Today I was a little fed up with some sub-par cups of coffee I had in my immediate area over the last few days (cafés and coffees that will remain nameless), so I decided to cut out the middleman and just roast up something from the stores of marvelous green coffees I have tucked away from travels over the last year.
I picked a classic, strictly-high-grown Bourbon from El Salvador and roasted it a couple minutes past first crack on my Gene Café home roaster. This is pretty standard operation for me; I like that style of coffee a great deal.
As soon as I had it cooled down I went ahead and ground some up and made a chemex. It was quite lovely. Rain was beating on the window as dark clouds swept over the hills of Seattle at this darkest time of the year. As I tasted the bright-n-snappy, yet sweet-n-chocolatey character of the coffee, I remarked to my companion "Now this is great wintertime coffee."
But now that I reflect on that for a moment I wonder, just what does that mean? At the time I meant that liveliness of the coffee was invigorating to me on such a gloomy winter day. But there seems to be a great deal of difference of opinion out there about what constitutes "wintery" or "holiday-time" when it comes to specialty beverages.
Let's take three quick examples of "holiday blends" that I have had recently. Descriptions from the companies:
The Celebration Blend from Intelligentsia (a beautiful coffee, if you ask me). Intelly writes
The first thing to surface is a candied orange peel acidity, almost that of a sweet marmalade. Notes of cassis and juniper berry give dimension while the mouthfeel maintains a clean yet rounded cup. Toasted hazelnuts and anisette yield a pleasing aftertaste with hints of baking spice to ring in the season.
The Holiday Blend from Jim's Organic Coffee:
Three rare coffees; Tanzanian Mbeya, Brazil Poco Fundo, and Celebes Toraja White Eagle make up this year’s Holiday Blend. These coffees; roasted to a full city (medium heavy) roast, combine to yield a festive dark berry character; perfect to enjoy the spirit of the season.
And the Holiday Blend from Zoka Coffee:
This year at Zoka we have come upon many great Single Origin coffees. Our 2009 Holiday Blend is comprised of our roasters' favorite 4 coffees from 3 continents, highlighting their individual strengths while almost simultaneously making each other better. With almond in the aroma, this Holiday Blend presents flavors that remind us of our childhood. Graham crackers, cranberry sauce, and fig cookies throughout the cup warm you from the inside out.
Intelligentsia and Zoka both mention baking, evoking spiced cookies and things of that nature. Jim's and Zoka mention berries. It seems to me that these descriptions are trying to make the coffee sounds like a mug of spiced cider or other warm winter treat. This seems reasonable. I would characterize all three descriptions as generally accurate, though the Intelligentsia one is more spot-on in my experience.
Who wouldn't want a coffee that tastes like these? I like them too.
The funny thing is, though, that in winter time I actually crave more fruity, snappy, acidic coffees. If I'm having a big piece of buttery pound cake on Christmas morning, the last kind of coffee I want to have it with is coffee that tastes like more baked goods (well, ok, not the last kind of coffee, but you get my point). I like something to create a contrast. It's the same reason I'm most likely to enjoy a rich, mellow Brazilian when I can have it with something bright and snappy to eat, like fresh strawberries.
But that's just me. What do you think of when you think of "winter coffee?"