Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Ethiopian Sidamo Coffee as Espresso Review

Since I started drinking coffee in August 2011, I've had some undrinkable cups, some that I really enjoyed, some that took some getting used to, and some that opened my mind up to new possibilities of flavour. Before I started the infusion experiments with Brian a couple weeks ago, I thought I had learned a few things about the way coffee should taste. The double espresso pulled for me at The Rooster yesterday reminded me that I know nothing and still have a lot to learn. 

This particular brew was made using Ethiopian Sidamo, a single origin bean. This means it only grows in one place. Once the harvest is over and the supply is shipped, you have to wait until next year to get more. It also means the flavour is variable. With only one bean in the mix, weather, environment, grind, espresso machine, and bean quality all tremendously influence the flavour of the resulting brew. One bad bean, a sudden change in humidity or inattentive barista can make a normally great coffee mediocre or, at worst, terrible. Although the same variety, the Sidamo has beans of widely varying sizes. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee brewing, but still doesn't have the quality control of powerhouse countries such as Brazil or Kenya. Many baristas and roasters use a combination of beans to balance out the flavour and keep it consistent when any one of them can have an off day.

Barista training, experience and attentiveness also play a huge part in making quality coffee. Much more than I'd previously realized. Pulling a great shot is not so much skill or craft as art. It almost seems as if the planets have to align with the eye of aquila during a meteor shower on a slow news day during the menstrual cycle of Hera for the full potential of the bean to shine through. 

That must have happened yesterday because I've never had a shot so flavourful! The crema alone was new ground for me. It was thick, must have been half a centimeter, and had a density to it. I dreamed about this shot last night. In it, I scooped out the crema in once piece, cooked it like a pancake and served it with a thimble of maple syrup. Somehow I don't think that's possible in real life, but if it was, I'm sure I'd order it twice! During my first sip, at first I wasn't getting any liquid and suddenly it burst through the crema in a most delightful burst of flavour.

The coffee had incredible depth like nothing I've experienced before in coffee, wine, food or otherwise. There was a distinct fruitiness, blueberry notes I realized. Fruity notes in coffee? YES! A new thing for me. Also a definite peak in the flavour profile, almost like spiciness, but more rounded. I wish I knew a better way to describe it, but you'll just have to go there and try one for yourself. No doubt it was an absolutely delicious and passionately made brew. All that and Rick later told me he had tasted it better from them in the past. Ha!

With the same bean in his shop now, so I had to try out Brian's version. It was much more intensely blueberry. Where I had to search for it in the Rooster's version yesterday, it punched me in the face on the first sip at The Mad Bean. The spiciness wasn't present, but I didn't miss it. Aromatic and very floral, I think I'm enamoured with this bean and will be sad the day this year's supply is used up.

Brian tells me the difference may come from the roasting of the beans where just a few seconds more or less can drastically change the flavour. Roast for too long and a lot of the floral and fruity notes disappear, replaced by those more bitter and spicy. Some coffees can handle darker roasts, but not all. It is important to choose a roast time to emphasize the qualities that make that bean varietal taste best.

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