This great coffee comes from Finca Los Angeles, in the heart of Nicaraguan coffee country, Matagalpa, and has been farmed by the same family for over 60 years.
One of BonLife Coffee’s core direct trade coffees, they use it in a variety of ways—they serve it as a single origin pour over in their shop, they put it in blends, and now they’re even experimenting with aging the greens in a Tennessee whiskey barrel!
The idea came to them one evening while a few of our crew were imbibing their favorite non-coffee beverages. A little talking and the next thing you know they had procured our own recently vacant Tennessee whiskey barrel.
They’re aging the greens for 45 and 90 days and seeing what each time period produces. The coffee they sent me for today’s review represent the 45-day aging process.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping the Tennessee Whiskey Barrel Aged Coffee, from BonLife Coffee in Cleveland, Tennessee. Feel free to pull up a chair.
region: Matagalpa, Nicaragua
farm: Finca Los Angeles
producer: Armando Rodriguez
elevation: 1200 meters above sea level
varieties: Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai
process: fully washed, patio dried
certifications: Strictly High Grown
“Pungent” is hardly the word I’d use to describe the aroma of the whiskey barrel aged BonLife coffee, but it’s actually the most accurate descriptor I can find. My nose is completely filled bombastic scents of coconut, grape, oak, cinnamon, and—you guessed it—whiskey. It even has that same burn found in whiskey aroma that makes the nose twitch.
These notes, and then some, carry over into the first few sips and present my palate with a full body and a complex profile. All sorts of flavors come gushing over my tongue with a thick, syrupy mouthfeel. Despite the massiveness of the fruit flavors in this cup—lots of coconut, grape, cantaloupe, apple, cherry, plum, and strawberry—, I can really taste the oak coming through strongly, particularly on the sides of my tongue. Frankly, I’m surprised I’m not getting splinters from each sip.
As it cools off, the whiskey side of things intensifies, rather than the Nicaraguan coffee side. At this point in the cup, I would expect the fruit flavors up front to be all the more present, but, actually, they mostly subside. In their place, instead, is a beverage that could probably pass for a diluted whiskey. It has the spicy oak, the roastiness, the heat of the alcohol that produces a burn in the belly and chest, the astringent finish…
This coffee is enjoyed best in a rocks glass with two cubes.
Full body; syrupy mouthfeel; malic acidity; dry finish.
the bottom line:
The Tennessee Whiskey Barrel Aged Coffee, from BonLife Coffee, is one hell of a cup. Good gravy.
Even though barrel-aging coffees is sort of the “in” thing to do right now, that was the only way coffee came back in the days of the Dutch East India Trading Company—they stored greens in whatever empty barrels were available to them, usually rum. So while we sip a coffee like this nowadays and marvel at how unique and exotic the profile is, that profile is all the first European consumers of coffee knew about. It kind of makes me wonder how coffee ever became the popular commodity that it is; while it certainly provides a memorable flavor experience, it’s not something you’ll want to drink everyday.
This coffee is a fun experiment in flavor modulation, not a breakfast or afternoon snack coffee. I definitely recommend trying it, though—it’s an experience worth having.
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Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.