The Tasting Panel magazine

December 2016

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Page 67 of 124

december 2016  /  the tasting panel  /  67 december 2016 /  the tasting panel  / 67 For a large scale roaster like Illy, blends are a necessity, but not neces- sarily an easy way out. "Blending coffee beans is difficult," explains Illy's Master Barrista Giorgio Milos. With as many as nine different components in a blend, Illy's senior tasters must taste each component prepared three differ- ent ways, then grade the beans based on specific characteristics. It's more about the specific characteristics of the bean than its origin, however, that qualify it for a blend. Using a football analogy, Giorgio explains, "The quar- terback is always going to be Ethiopian and the running back is going to be Brazilian, but the other positions in the blend can be substituted based on the specific characteristics they are bringing to the blend; it doesn't matter where they come from." The argument against blends has been that they provide the opportunity to hide inferior beans, something that probably happened a lot more in years past. Today, roasters like King's Row Coffee are fighting to change that image. Successful chef-turned-coffee roaster Craig Shelton of King's Row is passionate about his blends, saying, "We are in an age of coffee in which the focus has shifted from consump- tion to appreciation. The Maillard reaction in roasting alone creates more than 800 flavor and aroma compounds, and when prepared properly with indi- vidual attention for each varietal, the potential for complexity is massive. We roast each coffee variety separately and then blend them in precise but unequal fractions based on the flavor profile we are seeking. When you set the needle to one temperature, as is the case with traditional blends, you're left with a limited range of expression." The Buzz on Single-Origin Single-origin coffees officially stepped out from relative obscurity in 1999 with the debut of the Cup of Excellence, a competition that identified the best farms' beans rather than the region or the coun- try. These farms were pushed into the spotlight, embracing the cult-like status that micro-lot coffees are now receiving, driven by high prices and low quanti- ties. "Single-origins are a great tool to directly connect consumers to a particular producer narrative and greater understanding of the coffee industry," explains Head Roaster Leslie Mah of San Francisco–based Ritual Coffee. "It also allows various taste nuances within coffee to be correlated with terroir, varieties, processing and even defects." The similarities in terminology between coffee beans and grapes are very evident. Terms like vintage, variet- ies, terroir, ripeness, fermentation and blending are commonly used for both. Single-origin coffees take full advan- tage of this focus on coffee bean detail, and many of these coffees display the variety, processing date and sub-region on their packaging. As Giorgio Milos says, "You really taste the difference between single-origin coffees." It is relatively easy to acknowledge the acidic, berry fruit character of Ethiopian coffee when tasting it next to the spicy, chocolate character of Brazilian coffee. Fervent supporters of single-origin coffee feel that regional characteristics of different varieties from unique locations around the world are lost in a blend. In their minds, it's impossible to coordinate characteristics of each variety's extrac- tion, solubility and roasting level in a blend without somehow compromis- ing the final experience. Opponents argue the "seasonality" of single- origin coffees can make the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe that you had last year taste totally different this year. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as just picking single-origin or blends. Additionally, particular styles of coffee seem to favor certain coffee prepara- tion styles. Espresso, for example, is usually a blend. As Leslie Mah explains, "Due to the concentration and focused presentation of flavors, blends are largely used for espresso because it can offer a more comprehensive taste experience." Alexandrea Littlejohn agrees, saying, "Blends in espresso are much more forgiving and easier to dial in." Espresso coffee preparation high- lights the biggest variable in coffee preparation: you, how you make your coffee and what you add to it. That has become much more complicated, as preparation processes like cold brew, cold drip and Chemex/pour- over weren't even talked about ten years ago. As Milos says, "Coffee has transformation. The consumer is part of the process, the winemaker—if you will—in making the final product. The transformation process you choose can totally change the taste of your blend or your single-origin coffee." King's Row goes a step further, designing their blends with where you drink them in mind: "The same cup of coffee, regardless of quality, will taste entirely different in certain settings due to the extrinsic effects of those set- tings on our palate's reference point," explains Shelton. As small production gets bigger, and as we drink drips with a specific "vibe" in mind, I think it's safe to say that many of us have moved past the days of freeze-dried Folgers and into a more complicated, but ultimately higher- quality, coffee experience. Illy's Master Barrista Giorgio Milos. Alexandra Littlejohn, Director of Wholesale for Equator Coffee. PHOTO COURTESY OF EQUATOR COFFFEE PHOTO COURTESY OF ILLY

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