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The Pros Weigh in on Specialty Coffee

Tuesday, July 22, 2008 8:15 PM

To find out what the pros have to say about the specialty coffees available in the Washington area, I organized a coffee tasting. It was not a formal cupping, in which coffees are tasted blind and assigned numerical scores, nor was it a competition.

Panel participants were Lana Labermeier, Big Bear Cafe; Jin Chiew and Greg Suekoff, Caffe Pronto Coffee Roastery; Richard Futrell, Counter Culture Coffee; Robb Duncan, Dolcezza Gelato; Katie Duris, Murky Coffee; Ryan Jensen, Peregrine Espresso; Jeff Givens, Southern Skies Coffee Roasters; and David Fritzler, coffee director for Tryst, the Diner and Open City. Counter Culture Coffee Roasters hosted the event this month at its training center in Adams Morgan.

The panel tasted espresso blends and unblended single-origin coffees, all brewed with boutique-quality beans from named estates and micro-regions such as Yirgacheffe in Ethiopia, the Waghi Valley in Papua New Guinea and Karimikui Estate in Kenya.

It should be noted that when participants describe coffees as "bright," they are referring to the good kind of acidity that they expect to find in the best coffees. When they talk about tomato, herb and vegetal overtones, those are flavors they prize; often those characteristics are found in African coffees. Many neophytes prefer coffees from Indonesia and Central America, which tend to have flavor profiles that are less exotic.

You can order these and other specialty coffees online from retailers and wholesalers. For a listing of where these coffees are served and sold, go to this article.

-- Michaele Weissman

FROM CAFFE PRONTO COFFEE ROASTERY, 90 Russell St., Annapolis, 888-697-7668; www.caffepronto.com

Ethiopian single origin, from the Korate community in Sidamo: praised as "fruity and bright," tasting of "strawberry and blueberry, with a surprising earthiness."

Kenya AA Karimikui Estate: "a connoisseur's coffee," with "red tomato, vegetal notes recalling celery, kale" and "herbaceous notes."

FROM COUNTER CULTURE COFFEE, 4911 S. Alston Ave., Durham, N.C., 888-238-5282; www.counterculturecoffee.com

Finca Nueva Armenia from Huehuetenango, Guatemala: flavors "from fruit to nuts," including "tobacco, spice, cracked black pepper and citrus" with a touch of "chocolate brownie."

Gaturiri Single Lot 4815 from Nyeri, Kenya: "tomato-y and herbaceous" tones detected in this "clean, bright" Kenyan, with "a nice finish" and notes of "fruit and raisin."

FROM INTELLIGENTSIA COFFEE, 1850 Fulton St., Chicago, 888-945-9786; www.intelligentsiacoffee.com

Black Cat Espresso Blend: complex, with a "spicy, cinnamon aroma, stone fruit, a buttery body, sweet molasses and a long toasty finish."

Colombia Tres Santos: "a classic Colombian with an "impressive aroma" containing hints of "papaya, green tomato, sour cherry" and with a "nice finish."

FROM SOUTHERN SKIES COFFEE ROASTER, 4503 Louisville Rd., Finksburg, Md., 443-745-1721; www.southernskiescoffee.com

Papua New Guinea: "luscious" qualities in this medium-roasted coffee with hints of "chocolate and hazelnut," "an appealing mouth-feel and nice body."

Bugle Blend Espresso: "chewy, with good mouth-feel and pleasing overtones of fruit."

FROM SIDAMO COFFEE & TEA, 417 H St. NE, 202-548-0081; www.sidamocoffeeandtea.com

Yirgacheffe: "yummy," "solid and accessible, like vanilla ice cream," "an excellent gateway to the glories of Ethiopian coffee."

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