Category Archives: Theory of coffee enjoyment

May 21 Specials

We are trying out a monthly plan to designate some of our offerings as On Sale. They will sell at a discount and you will probably get an upgrade on the size because I need to reclaim some space in the inventory room. I hope you will also see this as a sign you need to try something different, as well.

So what’s on sale in May?

Rwanda “Mille Collines” Bourbon is a sweet younger sister to the best Kenyan coffees. Slightly less assertive in the acidity department, Rwanda goes for black tea-like acidity rather than the grapefruit. There is some baking spice and maybe raisin notes as well. The preparation was absolutely pristine on this lot. It’s a good time to try it.

Sulawesi “White Eagle” Pulped Natural is a cleaner, less rustic version of a classic Sumatra. Notes of cedar, black licorice and herbs with a hint of tobacco characterize the medium roasts–quite interesting and tasty. Going darker, it develops a bittersweet chocolate base with a more Sumatra-y profile. It would be a shame to only try these Indos dark roast (though they are so good in espresso).

DECAF Classic Espresso Blend. Speaking of espresso, we are offering a sale on the classic espresso blend this month. It’s got big body for a decaf plus a lot of flavor, too. No robusta coffee in the blend means that you will get less crema in your espresso shots, but there won’t be any burned rubber tire flavors, either. I’m guessing you will get used to that. 🙂

If you have any questions, please reach out to nano.roast@gmail.com.

Enjoy your coffee!

s

Varietals I Like, Part I

As I discussed in the last post, the varietal of coffee in your cup has a major impact on the characteristics you like and don’t like. Varietals and cultivars are the DNA-level determinants of what single-origin coffee tastes like. Processing and roast levels are the other two major factors, but they can only amplify what the basic raw material is there to begin with.

As you may already be aware, coffee we drink today primarily comes from two branches of the coffee tree of life: arabica and robusta. This depiction of all the known varieties and species of coffee from Cafe Imports (thanks!) helps us visualize the relationships. Click the image for a full-size version, and prepare to be awed.

Arabica and Robusta. The two species we drink today, arabica and robusta grow naturally, as does liberica (which I understand tastes terrible) and canephora which exists commercially only as an input to certain hybrids. Robusta has very high caffeine content and is what produces the bitter burned-tire flavors to popular commercial espresso and cheap grocery store coffees. Major espresso chains who want their shots to major on bittering, dark roast flavors and volumous crema will add somewhere between 10% and 30% robusta to their blends. NanoRoast never uses robusta, even in espresso blends.

Ethiopians? Arabica coffees include all Bourbon and Typica and their hybrids as well as wild Ethiopian heirloom varietals that are so prized. We won’t discuss Ethiopians much here; they are subject to a lot of secrecy. Only one, Gesha, is being widely planted in Central America as a high-priced specialty—a delicacy in the coffee world. It’s very floral while other Ethiopian heirlooms are fruity. All this said, many of the Ethiopian naturals I prepare for you look pointed like Typica.

Bourbon. Bourbon varietals trace to coffees brought from the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean by French missionaries in the early 18th century to East Africa, the Caribbean and eventually to Mexico and South America. These well-behaved beans are roundish and usually small to medium sized. They produce mild, nutty or floral coffees such as classic Burundi, Panama and Colombian and make high-rated pristine cups when washed-processed.

Typica.  Typica varietals and their hybrids travelled from Ethiopia primarily to Yemen, India and finally Indonesia. You can still find them in the Americas, but they predominate in Asia. Larger, pointed and tending toward fruity flavors, Typica has provided a versatile canvas for different processing methods such as natural dry processing in Yemen, washed processing in India and wet-hulling in Indonesia, each producing very different variations on the fruity theme.

Next time: A Look at My Favorite of Today’s Hybrids, Mutations and Cultivars

Varietals Matter

I’m back to talking about coffee today, specifically one important element in the coffees I choose to offer for your coffee enjoyment. Today, let’s consider varietals as an important  tip-off to what to expect in the cup.

Want to know why an heirloom Ethiopian tastes different from an estate-grown Brazil? There are three major pieces to cup profile:

  1. how I select, roast, and blend it,
  2. how the producer prepared the coffee cherries harvested,
  3. the raw DNA of the plant producing the coffee cherry.

