Coffee is the world's most popular beverage after water, with
over 400 billion cups consumed annually. The coffee bean is the seed
of a cherry from an evergreen tree that grows in a narrow subtropical
belt around the world. The three major growing regions are: Latin
America and the Caribbean Islands, Africa and the Arabian Peninsula,
and Indonesia. Coffee is also grown in Hawaii, India and in Southeast
Asia. The term "varietal coffee" refers to an unblended coffee from
a single country, region, and crop.
How do varietal coffees differ in flavor and characteristics?
Virtual Coffee asked some of the premier specialty coffee roasters
in the country what their favorite varietal coffee is-and why. We
begin our series with a piece by Geoff
Watts, director of coffee, Intelligentsia
Coffee Roasters and Tea Blenders of Chicago.
By Geoff Watts
me, the term "favorite" is somewhat static and exclusionary in its
very essence. In the culinary realm and in the worlds of music and
art, I've always felt that the greatest joys lie in developing an
appreciation for differences, whether they be as startling as the
taste of tiramisu next to a crunchy dill pickle, or as subtle as the
slight stretching of a beat that injects tension into a drum pattern.
Coffee is a perfect venue for such explorations; the spectrum of
flavor nuance and character between origins-or between regions within
origins-is wonderfully expansive. Add to this the dynamic nature of
roasting and brewing, and it becomes clear that nearly every single
cup takes on a certain-if subtle-level of individuality. How then
is it possible to pick one coffee and elevate it above its peers?
Or even five or six for that matter? Perhaps the best solution for
me is to frame things in another manner. Here's the scenario: I've
just purchased a ticket to Saturn, and due to luggage restrictions,
I can bring only one type of coffee. How's that for a bind?
Without hesitation, I climb aboard the inter-stellar ship with a
full bag of Guatemalan beans. I am secure in my choice because I believe
the coffees produced in this country are as complete as any in the
world. Coffees from the historically under-rated Fraijanes region
in particular have captured my heart, the great ones possessing striking
fruit tones and rich chocolate notes with a body like a gymnast: lithe
and well-defined, if slightly compact. At their best, these coffees
offer a complexity I would call swashbuckling-full of vigor, with
enough attitude to make Han Solo stand down, yet they are tempered
with a mild underlying sweetness that endures from start to finish.
To ask for anything more would be shamelessly greedy. But perhaps
that's all right in this case, considering the breadth of variety
this country has to offer.
So, let's blend in some beans from San Marcos, grown in the cloud
forests of Guatemala's Pacific coast. I find these beans to be a bit
softer, with pronounced flavor notes of chocolate and spice. For a
bean from Central American, this coffee has an exceptionally lush
body and a depth that makes each sip sublime. Or maybe I should add
a heavyweight from the renowned Antigua region to my already brimming
bag. Coffee from this region is well balanced and elegant, with generous
layers of dark chocolate, fruit, and spice flavors delivered with
a stirring and assertive sense of grace.
I find the versatility of Guatemalan coffees particularly alluring.
They are equally suited to drinking in the morning, sipping all day
long or accompanying a fine dinner. Roasted several seconds into the
second "pop," until the oils are on the brink of emerging onto the
surface of the bean, these coffees shine like no other, producing
aromas that sing like a siren and intoxicate from across the room.
For anyone who has the opportunity, I highly recommend a visit to
the growing regions of Guatemala. Guatemala is a country of stunning
beauty, with a compelling charm that is a tonic for anyone who has
grown used to the relatively sterilized environment of the more developed
nations. It is a place rich in substance, with an enduring spirit
that is vital and seemingly timeless. And the coffee rocks.
Coffee Roasters and Tea Blenders was founded on a simple premise:
buy, roast, and sell the finest coffee available anywhere. Intelligentsia
purchases its coffee either directly from the growers-many of whom
they have met on their travels to origin-or from the world's most
renowned importers. Intelligentsia's coffees are roasted fresh daily
in vintage German roasters. Intelligentsia is the winner of Chicago
Magazine's "Best of Chicago" (1997-Present), and their coffees are
served in Chicago's finest restaurants.
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