After neglecting my blogging for a while, I figured I ought to make note of three excellent coffees from Intelligentsia in Los Angeles that I have been drinking over the past month or so. On a vacation trip in early July to visit family, we made a detour over to Silver Lake, where I bought a mug and a few different bags of single-source beans. I packed them in my suitcase and returned to New York (carrying coals to New Castle in a sense, since some local shops carry Intelligentsia selections). First up is the selection from Guatemala. Name Itzamna
Origin Finca Maravilla (farm of Mauricio Rosales), in Huehuetenango region of Guatemala.
Roasted July 2, 2009.
Purchased July 5 at Intelligentsia Coffee Silver Lake Coffee Bar, 3922 West Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles.
Description "Gilded by a citrus acidity, flavors of fruit punch and caramel provide structure. The complexity of the cup elevates into a finish of Swiss chocolate."
In the Cup When I read a description like that, my first reaction is still, "Oh, come on." But I have learned to look for any mention of caramel or chocolate, with good results. The coffees with these descriptions don't necessarily taste like a cup of hot chocolate, but those words tend to suggest something smooth, rich or sweet. Citrus and fruit flavor descriptions tend to signal a more complicated flavor experience.
There also tends to be a difference between a regular cup of Joe and the same coffee as espresso. I tend to favor espresso, but I tried this and the other beans I picked up both ways. I won't beat around the bush: This is a marvelous coffee, and I have spent many a morning swirling it around in my mouth trying to pick out all the flavors mentioned above. I get quite a bit of something chocolate, and not too much fruit or citrus to be overpowering. So this was a case where the label on the bag did not lead me astray, and as usual Intelligentsia was selling fresh, roasted beans.
I bought an Intelligentsia mug while I was at it (above).
All of the coffees I bought on this little trip were excellent, and I would probably rank this one in third place against the selections from Honduras and Bolivia. But that's quibbling. It's pretty amazing stuff.
Here's a little more about this coffee-growing region of Guatemala from Sweet Maria's, which contends that consumers can have beneficial political and economic effect by buying from small, co-op single-lot growers.
This coffee is a Bourbon/Caturra grown at 1500 to 1850 meters above sea level. It is purchased direct trade from the grower, and carries Intelligentsia's "In Season" sticker, which is explained here and in this case means the coffee was harvested from January to April. Mr. Rosales is described someone dedicated to his workers and the environment (there's more in this pdf, including notes by Geoff Watts, the company's coffee buyer).
Watts writes that this might be the best coffee from this grower he's ever had, noting the long tradition of coffee expertise in this area where more than half of the people have are of Mayan descent and have been growing coffee for generations. "Coffees from La Maravilla (HueHue) bring an energetic ripe fruit acidity to Itzamna," he writes. "This farm was the first to meet the requirements of Direct Trade status, and we’ve had a close relationship for over six years now. This season Mauricio finished constructing new housing for the temporary workers, and we celebrated with a post-harvest party at the farm for all the pickers and their families."
About the name, he explains:
Itzamna is the creator-deity whose name can be rendered 'god of nectar' and was the harbinger of culture, cacao, and maize to the Mayans in ancient lore. We chose the name Itzamna for this offering because we like what he stands for. He is a beloved deity from Mayan mythology, credited with creating many of the things that make life worth living. He introduced farming and science. And he was always known to be kind and protective towards humans, no mean streak whatsoever. In other words, he is the man. We can only suppose that he has a profound love for coffee as well."
So now you know. The sad part is, the bag is almost empty.