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Information about Beans?


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I'm curious what your sources are for learning about the latest coffee beans to try.

I begain reading The Coffee Review (http://www.coffeereview.com/) a few years ago and was struck at the time that coffee beans are much like wine in that there can be significant year-to-year variations in the taste and overall quality of a given bean, from a given region, imported and roasted by a particular company. The Coffee Review reviews beans as they come on the market, and it's been fun to try a few of the things they have recommended (but I'm not always excited about shipping costs...)

Most of the time I buy Allegro beans from my local Whole Foods because they roast them in the store and I know I'm getting beans that are quite fresh. I also buy Intelligencia, sometimes Small World, and perhaps a few others. But I'm mostly shopping rather randomly...so, ah, what seems good this week?

I'm interested in trying a wider variety of beans. But coffee isn't sold in stores similar to wine shops that have hundreds of different bottles and knowledgeable sales staff. So I'm curious what other sources you have for learning about new beans to try out. I live in Chicago, so there are some roasters in town (Intelligencia), but do you buy most of your small roaster beans via the internet?

(Owen, I'm especially interested in your take.)

Thanks!

Edited by Darren72 (log)
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Of the coffee places I've tried, this has been my favorite - http://www.theroastedbean.com - I've ordered coffee in the store and via the Internet and had great results with both. Perhaps you could call and speak with someone knowledgeable about "what beans are good right now".

"God give us good taste, why bother?" Captain Jim's Sushi Chef
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Sweet Maria's is tremendous information resource, as well as being a great source for green beans.  All of the coffee that they carry is rated, with plenty of background information such as crop, farm, region, tasting notes.

A good site even if you don't buy and roast your own.

Ditto.

Dave Valentin

Retired Explosive Detection K9 Handler

"So, what if we've got it all backwards?" asks my son.

"Got what backwards?" I ask.

"What if chicken tastes like rattlesnake?" My son, the Einstein of the family.

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Sweet Maria's is tremendous information resource, as well as being a great source for green beans.  All of the coffee that they carry is rated, with plenty of background information such as crop, farm, region, tasting notes.

A good site even if you don't buy and roast your own.

Ditto.

I love Sweet Maria's and it the first place I look for info about equipment. I didn't realize they had notes on beans -- well, more accurately, since they sell unroasted beans, it never occurred to me to look at their pages on beans. Thanks for the tip.

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I agree that the cost of shipping often makes mail order purchases a financial burden for many. But Intelligentsia and Terroir are great sources and many speak highly of Alterra although I haven't had a chance to try their beans.

Master roaster, Cup of Excellence judge and all round nicest guy in the coffee biz Andrew Barnett finally has a web site with retail offerings up for his Ecco Caffe operation. He has some interesting beans, ships fresh as do the others mentioned above and uses the lighter roasting style that many of us have come to prefer.

I also agree that Sweet Maria's is a great source of info on how a given varietal is in any particular crop season. But keep in mind - although generalities can be helpful... e.g. such "the Ethiopian Harrar's dont have a strong blueberry note this year" - there are so many variations from lot to lot and grower to grower that it's unwise to make blanket assessments about any given varietal.

If you read Tom Owen's excellent cupping notes on Sweet Maria's site you'll sometimes see references to him finding the characteristics he seeks only in a given numbered lot from one specific crop year of a certain varietal.

The idea of having a bricks and mortar store where one can walk in and choose from a wide selection of fresh roasted varietals is appealing but difficult for the retailer to pull off. Once roasted, coffee is at its optimal for such a realtively short window fo time that it's impractical to carrry a huge selection already roasted.

More and more specialty roasters are moving towards carrying specific varietals only during a period of several months each year when the new crop comes in and the green beans are at their peak. Terroir bucks this trend by vacuum sealing and freezing their green beans but that's a contentious topic best left for some other discussion (the arguments tend to be philosophical rather than based on bean quality).

A roaster retailer who has a busy cafe can offer fresh roasted beans marked with roast date and then pull the unsold goods after 4 to 5 days by just using them to brew drip coffee in the store. Specialty coffee industry pioneer Martin Diedrich (founder of the Diedrich chain that bears his name but he is no longer associated with the chain) now has Keans Coffee in Newport Beach CA. Most of his fresh roasted in store offerings are organic and he also has some Cup of Excellence coffees. I didn't bring home beans when I visited there but had a good espresso and he's making some darn good brewed coffee as well. Unfortunately he's way too busy with his local retail and wholesale operation to get a Web based sales channel operational yet.

