Coffee, A Matter Of Taste, Subject To Experience

A friend sent an email asking for a recommendation. Among the four coffees we now offer in the USA, which two would represent the greatest variation in taste? On a rotating basis I taste one of these coffees every morning, while corresponding and reading news. I have tasted each of these four coffees dozens of times in recent months, with time to reflect on their differences. It is a matter of taste. Reading that email, I was also watching the sunrise, and I snapped the picture above. It helped me, in a very specific way, to respond.

Edited for clarity, here is what I told my friend. The single estate coffee we offer from the West Valley region of Costa Rica, called Villa Triunfo, is to my taste the most distinctive flavor of the four. When I say “my taste” I mean something influenced by four decades of drinking coffee. In the first few years of those four decades I drank what most Americans drank, which was mediocre quality coffee. I could drink it again, if needed, but I hope not to. Yet, it must have influenced how I taste coffee. When I first tasted an alternative, it was espresso. That was in 1983, and “my taste” in coffee shifted dramatically. It shifted again when I started tasting arabica specialty coffees over the next couple of years while working as a waiter.

That West Valley single estate coffee offers a small surprise, so pairing it with any of the other three gives good range. The surprise is partly a function of the estate, but also of the red honey process used to prepare the green bean to be roast-ready. This process is not unique to Costa Rica but is a signature of some of the country’s standout coffees. To my palate it adds a little bit of brightness to the rich, deep flavor. That is the sunrise reference to the photo. Surprise.

Most people, whether they know it or not, either prefer the taste of the coffee itself, in which case medium roasts are usually the best bet; or they have a strong preference for the taste of a darker roast, in which case the Italian roast of our Tarrazú coffee might be the best bet, and would be the most unlike the West Valley. Method of preparation is key to this discussion.

I have observed from conversations over the last year with people visiting our shops that it is more common for people who normally drink medium roast to also occasionally enjoy dark roast, whereas people who normally drink darker roasts do not enjoy coffee that is roasted anything less than dark. The Tarrazú single region coffee we offer, roasted to Italian level darkness, works well, either in an espresso machine or brewed in any standard manner, e.g. pour-over, French press, drip coffee maker, etc. That would be the flavor profile most unlike the West Valley coffee.

Another option is simply to pair the two Tarrazú coffees, one roasted at medium to emphasize the character of the bean and the Italian roast for those who know they prefer the taste of the roast as much or more than the taste of the coffee itself. Tarrazú is featured twice among our four selections because, in consideration of taste, we know that most people who have become aware of coffee from Costa Rica have most likely had the opportunity to taste coffee from this region. And that has developed into a preference, we believe. I do not think that one single coffee region, or one single estate from any of Costa Rica’s growing regions, could claim to be the quintessential flavor of coffee.

Neither generally speaking do I think that, nor even for this one small coffee-producing country do I think that there is one coffee to beat all other coffees as best representing “what coffee is at its best.” But, get me talking about the organic coffee we offer, which has a flavor profile that appeals to most coffee drinkers except those who only drink dark roast, and I would say there is something ideal in Hacienda La Amistad.

In the few decades since they got certified as an organic producer, they have stood out as a model for what is possible both in terms of coffee quality and in terms of ecological responsibility. So, if pressed, I might hint that this coffee is representative of Costa Rica due to the country’s longstanding leadership in sustainable development and conservation. But I would not for that or any one other reason say this coffee is the best. It is a matter of personal taste.

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