I guess the website, and my ramblings on various forums give away the fact that I like coffee – a lot. At this stage in my learning of making coffee, I am quietly confident I won’t ruin the coffee I use to brew too much. Stephen Morrissey discussed this in his recent talk at the Dublin SHOP Expo. It is so easy to make a potentially phenomenal coffee taste mediocre, or worse. The thing that has driven me in learning and improving have been those glimpses along the way of something better. Whether it was by French press, espresso or other brewing technique, once I tasted something better than I had previously, I wanted to be able to attain that consistently. Right now, I’m happy with the coffee I can make, but in a year’s time I may look back with a mix of embarrassment and curiosity at something which I might no longer deem acceptable. There is, however, a level of acceptance to be had when the issues are technique. Recently I got a glimpse of something better, something which left me speechless. However, this “advance” was not due to a better technique or some mysterious process; it was due to a particular coffee. That coffee was Aricha #17 from Supreme Roastworks in Oslo.
I placed an order from Supreme Roastworks based on their inclusion in Square Mile Coffee’s Taste of Norway event. To be honest I knew little about them, but I ordered a bag of their Air Element Espresso blend, a bag of Daterra Sweet Collection, and a bag of Aricha #17 Yirgacheffe. Aricha is a word I’ve been hearing more and more in coffee, but not one I completely understand. As far as I can ascertain it is a result of unprecedented care and attention to the coffee processing on the farmers end, such as picking only fully ripe cherries, discarding anything sub-optimal. The coffee is dry processed (it is allowed to dry with the outer cherry intact – this requires careful attention as this can spoil easily). This is undoubtedly a massive simplification, but when done really well the result is nothing short of revelatory (the previous Aricha I had was roasted by Novo in Denver, Colorado).
The bags of coffee arrived from Supreme with some goodies. The first was a nice big pin-badge (although my pin-badge wearing days are over, I stuck it to my fridge), the second was a mysterious “special” espresso blend. I had to email Supreme to find out what it was, and they told me it was a 50-50 of the Aricha and the Brazil Dattera. As it was roasted a little earlier than the other coffees I tried it first. I try not to overdo the superlatives, but this espresso will forever be burned in my memory. Blueberries, sweet ripe, juicy blueberries, were dripping like a jam out of a buttery pancake. I expected sharpness and a gum receding acidity, but there was none, just blueberries and a sweet deep chocolate finish. It is to my shame that I didn’t make a cappuccino or latte out of these beans, but I didn’t want to risk wasting a single bean if that flavour was diminished by milk.
The single origin Aricha made just as an amazing French press coffee. For a little while I forgot that all coffee wasn’t this amazing. The notes were so pronounced, so accessible. My wife, who does not drink coffee, could identify blueberry smell from both the whole beans and the brewed cup. So often with family and friends it can be frustrating to try to communicate subtle nuanced flavours in coffee. With this coffee, however, it is not necessary. The mouthfeel was heavy and there was a terrific sweetness to the cup. I couldn’t get enough of it, I unearthed a Starbucks “venti” mug I had “obtained” years previously as it was the only mug I had big enough for the quantities I wanted to consume. I was no longer using the small 3 cup French press when making coffee just for myself; I was using the 8 cup model.
Under normal circumstances the Air Element blend would be the star of this discussion. Indeed it is a very accomplished blend in the Nordic style. Grapefruit / gooseberry acidity up front, balanced by a toasted almond middle note. I could not discern a bass note, often dark chocolate or pungent spice. However, I suspect that is somewhat the point of “Air” – to be light, bright and sweet. Similar to the Square Mile WBC blend, I found that a really tight ristretto unbalanced the cup to acidity, but I still favour it pulled slightly short. In milk it is delicate and bright, enhancing the sweetness of the milk. I was surprised at how well it stood up in milk.
The Dattera Sweet Collection, despite being a component of both espresso blends, didn’t make for a great espresso on its own. The flavours were there, they could be identified from within the other blends, but the mouthfeel was too light for me. It had brightness, sweetness, a kind of green grape juicyness, finishing on a mild nuttiness. It just seemed to lack that velvety, syrupy consistency you want from an espresso. In the French press it was toffee apple, again with some nuttiness. When I say toffee apple, it would of course be some kind of mutant toffee apple, where the apple is the size of a golf ball and the toffee about an inch thick – because the caramel and toffee flavours really deliver.
I was going to wrap this up by saying that Norway (and Denmark also) is a country with a roughly similar population to Ireland, but in the speciality coffee league table they are pushing for the Champions League, while we a struggling to avoid relegation (well maybe mid-table mediocrity). Having decided not to say that, I will instead say, these are great coffees, the Aricha in particular (and the blend it was in) is a coffee that should be tasted by anyone who claims to love coffee. Shipping of €30 on €36 of coffee makes this somewhat prohibitive for regular purchases, especially in hard economic times. However, for a better appreciation of coffee, to learn new things, gain new experiences, sometimes this is necessary. Whether it be from the UK, the US, Norway, Denmark or other places, the gauge by which we judge coffee in Ireland should be external rather than internal. Supreme are a great example to look to, they are only a recently founded company, but their enthusiasm can be seen in the coffee, in the swag, and in the jovial email responses to my questions. For me, the €30 shipping was money well spent.