Role of Terroir, Whatever That Is... These all interact within a context called terroir–those environmental characteristics in which the plant grows, including altitude, soil composition, temperature and humidity at key points in cherry development, how stressed the plant was from disease and insect attacks, amount and kind of fertilizer used, and so on almost forever. These are the same things your local wine snob goes on about when raving about a cabernet sauvignon from his/her favorite vineyard. I mention terroir because it’s a wild card that keeps anyone from making a definitive pronouncement about what a particular coffee will taste like in the specifics. Nevertheless, we can still get clues as to how the coffee plant has adjusted to the place where it grows, just like grapes do.

What do I need to know about varietals? Just as you might be able to distinguish a Granny Smith apple from a Honeycrisp just by taste and might develop a preference for the sweeter Honeycrisp over the tart Granny Smith, so a Bourbon coffee bean grown anywhere will tend to produce a clean, clear taste profile that’s a bit floral and sweet while a Djember will tend herbal and rustic even if it’s not grown in Sumatra and wet-hulled. So think of varietal as the canvas upon which the artist paints–is it a canvas, side of an old block building or a slab of wood? All these can provide a decent foundation for a painting, but the differences are key to the artist’s intent and users’ enjoyment. Getting to know your varietals can give you a good idea of what the basic foundation of your cup tastes like. I’ll follow up in another post to discuss some of my favorite varietals and what they tell us.

Why does the varietal matter?  Finally today, before we dive into the specifics, let’s mention the reason varietal matters. The shorter answer is twofold: 1) varietals are what’s in the coffee’s DNA; 2) mutations happen, diseases happen, market needs change and bigger climate change makes some coffee varieties obsolete. Varietals can be developed or selected to guide the way those changes happen, so that we still like drinking coffee and farmers will still grow it.

Role of farmers. Farmers have been tinkering with coffee plants since the beginning to favor those that produce bigger crops, resist disease and/or are more conducive to local processing methods, eg, availability of water primarily. Over time, these natural and man-made hybrids are selected, sometimes in spite of degradation in quality of flavor if the market demands it. Growers can reasonably assume that if most of the world wants cheap, dark-roast instant (sorry but true) , then the extra work the older, disease-prone, smaller-yield high-end just isn’t worth the work. Fortunately, there is a growing population of people who think really good coffee is worth the premium. For those, the labor of love that these traditional varietals represent is worth it.

Next time: “So what varietals do I look for?”

Will 2021 be better?

I know we all hope 2021 will erase the craziness, pandemic and economic problems of 2020, but I’m not holding my breath for a quick fix. Around here, we are doing what we can to keep our loved ones and the general public safe and hoping to see better days by the time the weather finally turns nice (that’s around April or July.)

Just so you know, we have had few issues getting supplies of very high-quality coffee to roast for you since last March, but the disruption of lockdowns, reduced staffing at ports and handlers stateside is finally catching up with us. I have never seen my importers’ stocks so low nor delays in scheduled shipments so widespread. It’s COVD around the world, and it might impact even us.

Here’s what we expect in general:

Offerings: The offerings list may temporarily get thinner as we wait for delayed crops to arrive. For example, I’ve been waiting for a shipment from Burundi that’s now 3 months late. Hope it shows up soon, because it is going to be tasty.

Prices: I’m trying not to raise prices. Increases to me aren’t hitting uniformly, and I’ve even had a couple of pleasant surprises, so I’m hoping it all evens out.

Ethical sourcing: While I’m trying not to raise prices, I’m doubling down on sourcing that pays farmers fairly. I was outraged by some news about large buyers trying to squeeze farmers due to market dislocation (see my blog post on how COVD is impacting the harvest in Colombia, for example) this year. I feel there is a place in hell for those greedy people who oppress the poor, doubly during this tough year.

Shipping, part 1: Who knows what is going to happen with the US Post Office after last year? As long as your coffee gets to you in a reasonable, reliable length of time, we probably won’t change…but we are watching.

Shipping, part 2: Everyone hates paying for shipping, and shipping isn’t cheap. Nevertheless, we will be trying out free shipping for everyone and will see what happens. If I can still stay solvent, we will keep shipping free. You’re welcome.

Website: We will be redesigning the website to streamline it and make it a better resource, especially for sorting through all the origins to find what you want.

Thank you for staying with us in 2021. Without “U” there’s no “us.”

