I've decided to expand the sources of beans for my haphazard and probably misguided search for the perfect cup of home-brewed coffee. The other day I stopped by the relatively new Chelsea branch of Joe, the Art of Coffee, a small chain that started in the West Village, routinely turns up on best-of lists, and is sometimes credited with being one of the first movers in New York City's belated culinary coffee renaissance. Joe offers a pleasant store experience, cuppings and classes (arranged in a curriculum with semesters), podcasts and other signs that say, coffee geeks welcome. All of Joe's coffee comes from its partner, Barrington Coffee Roasting Co. I had dropped my daughter off at school nearby, and was in a bit of a rush to get back on the subway and to the office. (I live further uptown in the Starbucks wasteland.) I was about to buy a bag of espresso beans, but then "Indian Mysore" caught my eye. I know it's just a region's name, but the name seemed so unappealing for a food product that -- using reverse logic -- I thought it had to be good.
Name: Indian Mysore Origin: The branded Joe's bag is no help here, but Barrington's Web site says it comes from the Kalledevarapura Estate in Chickmagalur in the Baba Budan Giris area of India's Mysore region. Roasted: The date is not listed on the vacuum-sealed bag, but Barrington is based in Lee, Ma., and moves a lot of beans through Joe. Purchased: Jan. 21 at Joe, the Art of Coffee, 405 West 23rd St., Chelsea. Description: There's nothing on the bag, but Barrington says this is a "super smooth, heavy bodied coffee, bold and exotic with a nut-like aroma." The Pour: That description sounds like it ought to be right up my alley. But I recoiled from the first shot I tasted. It was smooth, but not super-smooth. It was sort of dusty and bitter. I certainly caught the nut flavor, but there was also an aftertaste that struck me as more unpleasant than bold. Exotic, yes. Too exotic. My first thought was, I guess I should have bought Joe's espresso blend, since I've tried that in the store and enjoyed it, and many local reviewers praise it. I prepared to write the first fully bad review in this series. Other beans have not appealed to my personal taste, but I recognized they were of good quality. This was the first I considered pitching out.
But I should probably confess that I started the morning with a last shot of this coffee from Nyakizu Cooperative in Rwanda, which has a distinctive currant-cider-spice flavor. I did clean my palate with some water but maybe the collision of flavors was still too much. It also occurred to me that maybe this was just not a good bean for espresso. I made a regular cup of coffee, tasted it, drowned it in some soy milk, tasted it again. This was not really an improvement. So I went online and noodled around for a while, did some more research. Here is what Barrington says about the Kalledevarapura Estate Indian Mysore:
This coffee is brought to us by the Herculean efforts of Dr. Joseph John, a first generation East Indian who has devoted his energy to sourcing and importing specialty coffees from India to the United States. We regard the Mysore Nuggets as consistently the highest quality specialty coffee produced in India. Grown in Northern Mysore, the specific region where this coffee is grown is called Baba Budan Giris. The name of the region comes from the legendary Baba Budan who brought coffee from Arabia to India circa 1600 A.D. When people think of India, they typically think of tea. This notion needs to be reconsidered. India has consistently been among the top 10 commercial coffee producers in the world and is on the horizon as a budding producer of specialty coffees. The Kalledevarapura Estate is a prime example.
So, now I felt bad for the Herculean efforts of the great pioneer Dr. Joseph John. I also recalled the lesson of the Peet's Aged Sumatra, which grew on me over the course of a week in L.A.
I made another shot. And here is where my fickle palate did a reversal of sorts. There was still a dustiness and an aftertaste, but this second shot was much easier to take. Not great, but better. I allowed that perhaps this particular bag of beans had been on the shelf too long, or that I waited too long to open the bag and try them. Still, it was acceptable enough the second time around that I'll give it a few more chances. I doubt it will ever make a list of my favorites or that I'll buy it again.
An update: The next day, my first shot was nuttier than I recalled on Sunday, with a only a hint of the flavors that put me off yesterday -- not sure what I meant by dustiness, though. There's also a light sour finish of sorts. But that and a second shot were perfectly acceptable. I suppose I should go take a class at Joe the Art of Coffee to learn the language to convey this stuff. For the time being, I just need to know I probably won't be getting this bean again.