I’ve been meaning to order coffee from James Gourmet Coffee (from hereon JGC) for some time. Someone mentioned blueberry notes in their Formula 6 espresso blend, and I thought, “Yep, that’s for me”. Unfortunately their online ordering system is limited to the UK (for now), so I just left it be. Time passed and other coffees came and went, then a few weeks ago, I was reminded via a twitter post of their existence. I checked their website again, and started getting really excited about some of their coffees. It’s quite an eclectic selection, and there are quite a few interesting choices beyond the usual suspects, and a particularly notable strong showing of Ethiopian coffees (not to mention an unusual selection from Pitcairn of all places). So I dropped them a mail, a quick back and forth and one phone call later, 1kg of coffee was to be roasted and sent the following day.
What did I order? One bag of Ethipiopian Idido Misty Valley, one bag of Ethiopian Sidamo Natural (Operation Cherry Red), and two bags of the Formula 6 espresso blend. What did I receive? The above plus two small samples of Sulawesi Kalosi and Bolivian AECAR. I always love it when a roaster packs in some extras into an order, especially when it’s coffee. It’s by no means necessary, but it demonstrates a desire to communicate, like a chef who wants to tantalize his diners by offering amuse bouche between courses. It’s about engaging the audience.
The Bolivian and Sulawesi also offered a little contrast in the tasting. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a bit hung up on the Ethiopian Naturals at the minute, my purchasing hand (right hand by the way) is instinctively drawn to them. I’ve had a couple of Sidamos over the past year, the best of which was probably the offering from Coffee Angel here in Ireland, which was a very up front, sweet blueberry number. JGC’s Sidamo was more complex than that, blueberry was definitely apparent on the nose and in the cup, but moreso were strawberry and raspberry notes. This trio of berries hits you first, an aroma of oats, followed by a sweet milk chocolate middle note, finishing with a combination of acidity and bitterness that is very grapefruit. This Sidamo is the result of a program called Operation Cherry Red, which broadly involves small lots of coffee, produced from only fully ripened “red” cherries, delivering a better product, and receiving a better price. On the basis of this sample, the quality end of that equation is certainly being met.
The Idido Misty Valley, from the Yirgacheffe region, was next up. The aroma was dried fruit (raisins / figs) with some floral touches, not sure exactly which flowers, but it was quite perfumed. In the cup, I was hit by a honey note, it’s not the most prominent flavour in the cup, but honey is very distinctive, so it jumped out. The overriding flavour to me was of cherries, sweet, like a dessert wine, and for some reason it was reminiscent of Red Bull (if anyone knows the flavour combinations in Red Bull, please let me know). Very nice balance of sweetness and acidity overall though. This would shade the Sidamo for me, as a fan of Ethiopian Naturals.
I don’t drink enough coffee from Indonesia and Asia in general. There have been some bad experiences, some dirty, harsh, abrasive experiences. The Kalosi though is a an example of a good coffee from this part of the world. From a contrast point of view, you need to employ quite a different vocabulary set to those you’d use describing the the previous two coffees. The aroma of the ground coffee was big on spice, wood, chocolate, earth and leather. I don’t all too often pick up leather in coffee, but like the honey in the Idido this jumped out. Again in the cup the leather was there, I don’t know what leather tastes like, but this was the taste of the smell of leather, if that makes any sense. In the mix also were some nice balanced chocolate and plenty of spicy notes. It was low on acidity, though it had enough to balance the cup, and it had body in spades. It was a little earthy, pleasantly so, though, nowhere near dirty. This coffee exceeded my expectations more than the others, partly because they were low to begin with, but also because, yeah, it was good.
I had absolutely no expectations from the Bolivian, having never come across it before. There certainly weren’t as many big aromas jumping out, a bit oaty and hazelnutty on the dry grounds. In the cup there was a great balance of caramel sweetness and a gentle acidity. Very little in the way of bitterness, totally quaffable, and a body that just goes on and on and on. I wasn’t expecting this kind of body, it struck me even more than the Sulawesi, which would be expected to have a lot of body. The Bolivian is a very pleasing coffee, without doing anything wacky (probably not the best term to use – but you know what I mean). It’s a coffee that tastes like coffee, but a very nice, sweet and balanced one. Sweet, balanced and body, would sum it up in 3 words for me.
On to the espresso. Shots were pulled around the 18g / 30s / 94C / 40-50ml mark. Cappas / milk drinks were 5-6oz drinks with one of these shots (so you could I suppose call it a double strength cappa). The espresso was different to what I expected. Up front there is a real whack of juicy acidity, and you think, this shot is going to be super bright, then a big deep chocolate note, from the other end of the spectrum comes in, and the cup changes completely, add into this hints of fruit, that never became as explicit as I hoped in the espresso, or as evidenced by the wafts of blueberry coming from the grinder as the shots were ground. Once you add milk to the equation though the blueberry appears, big time. It’s quite a fun espresso blend, playful, sweet, lots of body. I really enjoyed it.
To balance this love affair a little, I will say that the Ethiopians were perhaps not as agressively sweet and fruity as some of the Aricha / Beloya / Wellega lots of the past year, these are different, there’s a winey element, maybe reflecting a somewhat wilder processing. The Idido in particular though, emerges well from this contrast, being really good, in a different way. The Kalosi, despite exceeding my expectations, would probably be my last pick (personal preference), while the Bolivian just leaves a smile on my face. Despite the online ordering system not taking orders from outside the UK, I was somewhat glad of the extra effort, of sending those couple of emails, of making that phone call. JGC to me, seems quite a personal operation, friendly and passionate. It’s quite obvious also that a lot of care went into choosing and roasting those coffees. Shipping costs for those of us this side of the Irish Sea at £5 (for 1kg), especially with the current exchange rate are brilliant. In the end, though, I was not left dissapointed by JGC. I’d have no reservations in recommending trying them out, and I’ll definitely be back for more.