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Brian Aliffi

Caribou Roastmaster since 2005
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Happy accidents

Posted by Brian Aliffi

June 21, 2010 09:39 AM

Much of the coffee sourcing we do around here is deliberate, well-thought-out and intentional. But there is a bit of luck in bringing great coffee to you fine folks. Once upon a time, an early Roastmaster had the foresight, vision, courage and, well maybe it was just dumb luck, but I digress, to begin a relationship with the fine La Minita farm. The result has been a yearly delivery of some of the finest, hand-tended coffee grown in the world. And the latest delivery is here.

For the uninitiated, La Minita's peaberries are special indeed. Grown in the lush Tarrazu valley in Costa Rica is coffee with a rich, winy body accented by a milk-chocolaty sweetness. While the typical coffee berry has two seeds (known as beans, why? Perhaps a topic for another post), occasionally the fruit has a single seed inside (about 7% of the time, not exactly sure-bet odds). This seed absorbs all of the nutrients and flavor from the fruit making for a potent, football-shaped ball of deliciousness.

Since you can't grow peaberries explicitly, and it's rather difficult to tell whether a coffee cherry has 1 seed inside, or 2, these precious (can anyone say that word and not hear Gollum's raspy, urgent, coddling utterance?) beans must be sorted out after the fruity exterior is removed and they've completely dried. How are they sorted out? The first stage involves density (as in "You're my...). Peaberries, being denser than their flat cousins, are heavier. Through the use of a fascinating vibrating table, involving principles I'm not intimately familiar with, peaberries and flats bounce their way into separate channels that ferry them away to storage silos, where they'll be rested until their moisture level reaches about 12-14% water, by volume. But it's not over yet.

Before those peaberries get a well-earned rest there is a further sorting. And this time, it's personal. In a room filled with what would appear to be adult-sized elementary school desks with raised barriers along the edges preventing coffee from rolling off, are workers employed for the express purpose of hand-sorting out the precious (surely you hear it now) peaberries. Sorted beans are carried up to a chief inspector, making sure that what ends up in our roastery, and eventually your cup, is 100% La Minita peaberry.

How much difference does it make? I could extol the virtues of these peaberries but instead I invite you to test on your own. Head to a competitor and purchase a quarter pound of a peaberry coffee offering. Chances are great that it will be a mix of flats and peaberries. Hand sort out the flats from the peaberries and brew each, then compare side by side. You might need more than a quarter pound, depending on your preferred brewing method, but a single cup #1 or #2 sized pour over cone will work nicely. The taste should provide the validation you seek. And hopefully this small-scale simulation of the effort it takes to bring La Minita's peaberries from the plants to your cup proves as satisfying as just enjoying the limited offering we make every year to the fans of this delightful, lucky defect of nature.

Brian

Brian Aliffi

Caribou Roastmaster since 2005
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Tis the season(al)

Posted by Brian Aliffi

May 17, 2010 08:54 AM

On Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen...these sentiments seem strangely out of place as we bridge from a showery spring to the promise of warm humid days and luxurious evenings of breezy delight. Almost as out of place as a Central American coffee in December. Confused? Read on.

You ever notice how popular pumpkins are in the fall? Ever wonder why the only pumpkin you can find in March comes in a can? Pumpkins reach their full ripeness as the air begins to chill, the leaves turn Technicolor from their uniform green and outdoor fires increase in popularity. As such fresh pumpkins are sold seasonally, taking full advantage of their innate deliciousness at the peak of ripeness. This is coming around to the point.

I could draw a similar analogy between the pumpkin and coffee. You can easily pick up coffee in a shelf-stable format year-round. What you'd get is still coffee, brown and mild in the cup, delivering that ever-so-popular psychoactive stimulant. Missing would be the traits we value and cherish so. Flavors, wondrous and complex, as diverse as the treats of a certain candy maker's secret factory.

Hoping to maximize your enjoyment of these flavors we chose to offer our Guatemala El Paraiso and Costa Rica Sombra del Poro when these coffees are fresh off the boat. Brimming with intense floral, sweet citrus and vanilla richness or vibrant cherry acidity, rich body and lovely milk chocolaty finish respectively, these coffee are at their best right now. Pick up a can of coffee off the shelf and a pound of one of these coffees and taste them side-by-side at home. Something tells me you'll get it.

Brian

Brian Aliffi

Caribou Roastmaster since 2005
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Glimmers of Spring in the sparkle of Winter

Posted by Brian Aliffi

February 17, 2010 16:04 PM

Just came from a meeting with some of our managers in the downtown St. Paul, MN area and gave them a sneak peak on this year's Perennial Blend. You may know that every year we try to convince you that spring is upon us by offering a blend of coffees that embody the spirit of the season. This is a thinly veiled ploy to distract you from the heaps of snow along the roadways (admittedly this is a Minnesota perspective on the state of the weather, but play along with me, won't you?) but within every lie is a nugget of truth.

We made Perennial out of desire to feature what's best about new crop arrivals, full of fresh flavors of flowers and sweetness mixed against a rich, velvety background that reminds you this is still coffee. Sounds pretty Spring-like, wouldn't you say? Well, as i was spilling out this story to our managers while the Chemex i brewed dripped slowly down through the filter, quizzing them about the origins that make up this blend, Ethiopia, Guatemala and Papua New Guinea, i sprung a bit of a surprise on them. We've decided to boost the freshness of the blend by adding an addition. Kenya! Winy and rich, with hints of burgundy and spice. I was somewhat unprepared for their reaction as they began sipping.

They loved it. Missing was the rush of acidity and replacing it was an immediate sweetness that wrapped itself around your tongue while gently tickling your cheeks and finishing with a pleasing bittersweet chocolate deliciousness. Seldom have i offered a coffee to a group that was so universally appreciated. You'll see this coffee soon enough here online and in stores. If you've been a long time fan of Perennial you may be surprised, much like having a 60 degree day in the middle of March (again, Minnesota perspective) and if you've never tried or tried and found it too intense, come back and soak up the sun, we've put some SPF 30 on this coffee and it's safe!

Brian

Brian Aliffi

Caribou Roastmaster since 2005
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What's new in our Fair Trade world?

Posted by Brian Aliffi

September 25, 2009 09:17 AM

From time to time you might notice a change in the coffee bearing the Fair Trade label in our stores. It's subtle, just a word change and the movement of a star icon, but the change in the bag is nothing less than amazing.

A couple of years ago we decided our Fair Trade offering would give us the means to bring in origins that aren't part of our regular line up. We're on our third this year, starting with Peru and most recently Mexico. Wanting to dramatically change the flavor, now we have coffee from Rwanda.

Hailing from the Musasa region, near the eastern border, this washed-process Bourbon-varitetal coffee delivers a range of flavors from the spicy tang and big body of a burgandy wine along with the delicate sweetness of raw sugar.

As i said, this coffee will change periodically, though i think we'll have this into the end of the year, so check it out and leave us your thoughts.

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Caribou Roastmaster since 2005
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