Wednesday, October 25, 2006
French Roast Specials
I am not sure what wave Alfred Peet was on, but it was a big one. Arguably, there has been no one who has had a greater influence on the reemergence of coffee appreciation in America over the last 40 years. His 101 blend was the hook for me. In general the “third wave” seems less enthusiastic about the dark side, and they are leading a trend back toward lighter styles. But there was a time here on the West Coast when specialty coffee meant almost exclusively French roasts. When Royal Coffee was a young upstart company, selling coffee to Mr. Peet was one of our biggest goals. I found it quite challenging....after all, he was “the man”. I will admit to having more than a little trepidation when I walked into his office to drop off samples. He was very old school and I knew he recognized a rookie when he saw one. He always would grill me on why I thought coffee was good enough, and though he would have never used the word, he would happily let you know when your coffee sucked…But it is true: what doesn’t kill you is good for you, and trying to rise to his standards only helped.
Following Alfred’s lead, more roasters adopted the passion to create better and better French roasts. We spent a considerable amount of time cupping every origin trying to satisfy Narsai David, a locally famous gourmet ghetto restaurateur here in Berkeley. This was all valuable experience then, and it has carried over and still guides our buying preferences. We still put a lot of attention into importing coffees particularly suited for creating world class French roasts.
Here’s a couple we currently have on hand:
Ref 14112 Sumatra Mandheling…I am hesitant to use some of the more flowery adjectives flying around these days, but two which I have recently heard used by our customers I think apply to this coffee: “forest” and “mushrooms”. This Sumatra is not musty, swampy or dirty. This is classic Mandheling…clean, but far from boring. Wonderfully earthy, and, yes, I am getting the forest mushrooms…
Ref11790 Uganda Bugisu AA…and this is a great deal. Sometimes it is easier to buy coffee than sell it. This coffee came in last spring and will not create any happy pumpkin faces if you roast it light, but it still makes a very sweet and full flavored French roast. Straight, or to add complexity in a blend, this is a very interesting and useful coffee. And because I bought too much, it’s cheap… Highly recommended.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Your Kenya Fly Crop Update
Conventional wisdom has the best and most expensive Kenya lots coming out of the auctions which take place during the spring. This is when the heart of the main Kenya crop is marketed, and when a lot of Kenya fanatics come out of hibernation and compete for the top lots. While it is true there are some fantastic lots at that time of the year, we have found, kind of like booking a vacation in the off-season, you can get some excellent coffees and better values from the fall fly-crop. Royal currently has available 33 lots of AA, AB, and PB, ranging from in size from 13 to 88 bags. Every one of these lots has had to clear a gauntlet of cuppers. First by our cuppers in Mombasa, who cup every single lot auctioned. After Mombasa has pre-screened and sent us the best lots, we select our favorites in a blind cupping. No other origin gives us the opportunity to evaluate coffee this thoroughly…for which Patrick Kennedy, our sample roaster and quality control expert is grateful.
We think the Kenya system of marketing coffee is great, but there are now forces at work to allow buyers to circumvent the auction. We wonder: who benefits from the demise of such a great system? Critics of the auction often point to the low prices Kenya farmers receive, but we Kenya buyers are paying very high prices at the auction because we have full knowledge of the quality and we have to compete openly. It’s what happens with the money we’ve paid down stream from the auction that is the problem… Are the Kenyans about to throw the baby out with the bath water? …We hope not.
Anyhow, for the moment there are still great coffees, and they are still moving through the auction, and we’re happy to keep buying as long as you do.
The coffee we drink daily in the office is made from arrival samples which we have cupped. This is valuable for us in a couple of ways. First of all, we are almost always drinking great coffee, but cupping is one thing and brewing is another, so brewing the samples gives us another layer of evaluation. Everyone in the office is a legendary master blender- -just ask ‘em, so we are constantly trying a wide variety of combinations. One recent experiment, admittedly my own, I feel is noteworthy. It’s a 50/50% Kenya- Peru blend. Every time I have tried this it seems to come out real sweet and balanced, and I am surprised by the number of “what is this coffee?” comments. Could be worth a try, especially now, during the heart of the Peru season and with an ample supply of fine fly crop Kenya available.