Ah, the signs of spring -- Turbotax, Daylight Saving Time and warmer weather. What better time to jump-start a moribund blog? I've been kicking around some ideas for posts. For example, I am really grooving on the new Kindle for iPhone application. It is amazing to be reading a book on one device then have the phone call the same text up to the page where I left off. And the updated New York Times iPhone app is snappier than the original, which had grown slower and frustrating with new phone firmware updates. Now I can get depressing economic news right in my hand in a matter of seconds.
In the end, it all comes back to coffee, without which nothing happens, especially on this blog. Name: Thunguri
Origin: Ndaorini Cooperative, Nyeri District, Kenya, harvested from November to January at 1850-2100 meters above sea level.
Roasted: Feb. 24 by Intelligentsia.
Purchased: March 4 at Café Grumpy, 224 W. 20th St., Manhattan, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.
Description: The bag declares, "There's nothing like it. WIth citrus fruit, lemongras and tropical fruit notes, this coffee remains one of the most recognizable and inspiring of our offerings." More extensive tasting notes at Intelligentsia elaborate: "Flavor: Jasmine, currant, guava. Acidity: Citrus-like, mellow. Finish: Soft, nougat, dark chocolate." The roaster also promises the coffee can leave one "speechless with wonder."
The Pour: Once again, I'm reminded of wine-tasting metaphors. That's quite a range of flavors, and this coffee certainly defies precision in description. In my quest for the perfect shot, I have not been a big fan of flowery citrus flavors, but I've come to see words like "currant," "mellow," "nougat" and "dark chocolate" as indicators of something special.
The pitch from Intelligentsia's expert, Geoff Watts, suggests the coffee has a broad appeal (and serves a good economic cause): "Its broad-ranging appeal is certain to excite the taste buds of both the adventuresome and casual sipper. This lot was purchased through Kenya’s newly opened 'Second Window,' which extends communication and purchasing privileges directly from the grower to the roaster." (I've noted before that much of coffee marketing is explicitly progressive in its politics. It's not just a beverage. It's a foreign policy.)
Watts gives a detailed description of Kenyan growing conditions and traditions, then explains that a mandatory auction system in Kenya allows roasters to purchase beans in single lots "at prices three to four times higher than the best coffees in other countries."
Because of local corruption, the extra money does not always end up in the pockets of the farmers, making their operations barely sustainable, he writes. This lot was purchased under an official "second window" that allows for direct relationships between growers and buyers. Watts, who is heading back there to meet with farmers this year, says the new system is under fierce debate.
I remember drinking a lot of Kenyan coffee, long before the current culinary coffee movement took off, and enjoying it. At $14 per half-pound, this was an expensive bag of beans, and the exotic-sounding description gave me some trepidation. When I first opened the bag, I was hit full in the face with a rich, delicious aroma.
I made a few shots of espresso, enjoying it while pondering the tax paperwork I had put off longer than usual. There was a hint of fruit, but the shot was mostly smooth, rich and almost sweet. (I do think I still prefer the sweet tooth Yellow Icatu from Ritual that I tried out a couple of weeks back, so perhaps that has become my new benchmark.)
Was I left speechless with wonder? Not really. Was I inspired to start on those other blog posts? Sadly, no.
The weather is too nice, and the taxes still aren't finished. But I have spent a pleasant number of minutes trying to figure out exactly what I'm tasting here. And reading about the tough lives of the Kenyan farmers who got it to my cup puts our economic troubles in perspective too.