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I tend to have five sources where I gain information about beans.

The first two reside side-by-side, protected by little fleshy flaps that do a thing called "blinking" to keep them moist. I believe those who speak English call them "eyes".

The next two lie a little bit more central and just below--my nares.

The final item lies below my hard palate and between my teeth--my tongue.

Edit to add: remember, there is no shame in occasionally purchasing bad coffee as long as you learn from the purchase. You shouldn't be bothered by branching out to new suppliers.

Edited by jsolomon (log)

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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Not sure if I should take the bait on this ...

There are roasters all over the country from whom one can buy through mail order. I'd kind of like to get away from buying the few brands available to me locally, and branch out and try beans from small roasters located elsewhere. Hence, using my senses is not that helpful for beans located hundreds of miles away. I'd also like to know about small roasters locally that don't sell through the megamart.

Sure, as you suggest, I could just start buying beans from different roasters. But rather than do it blind, so I thought I'd ask where people gather information.

At a more basic level, I'm not asking about how to evaluate beans in front of me. I'm asking about where one can learn where the beans are in the first place.

As you saw, I got some friendly and helpful advice.

I tend to have five sources where I gain information about beans.

The first two reside side-by-side, protected by little fleshy flaps that do a thing called "blinking" to keep them moist.  I believe those who speak English call them "eyes".

The next two lie a little bit more central and just below--my nares.

The final item lies below my hard palate and between my teeth--my tongue.

Edit to add: remember, there is no shame in occasionally purchasing bad coffee as long as you learn from the purchase.  You shouldn't be bothered by branching out to new suppliers.

Edited by Darren72 (log)
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A few more possibilities...

1) Sweet Maria's does (or did) roast once each week and usually just oen or two varieties. Check their web site for details - I think they sell the beans they roast via the web site as well as to their walk-in trade.

2) A new option to check is my coffee buddy Matt Godard's Cafe Kubal - a local micro-roaster here in the Syracuse area. His Guatemalan offerings should be of particular interest as his wife is a native of Guatemala's coffee growing region and he buys his Guat beans direct from the farming families.

3) Another small operator doing some fairly good roasting is Tony Sciandra of Caffe Fresco in the Scranton PA area. He has a good shipping rate structure and I have greatly enjoyed his Brazil Daterra as a single origin espresso (admittedly - I enjoyed the Daterra from Ecco Caffe even more). His Ambrosia espresso blend has many fans in the Coffeegeek community but it's not matched to the tastes of my palate.

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  • 1 month later...

Sweet Maria's Roasted Coffee

I just renewed my subscription to the Sweet Maria's Roastmaster's Choice, Brewed Coffee option and couldn't be happier.

Over the last six months we've gotten some really exceptional coffees, incredibly freshly roasted, at very good prices. Love the information from their website and commitment to small growers.

You do have to be willing to put yourself in the hands of the roaster. Sometimes the flavors or characters of the beans he chooses are a bit odd. In the last one (sorry country and variety slips my mind right now), I could swear there is a strong hint of violet in the mid to late taste impressions. But I like that he doesn't necessarily choose beans or roasting techniques that are consistent or "normal" and can feel free to experiment with what he thinks brings out the best character of a bean. The Sumatran we had a month ago was one of the most outstanding examples I've had in years.

My only real problem with the subscription was that we were running out of Sweet Maria's beans before the next one arrived, and had to go back to our old sources from time to time. It was a fine monthly reminder of how wonderful the Maria's beans were. However, after I told them that, they have promised to adjust our subscription to send us two pounds of beans every three weeks, instead of every month.

:smile:

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'll add to the Sweet Maria's chorus. Although we don't roast, we refer to the SM site often, especially for reviews on highly anticipated auction lots.

Haven't seen Counter Culture Coffee (Charlotte) mentioned yet in this thread. I'd put them right up or really close to the Intelly/Ecco/Stumptown/Terroir category, and CCC is getting better all the time (note: we're Intelly customers, but we keep an eye out).

Rich Westerfield

Mt. Lebanon, PA

Drinking great coffee makes you a better lover.

There is no scientific data to support this conclusion, but try to prove otherwise. Go on. Try it. Right now.

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I never mentioned them in past threads (or this one) because they had no retail operation that I was aware of and weren't selling beans by the pound on their web site. But I just checked it now and sure enough - they have an on-line store and a good selection of quality coffees.

And I agree that they're up there in the top tier with the other usual suspects.

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