Yes, Fresh Matters!
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
To serve the needs of this website and my readers, when I attend the SCAA annual Exhibitions I work part of the time as a media representative. Each year I check in at the media center that the SCAA sets up, get my press identification, and pick up a media package. This includes some press materials aimed at the media explaining what the SCAA is about, what is specialty coffee, and related educational materials. These come in a sort of "bling bag;" in basic concept it is similar to that which the nominees receive at the Oscars, except this one has coffee stuff, and, unfortunately, no Rolex. This year, 2011, one of the included items was an eight ounce bag of roasted coffee from a San Francisco Bay area commercial roaster. Follow along to see why I did not name them specifically.
Before I left for my trip I had just enough home-roasted coffee remaining for my wife to keep her going for the four days I would be away. I set her up with the tools which would allow her make coffee on her own, as easily as possible, with the best possible results. The Espro Press fits those needs handily. I correctly predicted that I would receive some roasted coffee at the show to keep us going until I roasted another batch upon my return home.
The "Bling Blend," as I will refer to it here, came in a foil or mylar lined paper envelope, heat sealed, with a one-way valve incorporated into the bag. The first clue that this may not go well was that there was no date on the parcel- no "roasted on" no "Best if used by" no "Best Before..." In other words, no date. At the time I received the bag I missed that completely. It became an important factor later, but I am pimping the story. Let's continue.
I arrived home from the show on a Monday afternoon. I opened the bag and poured it into a canning jar. The roast color was very similar to what I prefer and closely matched my home-roast level. Sure, color is a destination, and the journey has a lot to do with the taste, but it appeared close to what I have become accustomed to using as espresso, and I was looking forward to trying it based on that.
The "Bling Blend" was Brazil, Ethiopia, Sumatra, with Central American coffee. My regular espresso house blend is very close to that- a pre-roast blend of around a 40-50% Brazilian base, with the remaining being around 50-50 of an African (usually), and either Costa Rican or Peruvian. It even works quite well when the African is Monsooned Malabar if the rest period is extended a bit. Roasted to about five seconds into active second I find that it goes very well in milk, and when I hit it right, can be amazing straight as well. So I figured that the "Bling Blend" should work well for us.
But right off, as I poured it into the jar on that Monday, the aroma was not promising, smelling like my home-roast when it was a number of days past when I would normally drink it (which would be about two weeks old or more). Over the next three or four days the aroma got worse, and by the time my first batch of home roast was ready after a rest of about three days, the "Bling Blend" was verging on undrinkable. From the start it was flat, bland, uninteresting, and frankly, went downhill from there. By the third day I decided that I had enough of it.
So maybe it was me? Maybe it was roasted or even blended in a way that made it unsuitable for espresso and so the fault is mine? I activated "benefit of the doubt" mode and e-mailed the company on Wednesday, May 11, specifically asked them about the parcel:
"I received an 8 ounce bag of your 'Bling Blend' as part of the media package at the SCAA Exhibition in Houston. It had no roast date. I was wondering when were those roasted? I opened it on Monday 5/2 and placed it in a sealed jar, and began brewing it as espresso on 5/3 and found it had already begun to stale and was quite unspectacular, and after just a couple more days I threw out the remainder."
I received a reply which completed my timetable for this coffee:
So the coffee was seventeen days post-roast when I opened the bag, and about three weeks old when I disposed of the remainder, verifying what my nose told me when I first opened the bag and what my palate later verified.
- Roasted on April 15
- Required delivery date to the SCAA by April 22 [7 days post roast]
- I received the coffee on April 29 [14 days]
- I returned home on the afternoon of May 2 [17 days]
- I began using the coffee on May3 [18 days]
- Remainder disposed of after brewing on May 5 [20 days]
So what have I learned here today? Operating a large roasting operation is tougher than is sounds. Having the opportunity to put your coffee in the hands of media representatives sounds inviting on the surface, but may not be to your advantage if they can't receive fresh coffee.
My tastes are so accustomed to using very fresh coffee that anything older than about twelve days post roast date tastes off to me. I realize that not everyone feels that way, and depending on the brewing method and roast level, there are some coffees that need an extended rest period to fully develop. This coffee was evidently not one of those.
So the biggest disappointment in this to me was that I did not get to give this coffee a fair test. Being so close to the blend and roast level I use at home I had hoped for a good comparison and possibly a learning experience for me. Oh, well.
The bottom line - Freshness Matters!