristics like that of high-grown coffees today. Climate change will mean the temperatures required by fine arabica coffee will move upslope, but of course conditions at 1600 meters may soon be the same as 1200-1400 meters today. And sooner rather than later, we will run out of “up.”
The average price per pound of these coffees was $18.74 or $0.78 per 6-ounce cup. If I had only purchased these coffees at my typical (family) consumption of 62 pounds a year, I would have been enjoying fantastic, sustainably-grown coffee for $3.18 a day. As I said in my previous post, if only all of life’s simple luxuries were so cheap!
Note that all but two of these coffees had eco-certifications (organic and/or Rainforest Alliance).
A number of flavor characteristics were also common to many of these coffees, in particular bright citrus acidity, and honey or floral tones. Caramel or apple also factored in. So many coffee descriptions use very arcane terminology (which is why we’ve tried to make our reviews here more approachable). Yet these particular descriptors are broad, basic, common, and understandable enough that they can act as a good guide to choosing coffees I know I’ll probably like.
Finally, it’s exciting to me that some of my favorite coffees came from roasters I tried this year for the first time: Irving Farm and Kuma Coffee, and there was a runner-up from Olympia Coffee. Some people find a roaster they like and stick with them, and certainly I have a handful that I turn to frequently. But one of the joys of coffee to me is the discovery of new coffees, and new roasters that are bringing them home. More and more roasters are looking to source great-tasting, sustainably-grown coffee. I love drinking it, and making new friends along the way!
Here’s to more coffee adventures in 2012.
Bean photo by David Joyce under a Creative Commons license.