Lemon flavor is the new black in gourmet coffee

May 25, 2011

Just like hemlines change in haute couture, coffee flavors change among the cognoscenti.

What's in fashion now?

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I've heard if called Meyer Lemon, grapefruit, "gorgeous finishing notes of Meyer Lemon," key lime (rare) and other embellishments.

One bold and famous version of this is the Panama Esmeralda Estate Coffee that won a Cup of Excellence award.  That one tastes like a lemon cookie.  Or the Rwanda Bufcafe from Ecco Caffe is a good example of a lemony coffee.   Ethiopian coffees have citrus bordering on lemon.

To describe lemon flavor, it's not the astringent kind that makes you pucker.  It's  a light citrus sweetnes.  It used to be called citrus or acidity.  It's a good thing.  It's not the kind that will peel the varnish off your shoes.  If it's particlarly strong, it's no longer called citrus and instead becomes grapefruit or lemon.  If you want to be uptown, call it Meyer Lemon.   Evntually from tasting lots of coffees you get a feel for the different citrus flavors.

Citrus flavor is said to be found in coffee grown above 5,000 feet, sometimes from the Geisha varietal (from Ethiopia, now in Panama and other countries),  used quickly after processing and drying (i.e. after a year of storage the citrusy flavor is gone), roasted light.

What is that the opposite of?

There's an important business angle here:  Starbucks will never have citrusy coffee.   Just like changing hemlines, jacket collars and tie widths cause you to swap clothing out of your closet and buy new, citrus is a taste that's instantly recognizable as NOT Starbucks.  Because a citrus flavor requires something Starbucks won't do -- purchase premium coffee in small quantities often from the expensive mountainous regions of the world and roast it light.  Citrus flavor if you like it causes you to buy from a microroaster and stop buying from Starbucks.

Starbucks Pike Place Blend is darkness in a cup.  I've had Starbucks Reserve Coffees (Rwanda, Kona, Papua New Guinea, Peru) in the Clover machines at least 20 times, and it's always dark roasted.  To the point of a Full City, dark, almost French roast.  Slightly less charred than the regular house roast.

This is a reason that restaurants, cafes, and home coffee drinkers relish lemon flavor in coffee.  It's the un-Starbucks.

Listen to the coffee next time you try one from Ethiopia, Central America, and mountaineous places -- there's often lemon flavor lurking in there, and it's fun.


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