I like coffee. I probably average about two to three cups a day. I’m not a connoisseur: my tastes are wide-ranging–I’m not too picky. I prefer higher quality beans prepared expertly at high-end coffee houses, but I don’t mind drinking my wife and son’s more common beans from Peet’s or Peerless. The brewing systems are wide-ranging as well: pour over, French press, drip which I order at Temple Coffee Roasters I frequent; immersion drip, which I use at work; drip via Mr. Coffee and even (don’t hate me) Keurig I use at home usually with more pedestrian beans.
I do aspire to drink from only the best coffee beans though my domestic situation makes it hard to stick to top-shelf beans unless I buy my own, and I don’t want clutter up my freezer with an additional bag of grounds just for me. Also, I am too lazy to grind my coffee as I go so when I buy my gourmet coffee beans for my immersion drip system at work and have them grind the beans: convenience at the expense of degrading the quality of premium beans, I know, but making coffee via immersion is time-consuming enough. Add grinding and my entire break is consumed by the making of a single cup of joe.
So I think I have rammed home the fact that my taste is not impeccable. I might pick Folgers over the finest Esmeralda Geisha in a cupping, and maybe I wouldn’t mind if I did. I don’t buy the higher grade for the taste–though I always feel like I am drinking excellent coffee when I fork out the extra coin for it. I buy the stuff because it is Fair Trade, and yea, I feel like I’m not drinking shit that has been sitting around in some warehouse forever.
Then I read Dave Eggers excellent The Monk of Mokha, about Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a twenty-four-year-old Yemeni-American hotel doorman and coffee lover who leaves San Francisco and travels to his ancestral homeland to tour terraced farms high in the country’s rugged mountains. It is there he meets the beleaguered but determined coffee farmers. When civil war breaks out and engulfs the nation, Alkhanshali smuggles himself and some of Yemen’s beans with him. Like the other books by Eggers I have read, The Monk of Mokha is a page-turner featuring three main characters: Alkhanshali, some priceless coffee beans, and the coffee farmers of Yemen. A while later, Alkhanshali creates Port of Mokha, Inc.
But what about the coffee?
I ordered the four-ounce bag of “Al-Jabal Single Farmer Lot 7” beans from the Port of Mokha website for $45. (FYI: Google translates Al-Jabal as “Sea of the Mountain.”) When the product arrived, it came in a fashionable lime-peel green box with a stylish foldout of the Port of Mokha story, mission, and plenty of pictures of the homeland with Alkhanshali in most of them. There is also preparation instructions (see below), and the beans in an elegant vacuum bag and a band with the terraced farm on it.
As mentioned above, at home I usually either brew my coffee via an automatic drip, or I use a Keurig. For this cupping; however, I am going to hand-brew this cup of “Al-Jabal” to control the water, dose, and brewing. Not all steps in this cupping use best practices of handmade pour over brewing, but it’s better than dumping the grounds in mein Herr. Kaffee!
Usually, tap water is good enough for my goose-neck kettle, but this night I opted for bottled water. Optimally, one should use purified water. We never got around to installing a filter, so it’s straight City of Sac Tap.
As stated above, the coffee comes with instructions for five popular brewing methods. I don’t have any of these methods, but Chemex is the closest to my plastic cone. Yeah, I know, I should be using a ceramic cone. (Hey, is that a hair on the instructions? Eww!) Per the two notes at the bottom of the instructions, I am grinding as I go for this cupping though this humble philistine usually asks for his expensive beans to be ground before he buys them. Too, he will commence with the pour over directly after the water comes to a boil. He’s not going to mess with a thermometer.
Yeah, I know, it’s not a burr grinder. I didn’t buy it.
Perhaps a little too fine, but it will have to do.
Fold my #4…
And pour the grounds. I didn’t catch any of the grounds dropping in the filter. I need a third arm, damn it!
The same goes for the blooming and brewing processes.
The pour over process time took around two and a half to three minutes. I’m sure I got the volumes correct, but that seems like a small amount. Perhaps it is my giant mug.
After doing the math, it comes to a little less than $6 a cup, which was less than I initially thought when the 4 oz bag costs $45.
So, how does it taste? Hmm, in aroma it’s delicate but high-toned, richly sweet. I sense caramelized apple, honeysuckle, baker’s chocolate, tangerine zest, frankincense. In taste: a balanced structure with bright, juicy acidity; buoyant, syrupy mouthfeel. The deeply sweet, flavor-laden finish leads with notes of cacao nib and honeysuckle in the short and rich frankincense with hints of bittersweet citrus zest in the long. Ha ha ha. I hope I had you going for a while! Fifty years of food laced with hot peppers, horseradish, wasabi, hot Chinese oil, and all kinds of Mexican hot sauces have dulled my pallet. I really cannot describe the coffee I just sipped other than to say it’s tasty, acidy, full-bodied, but that could represent hundreds of coffees when prepared correctly or at least made as well as I could with the tools at hand–including less expensive beans.
I am drinking black coffee more and more these days. This is mainly because of how pour overs are presented at my favorite coffee house: in a Hario v60 Range Server and a cupping bowl–that holds less than six ounces of coffee–delivered on a tray. To add cream to my pour over would mean walking over to the station every few minutes to add my dairy. The first time I ordered a pour over, I nearly asked for a cream dispenser and then thought this might be a good time to learn how to enjoy coffee without cream–the way my two ex-barista sons drink it.
Also, while reading Eggers’ book, I decided I would take coffee drinking even more seriously and drink the stuff black each time I made or ordered a cup. As I write this, I am almost exclusively a black-coffee drinker, reserving the right to adulterate the brew when the swill is too bitter for me to take straight.
Recently, I started buying an extra bag of coffee in bean form and–when convenient–started grinding coffee as I needed it and using the pour over method. I have also bought a few new gadgets, and I am checking out some more. Recently, I signed up for a Palate Development & Tasting class at Temple Roasters. If things go as planned, I will be an insufferable snob to my friends and family alike!