November 1, 2011

Peter Asher's Yirgacheffe

There are several things worth noting, right off the bat. First of all, this coffee was provided to me, so that I could offer my opinion on it. If that suggests bias, then so be it. Second, I have a disproportionate fondness for coffee from this particular region. At its best, it's clean, fruity, and refreshing, like a not-to-sweet lemonade on a summer day. And finally, this specific coffee embodies all of those traits perfectly.

But let me back up, for just a moment. The coffee in question is Peter Asher's Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. The company is a small one, based out of Champaign, Illinois. It offers wholesale coffee, much of which is sourced directly from a farmer with whom the proprietors have a relationship.

The Yirgacheffe is despribed thusly: What did the Olympic gold-medalist say to the Rastaman? It isn’t difficult to understand, really ... That a country with some of the highest mountain peaks in Africa as well as some of the lowest elevations on dry land would provide some of the purest, simply unmitigated premium coffee beans around. Waterfalls, active volcanoes, prehistoric and medieval history, a biblical monarchy; This land has everything! Some even say that its home to the emergence of the first humans. Well, did you know that it’s also the birthplace of the coffee bean? Just look up the history of coffee to see for yourself.

Ethiopia’s had quite a while to get it right. This hot cup of coffee captures the simple pleasure of what it means to be human. Our roast of these ancient beans extracts the clean, pure, slightly fruity quality that only they could offer. Simply put its some of the best coffee in the world. So, what did the Ethiopian Olympic gold-medalist say to the Rastaman? Welcome home.
Well. That's certainly not your average bean description. Not once is the word "bold" invoked, nor are there flavors or mouthfeels discussed. The bag itself sheds a little more light on what to expect, though again, there is a certain profile expected from a Yirgacheffe. You expect bright acidity, light body, and a tangy taste of lemon. As it's a washed bean, roasted light, these flavors are concentrated and direct. Of course, this leaves a little less room for error. Yirgacheffe, mishandled, can be acerbic and pungent, rather than clean and smooth.

With these preconceptions in mind, I opened the bag. The first thing to note is the bag itself: it contains a clever little plastic zipper, which can be used to re-seal the bag. You can then squeeze out the air through a one way opening, thus leaving your beans fresher for longer. If you grind them all at once, or order them ground, this would be especially useful.

In any case, I did neither of those things, grinding 4 tablespoons of beans for a pour over setup (somewhere between regular drip and espresso setting). I set 12 ounces of water to (just off the) boil, then went about pouring, in my regular pattern.

The smell, rising from the cup, had the vague lemon aroma of an Earl Grey. The taste delivered on that promised flavor, sweet but soft. Though there was certainly a clarity to the acidity, it never seemed biting, not the slightest bit astringent. The word clean, used in the description, comes to mind. It was smooth, almost too easy to drink too quickly. And so that's precisely what I did, not savoring the cup as much as I had intended to.

I don't have any numeric rating scale, or any other metric for grading coffee. I find the whole endeavor too subjective for that. I can say, however, that his coffee is everything a good Yirgacheffe ought to be, and lives up to the creative description and my expectations for the region. If a step away from dark, nutty or earthy is what you're looking for, or if you'd just like a taste of caffeinated summer, this is a very good place to start.

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