Enjoy your coffee!

s

Impact of COVD on Coffee Farmers in Colombia

Warning! This is not a happy story. In fact, I hope it motivates you to action. If we all do something positive, we might have a better world, and better coffee, too.

I was reading on the BBC site today and came across this report of the coffee harvest in Antioquia, Colombia.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-55172034 

As you might imagine, the COVD-19 pandemic is adversely affecting farmers in Colombia as workers become scarce or sick. We find out from the article that several things are troubling:

– Starbucks and Nestle buy up the majority of coffee and use their clout to get the cheapest commodity prices, regardless of the long-term impact on the market. The average price per kilogram is about $2.40, or $.90/lb., less than what it was in the 1980s. It would have to be nearer to $12/kg to “significantly improve wages.” If we did that, the experts say, it would cost us about $.10 (ten cents) per cup. Currently, that “worker premium” is going to corporate profits.

– While many Latin American countries could restructure their industries and trade with consumer nations and see a big benefit, a certain North American country known for throwing its weight around continues to press for things to stay the same. Who says trade policy is morally neutral?

– Workers who do show up to pick often work in strenuous, dangerous conditions, both in an OSHA sense and also a COVD-exposure sense. Pay is about $.05 (five cents) a pound, no benefits.

I’m seeing similar stories reported from all over the coffee-producing world. I suspect that the smaller harvest this year will put upward pressure on prices to roasters and customers, but we don’t know for sure for two reasons:

1. I’ve been buying up excellent specialty lots more than usual just in case. There have been good buys on high quality coffee from ethical farm sources, so I’m investing more, both for the farmers and for the end customer (you).

2. NanoRoast doesn’t buy commodity coffee; we buy top-grade specialty coffee, usually from long-term trusted suppliers who source directly from the farmer or from importers who are buying fair trade lots (where “fair trade” means FTA or better practices. There are several certifications in this group.) In short, when you buy from us, you can be assured that your coffee was obtained in the most ethical, sustainable way possible.

A final note: If you want to help support investment in the small farmers around the world who are growing coffee, check out www.kiva.org, the micro-lending site. They have a very good record. I have once-in-awhile been able to lend to the same farmer that I buy from, and that’s so cool!

Enjoy your coffee, and make the world better!

s

Enjoy Your Coffee More

A blog I follow on wine enjoyment (Winefolly.com) ran this rather interesting post (https://winefolly.com/review/what-am-i-tasting-how-finding-wine-flavors-can-change-your-life) on how to improve tasting skills. Since I am interested in the challenge of trying to accurately describe what a particular coffee tastes like, I read this post with an eye to tasting coffee rather than wine. Of course, some of it doesn’t translate well—like discussion of “oaky” flavors, but most of the principles actually apply to coffee.

I like that exercising my brain while enjoying coffee (or wine) is actually good for me. Gotta go exercise some more and have another cup.

Want to review the steps in tasting your coffee? Check out our How to Taste Coffee page here

Enjoy your coffee!

susan

Honey-Processed Coffee?

In recent years, we have been watching coffee producers all over the world as they experiment with different kinds of processing. We are talking about what happens after the cherry is harvested and before the dried raw coffee beans are exported to us. How processors treat these seeds often adds a lot of difference to the coffee’s characteristics in the cup. The what and why behind this is fairly interesting.

A few decades back, coffee was either washed process (as in classic Africa, Colombia and Central America), natural/dry process (Brazil, Yemen and some Ethiopian) or Giling Basah wet-hulled (Indonesia). Recently, water shortages related to climate change have caused some of the traditionally wet/washed process producers to experiment with natural processing or a quasi-natural process called “miel” (honey) processing to conserve water and to create new taste profiles. In the future, look for more natural, dry, or miel processed coffees to be produced in all the traditional wet-processed origins. For example, the producer of our Jamaica Blue Mountain cultivar Island Blend coffee is turning out increasing amounts of miel coffee as reflects lessening availability of good quantities of clean water for processing. This is a stark contrast to decades of its signature wet processing.

In honey processing, honey isn’t used. It’s more that the time spent with the cherry in contact with the seed before hulling and drying imparts a thicker, heavier mouth feel, as honey is heavier, more syrupy consistency than water, I suppose. The taste profile, which is usually quite clean (a few flavors that are clear and distinct), is also more complex (more flavors but they tend to be less distinct). Miel processing comes in “black honey” as well as regular “red” and “summer” honey, meaning there is a continuum of the effect related to how long the coffee stays in contact with the cherry before it’s removed. The black honey variety has had the most time sitting in the heat and sunlight in the coffee cherry fruit, so it tends to be the most viscous and complex-tasting. The lightest summer honey processing is much more like the cleanliness of the washed profile.

