Notes from the Cupping Table: March 2024

Posted by Lauren Lathrop on

March offered a bit of a slower start for us. During the first few days of the month, the team was at Coffee Fest New York teaching classes, answering questions, and connecting with hundreds of new roasters. When we returned to Minneapolis, it was a full week of catching up with production roasting and following up with folks we met at the event. 

By the middle of the month, we were back to our normal schedule, and happy to be back at the cupping table. Over the last two weeks of March, we cupped 45 coffees. Many of those coffees were production roast check-ins and profiles we tasted along with students during the March session of Roasting 101. But a few of the sessions allowed us to try new coffees and consider them for purchase. 

Here are some highlights:

Flores Manggarai Tuang

When this coffee came into the roastery, I had never had a coffee from Flores. If I'm being totally honest, I'd never even heard of Flores. I was so incredibly excited to try something new. After working in coffee for almost 20 years, the experience of tasting a coffee from a new-to-you origin can't be taken lightly. 

Flores is one of Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands. It's west of Timor and just south of Sulawesi, a region I'm more familiar with. This is a newer offering from Cafe Imports and one we were very interested in tasting. We brought in a sample of the washed coffee, but they also have an anaerobic natural processed option. Going into the cupping with zero expectations was a thrill. 

The coffee delighted us. It was complex and clean with a pleasant minerality that reminded us of a crisp white wine. It offered a floral fragrance with balanced acidity and a touch of sweet earthiness like a wet riverbed. Our cupping notes read like a description of a blend of coffees from Kenya, Ethiopia, and Java. Cherry tomato, bergamot, orange peel, limeade, wine, raisin. We were intrigued! We decided to purchase a few bags and will be offering this coffee on our greens page soon. 

A customer's blend

Recently, we shared information about our Roasted Coffee Evaluation service. This is a program we've designed to help roasters receive actionable feedback on their roasted coffee and improve their profiles through critical critique. A customer roasting on an MCR-30 sent us two of their flagship blends for feedback and fine-tuning. 

The lighter of the two blends had terrific fragrance and aroma notes. We noted cocoa powder, toffee, butterscotch, and sweet pastries (like powdered sugar donuts or glazed croissants). The flavor of the coffee was a little less powerful. While the sweetness stayed present, it was milder, like a cane sugar simple syrup or a light caramel. We also noted vegetal flavors, raw peanuts, a lightweight body, and a drying finish. These are common issues in lighter roasts and can be solved with a few tweaks to the profile. Color readings taken on the Lighttells CM-200 confirmed a 15-point difference in internal vs. external roast level, indicating underdevelopment. 

We were able to provide some helpful direction to our customer with very specific time and temperature changes relative to their roast profile. We recommended no change to the total roast time but gave them advice on how to add some additional time in the development phase and reach the same finish temperature within 2°. We hoped that these adjustments would result in a more complex and well-rounded cup. We're excited to continue working with this team and watching their coffees improve as they grow their business. 

Yellow Bourbon, image courtesy of Cafe Imports

Brazil Cerrado Mineiro Fazenda Severino

Like every other roaster in the country (maybe the world), we go through a fair amount of coffee from Brazil. We utilize Brazil as a blending base, giving us a nice, nutty, chocolate canvas over which to paint landscapes of flavors. We roast it as a single-origin to light, medium, and dark profiles for customers who want an approachable and familiar "coffee that tastes like coffee". For these reasons, we try to keep a Brazil on hand that's sweet and delicious but not too interesting or complex. 

It was time to source a new Brazil last month, so we brought in seven different choices. If Goldilocks had visited a home where seven bears lived, it would have been a much longer story, but the outcome would have been similar to our experience. Some of these options were too boring, tasting dusty, bready and flat. And some were too exciting, with notes of red Jell-O, pineapple, and fresh celery. 

Ultimately, we landed on cup #3. Brazil Cerrado Mineiro Fazenda Severino, a Yellow Bourbon varietal from the southeastern corner of Brazil. It was our "just right" pot of porridge, to continue the Goldilocks metaphor. Our notes mentioned milk chocolate, rhubarb, cream soda, orange, and toasted nuts. It was very nice but not too assertive. Specific but not memorable. A perfect fit for us. 

Notable Mentions

Our goal for the green coffee page on our website is for roasters to feel like they have a personal greens sommelier. An experienced and knowledgeable coffee insider who is constantly curating a small but diverse list of offerings that features something for everyone. We bring in blenders and regional lots as well as more boutique options. We always have a great decaf, and at least one total fruit-bomb for the natural fans. 

In March, we sampled a few coffees from Bolivia with the intention to highlight a smaller producing country. Coffees from Bolivia tend to be mildly fruity and chocolate-forward. We sampled an organic and an FTO (Fair Trade Organic) offering that were both very nice. The organic sample was bittersweet with notes of cherry and Amaro (an Italian herbal liqueur) and a long, pleasant finish. The FTO sample was more earthy and tasted like almond butter, citrus, and fresh cedar. While both were interesting, neither coffee knocked our socks off, and we had already flagged the Flores offering as a unique and less well-known coffee to highlight for this season. We decided to pass on Bolivia this time. 

The change in the season means it's time for us to re-build our blends with fresh components. We purchased the Peru FTO Norte that we first tasted a few weeks ago and we're working on a new profile to utilize it in our Espresso for Lighter Roasts. That coffee's sister blend, Espresso for Darker Roasts, is getting updated with the new washed Papua New Guinea as a component. These blends will maintain their familiar flavor profiles (and price points) while helping us offer fresh crop versions for the next few months. 

Want to read more? Check out last months notes from the cupping table.

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