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By Tom Wilkinson
A team player having its turn in the spotlight and two naturals with uncommon restraint…
Peru Asproagro (Fully Washed Typica and mixed Arabica, 1500m)
Our roaster Damian has been buying coffee from the CECANOR co-op in Chiclayo, Peru since around 2009 and visited the Asproagro community back in 2013. Feeling that their coffee had more character and consistency than others he had experienced from the co-op, this was the community that he chose to work with at Dark Woods. Since then we’ve been buying increasing volumes year on year, paying direct premiums for our chosen lots. ASPROagro also form part of the Cafe Femenino initiative, supporting women and girls in coffee farming communities.
Normally a coffee destined for espresso blends such as Crow Tree, this year’s crop showed a little something extra and deserves to be showcased additionally as a single estate coffee. Displaying the balance, sweetness and approachability that makes it such a good blending coffee, it also benefits from a cleaner and more lively acidity than in past years. In the cup I get lots of balanced, sweet milk chocolate, walnuts and a rich and buttery white grape acidity that reminds me of new world Chardonnay. It’s refreshing and moreish as a soft brew option, super-sweet and rounded as an espresso.
Brazil Sitio Barra (Natural Red Catuai, 900-1200m)
I’m not usually a huge fan of Brazillian coffees, a fact which reflects my preference for brighter, juicier examples grown at higher altitudes than you typically find in South America. However, when they are good, they are really good and this natural Catuai micro-lot sourced by Bourbon Speciality Coffee, is, well, really good. I cupped it immediately after it’s first test roasting and was underwhelmed, but a combination of Damian’s uncanny profiling skills and the fact that this sample arrived on my desk properly rested has changed my feelings completely.
The last really memorable Brazil that I drank was an example from Square Mile so nutty that I half expected it to give me anaphylactic shock. This, by comparison, is all about sweet, mellow fruit and chocolate. I found aromas of fig, pecan and brown sugar with flavours of chocolate coated raisins, figs and fudge in the cup. It is nice and clean for a low altitude coffee, with a gentle, dried-fruit acidity and toasty pecan nuttiness offsetting all that potentially cloying sweetness. Quite against type I actually didn’t enjoy this so much as an espresso, but when soft brewed it is a perfect choice for those who want their coffees full, soft and subtly complex.
Panama Finca Lerida (Natural Catuai, 1600m)
Having been suffering a little from natural fatigue lately (sometimes you just want coffee to taste like, well, coffee) I wasn’t perhaps as excited as I should have been to taste this coffee. My fears were instantly dispelled when I absentmindedly brewed a cafetiere and sat down with it over breakfast last weekend. Sometimes it’s hard for me to just drink and enjoy coffee without over-analysis so coming to the Lerida almost by accident was a great way of shedding some of the baggage associated with tasting and just enjoy a cup at face value.
Rather than being a dominant presence, the Lerida uses it’s natural process to drive complexity and sweetness whilst retaining balance and drink-ability. In the cup I got lots of jammy, autumnal stone fruit and just a hint of raw cocoa but absolutely nothing in the way of funk or ferment. There is also a festive hint of citrus which reminded me of the satsumas that have a been a regular fixture in our fruit bowl over Christmas. In fact, without being told I wouldn’t necessarily have picked it out as a natural at all, such was the restrained nature of the fruit on display. This is a really rich, rounded and tasty coffee that I could drink all day as filter or as a single estate espresso, where it’s chocolatey and damson notes also pair wonderfully with milk.