A recent visit from a Canadian relative yielded a couple of bags of Intelligentsia’s finest (www.intelligentsiacoffee.com); the inimitable “Kid O’s Organic Espresso” and the somewhat long in title, but rather delightful, “Los Delirios Organic Nicaragua Direct Trade”. The beans were sourced from Manic Coffee in Toronto (www.maniccoffee.com), the owner of which, Matt Lee, is also the Canadian distributor of Intelligentsia. Both bags had been roasted a couple of weeks before arriving with us.
“Kid O” is one of the best known espresso blends in the world of speciality coffee. It is nothing short of a legend, and something that all gourmet aficionados strive to try at least once in their coffee lives, unless of course they live in North America, where their local quality independant cafe may well be serving it every day). As a typically dark roasted North American blend, it might not suit all European palates save for perhaps those of the old school Italian roast persuasion. It has a bit of a reputation for being a demanding blend to extract perfectly, but this is not something that should concern any self respecting hardcore enthusiast with reasonable equipment.
I have to say that I did like it …….. sort of! Overall, I ‘got’ the blend. It is rich and syrupy, dark, and somewhat mysterious. I got a base of caramel milk chocolate and cocoa in turn, rather like one of those half and half chocolates that tantalises the tastebuds with ever changing flavours as the two chocolate types slowly mingle in the mouth. Nutty hints mix with overtones of good fruit acidity. I thought that I tasted lemon somewhere in the cacophany of flavours. The aftertaste was my least enjoyable moment in this complex journey; the roast got through just a little too much for my liking and rather spoilt the ride for me. I don’t know whether the dark roast level is a necessity in order to achieve some of the flavour tones or simply a North American preference. Either way, it was a very interesting and enjoyable coffee moment finally sampling one of the legends of the coffee world. In conclusion, it’s nice to taste the array of different flavours from around the world and I would certainly enjoy this one again, but it’s not strictly to my taste.
The “Los Delirios” was another matter. Despite the still rather dark roast, it was much nearer to the style of espresso that I prefer. Perhaps indicative of the great Atlantic divide, it was sold to our visitor as a ‘brew’ coffee, though that is a subject for another day as I love to try all coffees as espressi. After all, is that not what being a coffee enthusiast is all about; pushing the boundaries of accepted practice?
Although it had slight roast notes, for me, the “Los Delirios” was not as affected by them as the “Kid O” had been. Thick and smooth, it was all buttery caramel chocolate with delicious honey tones. I love spicey hints in coffee and this had them, along with something fruity that I could not put my finger on. Reading the packet, I noticed cranberry in the description and realised that was what I had tasted. Very nice coffee, still a little dark, but gorgeous in a flat white.
This month was a real fest for us with superb coffees arriving without warning from all quarters. On Valentine’s Day morning a package arrived from roasting legend Steve Leighton of “Has Bean Coffee” (www.hasbean.co.uk). Yes, Steve sent us a Valentine’s gift! It contained three new Bolivian coffees not at the time available on the Has Bean website. Steve had roasted batches of each whist working on profiles and extremely kindly thought of us.Now, I love Bolivian coffee in general. It often strikes me as having lovely complex flavours and really good body, and the past few years have brought some wonderful examples, all of which seem to be of really high quality. Those sent by Steve were no exception.
On Skype, a very excited Steve described Cup of Excellence Award Winner “Bolivia Machacamarac Maria Andrade” as some of the best espresso he has ever tasted! Praise indeed, and well deserved in my opinion. Superb as espresso and in milk drinks, with a big, thick body. This one was full of dark and sweet chocolate flavours all folded in the mouth giving lots of different sensations, not unlike the “Kid O” in that respect, but for me much nicer without the latter’s strong roast tone. With a grapey fruit acidity and spicy tones, the “Machacamarac”really hit the spot. Anyone doubting that a single origin can be as complex as a blend should try this one. Some single origin’s bring specific flavours, this one has a balance all on its own, and it already appears destined to be one of my favourites this year.
With a slightly lighter body and a clean taste came the second in this excellent trio of coffees “Bolivian Cenaproc: Caranavi Region, Julia Tityana and Pedro Patana”. Yes, the names of this month’s coffees are all rather long it seems! Honey and dark berry fruit tones accentuated a nice chocolate caramel undertone, with a balanced resultant sweetness leading to a good finish. Not as gloopy as the “Machacamarac”, this coffee was just as good in a very different way, proving that Bolivia has a wide range of flavours to offer with quality all the way.
The final offering was another Cup of Excellence Award Winner “Bolivia Flor De Mayo, Pedro Castro”, with excellent body and a really distinctive sweet fudge flavour that, for me, at times edged toward caramac (a light coloured caramel chocolate bar available in the UK). A refreshing but not sharp apple acidity stayed to the finish and left a nice enhanced aftertaste. This was another coffee that I very much enjoyed, and one that once again showcased the variety and quality of Bolivian beans currently on the market.
If you get the chance to try any of the coffees featured today, I would suggest you do so. All are top quality and together they showcase some of the range of flavour profiles possible with world class beans, both single origin and blended.
Many thanks to Pete and to Steve for the kindness and the chance to sample some of the world’s premier coffee beans; it has been a real pleasure. Coffee tasting months don’t really get better than this!