At a Glance: blend (Ethiopia and Brazil); full body; chocolate, fruit, earthy, roasty; balanced acidity; natural

Jambo, coffee lovers! Welcome to my table here in the corner of this cafe.

Black History Month is now upon us, and we coffee lovers should be celebrating the occasion. As a global community, we owe a lot to the appropriately dubbed “Motherland,” or “Birthplace of Humanity.” It is Africa, after all, that gave us the basic fundamentals of jazz, the soul of blues and gospel, and the rhythms, the backbone, of modern music; that provided us with thousands of years of art and sculpture that still influences artists today; that has produced some of the richest literature in the world; that has provided scientists with groundbreaking discoveries that was the central hub of Pangaea; that, scientifically speaking, is the origin of all mankind.

We coffee enthusiasts ought to be especially thankful to Africa for being the original birthplace of coffee. Chicago’s own Dark Matter Coffee Company got in the spirit of the season by offering their latest blend of the month, Intellectual Curiosity: an African-American blend of beans from Brazil and Ethiopia.

While coffee is grown and harvested all over the world (most notably in South and Latin America, Africa, and the Pacific), all coffees can actually trace their heritage all the way back, centuries ago, to Ethiopia. There is a legend that chronicles the story of coffee and credits its discovery to Kaldi, an Ethiopian goatherder. It is said that while in the Ethiopian highlands, he discovered coffee after his goats ate the red berries of a certain bush and were so spirited by the berries, that they started dancing and jumping and wouldn’t sleep. He decided to eat the berries himself to test their effect on him and he became so exhilarated by them that he felt obligated to bring them to a holy man at a local monastery. The monk disapproved of their use and threw them into a fire to destroy them, but when they roasted, they created a very pleasant aroma. They attempted to save the beans and raked them out, ground them, and dissolved the grounds in hot water, thus producing the world’s first cup of coffee.

[excerpt taken from last year’s “Peet’s Coffee and Tea: review of African coffees” entry]

Coffee has come a very, very, very long way since then. But to this day, Ethiopia is still regarded as being home to the best coffees in the world. Here at the Table, we’ve tried a lot of different Ethiopian brews from all over the country, and today we’re traveling over the Highlands back into Yirgacheffe. Then, of course, we’ll look across the Atlantic to Brazil.

So, I have a confession. I had never heard of Tchembe until I bought this coffee. So here I was, doing research, trying to find Tchembe on a map of Africa, then Googling the name, thinking that maybe it was a farm somewhere in Ethiopia. As it turns out, Tchembe is actually, for all intents and purposes, an arbitrary name given to this Yirgacheffe coffee by a company called Ninety Plus Coffee – an American company that’s dedicated to finding the best coffees in Ethiopia and ensuring that they retain the highest of quality through rigorous processing and grading. In my searches, I came across a thread in coffeegeek.com’s forum and discovered that Ninety Plus labels their coffees not by region, but by a named flavor profile.

Knowing this, of course, saves me from delving too much into the specifics of the region.

We’ll suffice it to say that these beans are grown at elevations of up to 1,600-2,000 meters above sea level, and that Tchembe is often praised for its unique profile: fairly bright and light-bodied (for a Yirgacheffe), with notes of milk chocolate, banana, blueberry, cherry, and nuttiness. After discovering this – from several coffee websites -, I’d like to try it as a single origin, because its profile is slightly different when blended with the Brazilian beans.

Intellectual Curiosity has a solid aroma, with notes of chocolate, nuts, and berries. These sweeter scents are slightly offset, though, by a spicy cedar woodiness and a faint hint of tobacco.

Immediately upon my first sip, I was struck by how much bolder and full-bodied this coffee is than how I thought it would be. Every review I read said that, for a Yirgacheffe, this coffee is bright and light and packed with tropical fruit flavors. Intellectual Curiosity, on the other hand, is pretty heavy on the palate, with a very thick mouthfeel. Expect dominant flavors of chocolate, nuts, and cedar, with a solid bed of gritty earthiness. However, rushing in behind all of that heaviness is a mixture of bright, juicy acidity and muffled, but consistent, sweetness – blueberry, cherry, raspberry, citrus, and banana.

This cup has a really nicely-rounded acidity that sits atop a bed of flowers that makes for a long, deep, slightly drying finish – much like a black tea.

The Bottom Line

Dark Matter Coffee Company’s Intellectual Curiosity, their Blend of the Month for February, 2012, is a very complicated, but very rewarding cup of coffee. Which, I suppose, is what makes it the perfect homage to Black History Month. It’s heavy-handed with a full body. Big, bold flavors of chocolate, brandy, and cedar rest atop a bed of gritty earthiness, while a rush of fruits and juice soar in over the top, washing everything down, leaving behind a drying, astringent mouthfeel. This coffee may not be for everyone, but it’s definitely one worth looking into for the coffee lover that wants a bit of adventure with every sip.

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