BBotE Experimentation: Banana Republics & Tasting Volcanoes

Costa Rica and Colombia are the two primary coffee growing countries that we see in North American stores, despite Brazil out producing them, thanks to some agricultural colonization similar to that which United Fruit did (and thus the coining of the term “Banana Republic”). The monopolies and focused national agricultural production strategies, think King Cotton in the American South, from decades ago are why generations of Americans and Canadians instantly think of Juan Valdez and his burro when someone mentions Colombia. Admittedly, this is probably preferable to the other vision of Colombia as the Narco Kingdom of Medellin that sold so well on the news with the War on Drugs.

The point that I’m getting at here is that the use of Costa Rican and Colombian coffees as bulk material, blended together at port before shipping out, cut like cocaine with much more expensive coffee crops like Jamaican and Kona to help improve profit margins, does a great disservice to the fact that there are some truly fantastic coffees growing in these regions. We wouldn’t have tried to create monoculture crops with unstable puppet political regimes if we couldn’t yield fantastic amounts of coffee, bananas, etc. from their soils in the first place, right?

This is where you’re all supposed to yell at me about the importance for ethically produced, sustainable, organically farmed coffees. All things being equal, I’d prefer not to wear blood diamonds or consume blood beans. The fun thing about Colombia and Costa Rica’s coffee growers is that despite providing over 10% of the world’s arabica beans, most of the production comes from small growers…who then sell to the giant conglomerate co-op that fills the metal cans on the supermarket shelves. I’d be happier if we diverted a bit more of that coffee before homogenization to taste what those small farms can do, because my very favorite BBotE I’ve made to date is a single farm in Guatemala. Surely, the legendary volcanic soils of Colombia and Costa Rica offer similar delights.

Ah yes, volcanoes. It is time once again to discuss Herr Direktor Funranium’s strange flavor library. When I taste a coffee and say, “Mmm…andesitic stratovolcano”, as I did with the Colombian tasted yesterday, people tend to look at me funny. Hey, pulverize enough rock samples and you’ll get familiar with their taste and smell too. In defense of my oddity, note how the map of major arabica coffee crops matches up fairly closely with regions of active volcanism (East African Rift Valley, Indonesian Archipelago, hot spot volcanism of Hawaii, the Central American section of the Ring of Fire). The arabica needs these rich volcanic soils to develop their distinctive flavors, which in turn, reflects the distinctive volcanism of these regions. If you’ve ever wondered why Panama tastes so dramatically different than Ethiopia, it’s the difference between the geochemistry of a hydrated subduction zone volcanic arc and the extensional melting of a rift valley where a continent is tearing itself apart. Very different chemistry leads to different lavas which is reflected in their flavor.

In summation, I am always looking for a new small lot of Central and South American coffee to tinker with and this week I got two, Costa Rica Doka and Colombia Paez.

The Costa Rica Doka is a cool shade grown bean that as both a hot coffee and BBotE had a very citrus, fruity flavor. This is likely due to the Costa Rican governments mandatory water process removal of the cherry. Straight and cold, I found the BBotE of the Costa Rica to have a meaty flavor to it which, combined with the citrus-like qualities, made an effect not unlike beef stew. Others declared it to be a good solid coffee flavor with some spiciness to it, which was brought out further by vodka addition.

The Colombia Paez is a supremo grade arabica (similar to the Kenya AA for coffee categorization)  that I received within two hours of roasting. The beans had hardly had a chance to cool down before I put them into process. Cold and straight, the Colombia smelled like Hershey cocoa powder or a cup of hot chocolate. When tasted, well, I already discussed my tongue and stratovolcano flavor, but others defined that as milk chocolate with a little tannin bite with a very, very, very long finish. The oils just hang on the tongue and the flavor lasts. With vodka addition, it was declared to be “smooth like butter” and “I want to spread this on toast”.

I think they are both worth experimenting with again, especially the Colombia. Keep an eye out for it appearing in the Clearance & Prototype section.