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This past Friday, I had the opportunity to attend a cupping of coffee producer extraordinaire Aida Battle’s 2011 Finca Mauritania processed three ways. As a coffee enthusiast without any formal training or access to firsthand info. about how what goes on at the farm level impacts the cup I brew at home, I’d always been curious to compare processing methods while holding the coffee constant. To be able to do so with such great beans was a real treat, which I’d like to say a few words about before leaving readers with the more definitive description provided (via Facebook) yesterday by Counter Culture’s Peter Giuliano (repeated below).
On the table were fully washed, pulped natural (aka “honey prep”), and natural-processed lots of Finca Mauritania. This last one was predictably easy to pick out by dry aroma alone thanks to its quasi-outrageous “Fruity Pebbles” berry notes (straw- or blue- to my palate). I was more intrigued by the difference between the first two lots, however. I’d been merrily brewing my way through a 12-oz bag of fully washed Finca Mauritania the previous week, so it smelled and tasted familiar; I was getting dark orange acidity, caramel, and pastry-like richness mostly. In comparison, the pulped natural version had more chocolate and enhanced body, as advertised. I detected apricot in it, though when somebody suggested sweet potato I understood the reference. There was also a hard-to-place spiciness. For me and for the majority of cuppers in attendance, the pulped natural lot stood out (but see the postscript below).
By the time I left I was buzzing (figuratively and literally) with newfound appreciation for how coffee processing affects flavor—not least because people had started trying their hands at pulling shots of the Finca Mauritania pulped natural and sharing out the results of their efforts. Next time maybe I’ll do more spitting and less swallowing!
Overly-caffeinated gratitude goes out to Aida Battle and Counter Culture, of course, as well as to Allie Caran (and her crew) at Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen for leading what was truly an educational cupping on a rainy, coffee-friendly morning.
Postscript: Allie was kind enough to send me home with a little care package of Finca Mauritania pulped natural, which isn’t yet available to purchase. I’ve brewed several cups of it in the Eva Solo over the past few days, and while I do enjoy this coffee’s dark-chocolate-and-cherry goodness I find myself swinging back toward the fully washed lot as my favorite. I notice the pulped natural’s “muted” aromatics, relatively speaking, more at home than I did at Woodberry for whatever reason.
[Peter's notes about last Friday's cupping offer insight into the various processes of new and upcoming lots from Aida Batlle.]
Thanksgiving is more than a month away, but I'm overwhelmed with gratitude anyway. That's because we get to cup coffees from 1) like one of the absolute best-best-best farms in the world and 2) the coffee processed multiple ways, by a woman who has become one of the world's great experts in coffee processing.
I cannot stress these two points enough, and I feel like I should, because often we take such things for granted. This is a farm on the "Cinturon de Oro" (golden belt) of El Salvador, in the perfect place, planted with Bourbon, the queen of coffee varieties, and managed by one of the most quality-conscious and dynamic farmers in the world. And, as if that's not enough, we get something that doesn't exist anywhere else, on any farm in the world: coffee processed three different ways, and the ability to taste them next to each other. It's an opportunity that is like stupid amazing. So take a deep breath and mutter thanks before we begin tasting today. That's what I'll be doing.
But first, Mauritania Washed. This is the classic, the original, the coffee that I first tasted way back when, which knocked me socks off. Now, you know what washed coffees are: in this case, lightly pulped and fermented overnight, gently washed and spread out on clay-tile patios to dry in the Salvadoran sun. This creates clean, transparent coffees, with bright fruit notes- this year I taste a subtle green note- like lime or herbs- to accompany the trademark Mauritania sweetness. Another thing I want you to notice- can you smell that the aroma of the washed coffee is more pronounced than the semi-washed? Participants in the Pro-Series Processing class will remember that fermenting coffee creates acetic acid, which is one of the few acids that contribute to aroma. It's the same acid that makes vinegar smelly, and though this coffee doesn't have any vinegar smell, the tiny bit of acetic acid from the fermentation kind of stimulates the aroma and, well, makes it jump.
Second, try Mauritania Pulped Natural. This process is just like the washed process, except skipping the fermentation and washing steps. Therefore, the pulped coffee is put on the clay patios with its sticky mucilage still intact. Now, you would think that this has been done in El Salvador for a long time, but in fact it was only recently introduced there by coffee buyers from Italy, who knew about the benefits this process has for coffees that are intended for the espresso machine. The aroma is muted, you'll notice, but in the cup you should also notice elevated body and dark-chocolate notes. This is certainly due to the extended drying that results from the mucilage layer, since anecdotally, long drying equals deep body and "dry distillation" notes.
Last, check out Mauritania Natural. This might get gasps from neophyte cuppers. Packed with deep ripe fruit and even a touch of yogurt, you can really taste the process here. It's the equivalent of a port wine or a sauternes; crazy complex and layered, intense, difficult to drink a lot of. But this coffee is really amazing. Naturals are tough to do- they require active management and a watchful eye to prevent spoilage and funk. But when they are right they are right.
Anyway, thanks everyone, and take care of those coffees pretty please.
-Peter [Giuliano] [10/17]"