by Sandeep Srinivasa & Jaswinder Singh
The nice people at Cafe Coffee Day, noting our love for caffeine, invited us over to spend an afternoon tasting their coffees. Of the eight coffees we tasted, seven were single origin, i.e. every bean in the powder used, originated from a single geographical region and not a mixture of beans from all over as is the case with most varieties of beans or powder we purchase. There were three of us from the Chef at Large team and two folks from Cafe Coffee Day. Sandeep Srinivasa, the coffee expert, Jaswinder Singh, the wine man and me, the food guy. From Cafe Coffee Day came Aparupa Roy and Sharan M.H. The plan for the afternoon was to have Sandeep Srinivasa express his thoughts on the subject as a coffee person and Jaswinder to utilize his nose as a wine person and while I tried the food and tried to learn a thing or two on the subject. All the notes you see below are by Sandeep and each graph, of the coffee as experience by a wine snob, independently prepared by Jaswinder, for each blend, in two forms – espresso and black, based on his individual opinions. Later, I decided to keep this article only about coffee and omitting any details about the food, with the reassurance, that the food is a blend of cafe and bistro, and unlike that served by any other coffee chain in the country. We tasted these at the CCD Square, a new, premium outlet brought by Cafe Coffee day into existence. This is probably the first effort of the kind in the country and we’re looking forward to feedback. – Sid Khullar
Cafe Blend – Arabica + Robusta This is obviously the best designed blend, because both the espresso and press coffee had extremely consistent crema/oils. The taste was also not sour and slightly bitter, which was doubly interesting because of the Illy tasting that I did the previous day which was not bitter and slightly sour – a surprise since both coffees are blended at the same lab in Bangalore. Aparupa told us that Illy’s coffee are pulp-dried (which means both the pulp and the bean dry together) and that results in the acidity I experienced. This could also be explained by the content of Robusta – which is more bitter than Arabica coffee.
Ethiopan Sidamo Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. Having said that Ethiopian Sidamo is a type of Arabica coffee of single origin grown exclusively in the Sidamo Province of Ethiopia. In general, it is generally considered in the coffee world that if it is Ethiopan, it should be world class. This general perception of Ethiopan coffee is around because of its deep, spice/wine/chocolate-like taste and floral aroma. Professional tasters find citrus and lemony tastes in the coffee. Most of the coffee is either wet-processed or dry-processed with the fruit skin intact. Allowing the fruit to ferment off the bean as it dried in the sun could be the reason that Sidamos tend to have a wine-like characteristic (Note: I’m not sure if that was the way these Sidamo beans were dried). This was by far the sweetest of all the coffees that were served. The initial taste peaks and stays sweet in your mouth for quite some time. Surprisingly, this is obvious in press form, but the flavors truly come out in espresso. I would not recommend this with any Indian/spicy food, since all the flavors would be lost. Highly recommended with chocolate.
Indian Kathlekhan This single origin is harvested from the Baba Budan Giri Mountain Range, Chikmagalur, Karnataka. Legend has it that the bean is a direct descendant of the 7 seeds brought into India secretly by Saint Baba Budan and planted around his hut in the mystic Bababudangiri Mountains. The coffee is usually grown at an altitude of 3000- 3500 feet under a mixed canopy of 40-45 ft native shade trees, which possibly contributes to the taste. In general, the top roasters of the world (e.g. SweetMarias) don’t do a dark roast of this coffee as it is a very soft bean. My opinion is that we had a slightly darker roast. This variety, also known as “Dark Forest” has a very robust body though the pull made it a little sour. I would say this was the closest to the Illy coffee that I had previously and perhaps the best crema of all in my opinion with the robust body causing the taste to keep building up in one’s mouth. This is a coffee that is best suited among all for milk-based beverages (Cappuccino etc.)
Rajgiri Pearl Rajagiri and Sannkhan Estates are situated at an elevation of 3000-4500 feet around the Baba Budan region an area well suited for the growing of Arabica beans.The taste profiles of this region overlap with the Kathlekhan coffee except for certain nuances. Consistently bitter. Very highly recommended with very sweet desserts. The press form was consistent with the espresso which means that the flavor has less to do with the oils and more in the body. Would also be expressible in milk form.
Mysore Nuggets Mysore Nuggets Extra Bold or MNEB in trade parlance is actually a technical term, which means that this is the highest grade of Arabica coffee that India exports; the largest bean size, grown and prepared to the highest standards of the India Coffee Board.The MNEB has a reputation for a soft caramel/brown sugar sweetness and a refinement above all the coffee grown in India. Please note however, this strongly depends on the actual estate growing it; we all know how government bodies in India operate. This varietal was sweeter than Kathlekhan or Rajgiri pearl, but more bitter than the Ethiopian Sidamo. This coffee had a slight peak at the back of the tongue, indicating a very complex flavor which Jaswinder would be best suited to explain. Mysore Nugget does have a international fan following for its complex flavor. Consistent with its press form, though some of the bitterness and complexity was lost.
Guatemalan Popularly considered the best among South American coffees. However the problem is that there are many, many farms within a small area – so usually what comes out is a blend. consistency is hard, because there is no large scale drying equipment, and therefore batch sizes are pretty small. In that way, I’m actually quite happy that I got to taste a single origin here. Very mild initial taste, but a slightly bitter taste build up. Not-so-good a crema consistently for everyone. I think some of the nuances of the taste were lost that way. On a press, it was very mild and quite non-descript.
Costa Rican Tarazu Perhaps one of the most interesting. Costa Rican coffee is being watched cautiously in the international market. The farms in costa rica have begun to adopt high yielding commercial varieties (as opposed to Ethiopia, where they still maintain the genetic diversity of the coffee). Very often, the coffee ends up being indistinct. Very good crema. A powerful spicy taste at the edge of the tongue that lasted for a long time and melded into a very interesting bitterness. I kept going back to this coffee for that very interesting flavor that it brought. I could taste this edge even on the press. The very interesting thing that happened was that I managed to procure a bag of Costa Rican La Planada Herbazu Micromill from the amazing Taf Coffee in Athens. The taste of this micromill had the extremely distinct tastes of chocolate, acidity and fruity tastes interplaying. So yes, you can have amazing Costa Rican coffee.
Colombian Supremo Incidentally, the Supremo refers to the size of the bean. In this way, it is perhaps similar to our “MNEB” moniker. However, Colombian coffees are also grown in very small, family owned farms so they have the potential for greatness. Perhaps the most non-descript of all the coffees I had, this one had a very low-key initial feel and a quick die off. From what I read later, people who adore Colombian coffees, look for this characteristic. It had extremely low acidity too. I would recommend this coffee for people who don’t like coffee.
All of us at Chef at Large and Cafe Coffee Day spent a fair bit of time making this article happen and we hope you like it. As always, your feedback is always welcome.