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. The second piece in our series is by William R. Siemers, president, Coffee Roasters of New Orleans.



By William R. Siemers

Choosing my favorite origin coffee is difficult—I like a number of coffees for different reasons. When I evaluate a coffee, I primarily consider cup quality, and all of my favorites are very tasty indeed. But my reasons for liking a particular coffee are often complicated by other concerns. For example, perhaps I have visited the farm where a coffee is grown and admire how it is produced, as I do coffee from the Costa Rican Doka Estate. Or maybe I like the coffee and the economic and environmental sustainability that is part and parcel of every cup. Sumatra Gayoland and Nicaraguan Segovia fair trade and organic coffee are examples of this type of “favorite.” I also love coffees that have specific and unique flavor tones, such as Ethiopian Harrar and Sulawesi Toraja. While I may not want to drink these coffees everyday, they exemplify the diversity of flavors within the specialty coffee universe, which makes them favorites also.

Despite all of the above, I must say that my personal favorite origin coffee does not have a unique, specific flavor tone—nor is it a certified organic or fair trade coffee, and I have never been anywhere near the region where it is grown. When it comes to a day-in and day-out favorite, I love a good cup of Kenyan coffee. A number of flavor tones can be at work in this coffee—citrus, berry, or wine—but these tones generally do not predominate. Instead, the tones add shades of complexity to a wonderful, pure coffee flavor that is both nuanced and well-balanced, which to me is the best of all possible worlds in a cup of coffee.

Not all Kenyan coffees are this good. In fact, some are downright ordinary. But many good origins are available year after year. Through the years I have enjoyed Keekoruk, a German preparation, blended Kenya; Mweiga, a Society (Co-op) mark; and a peaberry, which is great for dark roasts. While these coffees have different flavor profiles, they all share this wonderful combination of nuance and rich coffee flavor that gets me every time.

Unfortunately, I am not alone in my opinion. Auction prices for the better Kenyas are reaching record levels relative to other origins. In some cases, Kenyan coffee costs almost three times as much as the best Central American coffees. Even so, Kenyan coffee still remains a very affordable luxury and one that no coffee lover should miss


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