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Strawberry Coffee

June 25, 2015

It’s strawberry season here in upstate New York. The season is short. And honestly, even at the peak of the season I’ve yet to have a berry that even come remotely close to what’s so readily available throughout California in the summer.

Those garnet jewels are just so damn ripe and fragrant with deep red fruit that permeates all the way to the soft, juicy core. I have very little patience for anything white or woody inside my strawberries. And if, God forbid, you come across these underripe specimens, the only decent thing to do is macerate them.

Although, I suppose you could blend them up into a sauce, or find another creative way to salvage the fruit in a way that’s palatable. Maybe cook them down into a jam or spin them into an ice cream.

But what’s this I hear about strawberries in coffee?

Flavored coffee is a crime. It’s a crime against everyone who worked so hard in the supply chain to get these teeny tiny berries all the way from around the world into your hot little hands. So there are the farmers who grow it, the workers who harvest the berries, the people who dry and sort the green beans, the folks responsible for shipping, and the roasters who coax out the aromatics lurking within the beans. And this doesn’t even take into consideration the sales organizations or cooperative agreements involved in the process.

The bottom line is that a lot of people are working really hard to make sure you have a ready supply of coffee. But instead of respecting their efforts, far too many people prefer to spray it with laboratory-made substances to make it taste like something entirely different. You know, like eggnog or blueberries. Others just like to add flavoring agents to the finished brew so it can taste like a Milky Way bar or pumpkin pie.

Good coffee doesn’t need anything added. It has flavor in and of itself. And not just the roasty toasty flavors of smoke or chocolate that are typically associate with coffee. Those dark flavors come from the roast itself, and when overdone can obscure the flavor of the beans.

That’s why modern roasters who buy high quality beans from smaller farmers in the coffee growing regions have leaned more towards lighter roasts.

Let’s use an analogy. You can char a steak and get a magnificent caramelized crust on that slab of meat. But if you have a truly great piece of meat, you might just want to slice it as a carpaccio and eat it raw with a little olive oil. Most likely though, you would lovingly cook a better steak to a gentle medium rare.

If you do this with coffee, all kinds of aromas can emerge from the beans: cherries, herbs, blueberries, spices, and yes, even strawberries.

It sounds like bullshit, I know. Strawberry? In coffee? But it’s there. I found the distinctive aroma of dried strawberries in the bag of Guatamalan Santa Isabel from Uncommon Grounds. Truth be told, I didn’t just happen to stumble onto this coffee. I sent a note to Matthew who manages the roasting for UG in Saratoga Springs about what he was delighted to have produced recently, and this was his pick.

Mrs. Fussy confirmed it. But it wasn’t the first thing she identified. “Bacon fat” was the smell that popped out for her. However, it has to be said that, fundamentally, coffee still smells like coffee. These notes that we talk about are in the background, but they are definitely there. And in this case, it’s much more noticeable in the bag of whole beans than in the brewed cup.

One of these days, I’m hoping Matthew will write something on one of his coffees for the FLB. But we’re lucky to have these single farm, dry processed coffees, that are locally roasted with care and respect.

How the coffee is brewed in these shops is another matter. The iced coffee program especially could use some work. So if you’ve been to UG and not been impressed by the coffee, don’t let that stop you from popping in and buying some whole beans to bring home. Because the Santa Isabel is worth seeking out.

Enough talk. I’m going to make myself a pour over.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. -R. permalink
    June 25, 2015 10:16 am

    One of the reasons I stopped buying beans from The Daily Grind was that they used the same roaster for both regular and flavored coffees (I don’t know if this holds true today). Opening a bag of beans and having that residual acrid, chemically hazelnut stench waft out and assault my senses became too much. Disgusting. Frankly, I cannot understand how people enjoy that crap.

  2. June 25, 2015 9:20 pm

    I have a few strawberry plants in a planter that I baby. I only get two or three every couple days, but they are excellent.

    But generally I agree. I jam-ify most local berries. They make fine jam.

  3. June 25, 2015 11:33 pm

    Thanks for the kind words!

    It’s worth noting a few things:

    1. The berry / strawberry flavor that is inherent to this particular lot of Santa Isabel is due to its processing. This is a “natural” or “dry” processed coffee. Where most coffee seeds are picked when ripe, pulped, soaked, washed from their outer fruit layers then dried, “dry” processed coffees are dried IN their cherries, imparting a strong fruit flavor, heavier body and overall sweeter presence.This process is difficult to pull off – the possibility of over-ferment is very real. The coffee cherries must be turned and cared for constantly and the final sorting of the beans is crucial. I’m very wary of buying dry processed coffees – they are divisive to the casual coffee drinker to say the least and unless the processing is spot-on, I usually pass.

    The Santa Isabel farm has had some trouble with La Roya (a pervasive leaf rust/fungus which has ripped through many Central American coffee producing areas over the past few years) and I believe this lot is one of just two lots that were able to be salvaged from farm’s crops this year. This is an award-winning farm that has had to re-plant most of their coffee shrubs in order to continue to produce coffee. I believe our importer partner said we won’t see coffee from this farm for 2015-2016 crop year.

    2. The particular batch you’re drinking from was roasted by Uncommon Grounds’ Albany roaster operator Dan.

    3. We don’t have much left! We bought just about 450 pounds of this green coffee in March upon its arrival to the U.S. and our importer sold out of it soon after. Both Saratoga and Albany UG are running low on the green coffee so if you’re interested in trying it, I wouldn’t wait. (There’s some more interesting coffees on the way…)

    Thanks again!

  4. June 27, 2015 3:05 pm

    Oh that sounds fabulous! I must try!! I agree coffee deserves to be left alone and those who load it with “crap” probably don’t really love or respect the coffee bean!

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