I happened to find myself in a Whole Foods store a week ago and noticed the wide coffee selection. Not being able to help myself, I picked up some single-source beans from Ecuador. For much of the week, I have been drinking it, mostly as espresso, alternating with the pricier Kenyan beans from an indie shop that I wrote about last week as part ofmy ongoing coffee quest. This has kept me alert through a few hours of an extracurricular project, listening to the audiobook version of "Shantaram," by David Gregory McDonald, a potboiler set in India. (It was a MacBreak Weekly pick from Andy Ihnatko). Listening to fiction is harder work than nonfiction, and this book, though entertaining and well-narrated in many accents by the award-winning Humphrey Bower, stretches to 43 hours and 3 minutes (I'm in the third hour). Coffee is needed to get through it.
Name: Organic Ecuador Espindola
Origin: Procafeq cooperative in southern Ecuador
Roasted: March 8 by Allegro Coffee
Purchased: March 8 at Whole Foods Market, Chelsea.
Description: "Perfectly balanced and beautifully complex with aromatic notes of sweet marmalade, brown sugar, lavender and honey."
Tasting notes: Apart from the audiobook, my other cultural achievements this week were to Twitter far too much and get started on clearing the TiVo of "24," "Big Love," "Battlestar Galactica," and the Jon Stewart-Jim Cramer showdown. I also made it to the 45-minutes-too-long film "Watchmen. While I was at that, I missed a Tyra-Banks related melee in my own neighborhood at a hotel visible from our kitchen window.
So it was quite a week. A week that called for coffee. And despite excessive consumption of it, I still dozed off in the middle of Will Ferrell's Bush impression on HBO last night. But it's a new day, and time to actually log my impressions of this particular coffee.
It is rare to find an actual bargain at Whole Foods, so I was pleased by the price, which was cheaper than the prices for single-source culinary beans at local indie shops. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the roasting date was the same day I was in the Whole Foods. Maybe that was just luck. Usually there has been some kind of lag time, and I have come to decide that freshness does count. The coffee geeks on the Web seem to concede that Whole Foods does a good job with its roasting partners, including Allegro. Allegro's Web site does not offer the sort of idiosyncratic tasting notes I've come to enjoy from other roasters, it did supply some details:
Espindola is produced by the 311 members of the Procafeq cooperative, one of the five associations that make up Ecuador’s small southern coffee federation. The coffee plots are a blend of Typica, Bourbon, and Caturra varietals handpicked and wet milled on each farm, although one group of 15 families collectively mills their coffee cherry at a centralized mill. After milling, the beans are fully sun dried and rested before being sent to the Federation’s new dry mill in Catamaya for hulling, sorting, and quality evaluation.
For good measure, Allegro promises to donate $10,000 to help with irrigation projects this year. As noted here before, one important part of coffee marketing is to persuade the consumer that this is not just about enjoying good coffee, but also helping the local growers in an environmentally sound way. This marketing technique was practically invented by Whole Foods. So check that box.
Let's get down to business. This coffee certainly tasted fresh. But it was lacking in something. It was not particularly sweet, and I have spent much of the week searching for the sweet marmalade, brown sugar and other traces. It is a rather simple coffee, pleasant, smooth, no bitterness. I would almost say a bit of a sour apple finish if I knew anything about these things. The main experience is of a decent, ordinary cup of coffee or shot of espresso. Perhaps this is what Allegro means by "perfectly balanced." I would not by any means call it "beautifully complex." Not once during the week has it caused me to stop and wonder, "What was that? That was interesting." It has simply done the job. It transported me nowhere except out the door. I've come to expect something more unusual in coffee these days. I'll certainly try other Allegro beans, but when this is gone, I won't seek out this particular variety again.