Our Natural-process Costa Rica offering is closer to a red-honey (miel roja) profile. It’s really tasty at a lighter-medium roast, a classic Costa Rica with a little fruit note. See it here.

Enjoy your coffee!

s

An Apology

Hi NanoRoast Supporters

Recently, I’ve discovered that my roasting skills are much better than my webmaster skills. Once in awhile, the PayPal buttons stop working as they did when I coded and installed them, and I have no clue why this is. (Sigh!) PayPal blames WordPress and WordPress blames PayPal, and you have had the inconvenience. Sorry about that! (Dang! PHP update broke them AGAIN! )

So, if you EVER have any issue ordering coffee from this website, please let me know. Just email me at nano.roast@gmail.com and tell me where you had difficulty with the functionality of the site. I’ll give you a random upgrade for your trouble. I will also happily send you a PayPal invoice so you can easily get your coffee on its way. As a reminder, the invoice comes from PayPal, but you can pay any way you like, and you don’t have to have a PayPal account.

I have individually checked every button on the site as of today, and they are all working at this time. Let’s hope they stay fixed! Meanwhile, thank you so much for your loyal support of NanoRoast. I love roasting great coffee for you.

Sincerely

susan

What exactly is “Artisan Coffee Roasting?”

I was at the grocery store the other day, and in the bakery department I spied two fairly identical loaves of Italian pugilese bread with spelt flour. One was in a plastic bag with the store label, and one was in a paper sleeve in a toney wooden shelf display. Upon closer inspection, it was clear that these two loaves were made in the same fashion from the same ingredients. The only difference was one was packaged differently and labelled “artisan.” I cry “foul.” Over in the coffee aisle, “specialty coffee” means hazelnut-flavored. Again, I shake my head. Doesn’t anyone know what “artisan” means? Maybe we need to define terms.

In the interest of clarity and integrity, I define “artisan” coffee (the kind you get from NanoRoast, exclusively) as

—small batch, not commercial run quantity, usually only a couple of pounds at a time, roasted only when you arder so it is really FRESH.

—batch is composed of specially-selected specialty-quality beans, a term used in the industry for the highest quality as determined through repeated tastings, to achieve the specific end taste profile desired. For example, I may have five kinds of Colombian beans, but I choose the specific origin or lot that will best meet the taste objective.

—roast has been lovingly attended from start to finish by me, not a computer program. It’s roasted properly when my combined five senses say it is.

—each component of a blend has been separately roasted and THEN blended to achieve the desired outcome. That is why any NanoRoast blend has different color shades and/or sizes (and why you cannot judge coffee by how it looks, only how it tastes.)

So then, you can see why artisan coffee really is art like painting a landscape of our local landmark, Mt. Hood, is not like painting my house. At NanoRoast, we promise you will always get ARTISAN coffee, made by your coffee artist, me.

Enjoy your coffee art!

S

Island Coffee Now Available

A quick look at coffees for sale almost anywhere can quickly impress you that Island coffees are very, very expensive. Maui, Kona and Jamaica Blue Mountain are origins that have become very famous for their “soft” floral refined taste profile and silky body, and as more people world-wide want to drink higher end coffee, competition for the smaller supply has driven prices high indeed. In my opinion, what’s left for the major market in these origins is often lacking in quality as well. As a result of this unfortunate conjunction of lower quality and higher prices, NanoRoast has never offered Island coffees on our menu. We just couldn’t in good conscience offer lesser quality, especially for the price they still command.

Good news! Recently, we have discovered two economic development projects in island locations that are working on producing specialty grade coffee, particularly the Jamaican Blue Mountain cultivar. They are producing in the same conditions using the same cultivars, but it takes about seven years for new coffee trees to really get producing. For the first time this year, I have received samples from one project that were truly high quality AND reasonably priced. Better yet, the development project managers are taking a “better than fair trade” approach to ensure that the farmers get enough for their crop to make sure they will grow, handle and process their coffees for highest quality. I’m encouraged that this will mean Island Coffee available for NanoRoast customers at last! Check out our Island Coffee blend here.

Enjoy!

s