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Kenya Goes Commando

World’s are colliding. What happens when some of the best coffee in the world arrives to coincide with the purchase of a new extreme espresso toy. Pow! Right in the kisser. I have studiously avoided buying any Kenyan coffee for several years. There were a host of reasons: price, lack of certifications (organic, fair trade, rainforest alliance), corrupt government coffee board. My dad had even brought back some Kenya samples from a friend of his and I didn’t like them at all. Not long ago, Noah, at Café Imports, sent me some samples that have changed my mind and brightened my cup. These are microlots from various farms in the Kenyan highlands.

Here is Café Imports' take on what makes a microlot.

So after microroasting the microlots we bought a bag of Kenya Peaberry Kariru. Peaberries are a coffee anomaly where each cherry contains only one bean instead of two. After roasting the peaberries and letting them de-gas for a couple days, we methodically brewed the samples in both our Chemex and V60 dripper. These manual brewing techniques seem to highlight the delicate acidity and sour notes of the higher grown coffees. This coffee is grown at 1600-1800 meters or between 5,200 and 6,000 feet. Kenya coffees have a particular aroma that reminds me of a freshly roasted beef, like a Yankee pot roast. It is almost meaty in its’ earthiness, rich and mineral-laden. The flavor is remarkably complex with notes of citrus, honeysuckle and rhubarb. This is a coffee for those of us who like sour beer and natural wine. The tang on the sides of your tongue is addictive. Everyone in the office was hovering over the Chemex pot in reverence each time I brewed the coffee. Freshly ground, this coffee smells like awesome; no other way to put it. I keep inhaling its’ intensity.

Not that I would know anything about intensity but I decided to put the intensity of the Kenya Peaberry up against the intensity of a 21 gram (triple shot) basket which had just arrived from La Marzocco. The bottom of the basket is cut off which lets the metal breathe, no baked-on residual coffee taste. It’s like going commando in the summer. I tuned in the grind so that the coffee begin to pool, stalactite-like, in droplets on the underside of the naked portafilter before it gushed down into the espresso cup like Bridal Veil Falls at Yosemite National Park. Tonnere de Dieu, God’s Thunderbolts, it hit me square in the palate. Espresso concentrates flavors through pressure, a triple basket pushes it into a new paradigm of mind boggling proportions. You enter the mind’s eye of the coffee bean.

Intense would be obvious. The sour aspect was very pleasant, as if your taste buds were being massaged. What struck me was how similar the coffee was to natural wine. It was slightly tannic in a fruity, not a wood-induced, way. The acidity was very bright without being overwhelming. It was like drinking a cup of coffee juice straight from a tree in the way a gamay tastes like grape juice freshly squeezed from the vine.

We have uncovered the essence of coffee.

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