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It has been a good long while since the last time I paid a visoit to my good friends over at Star Lounge Coffee Bar. A really good long while.

Before moving to Great White North of the Rogers Park neighborhood, I lived pretty close to the border of Ukraine Village, where Star Lounge is located. Being so close, I paid them a visit upwards of two or three times a week. They were my daily morning stop on my way to work. Since moving, however, I don’t think I’ve been there two or three times in the past six months.

I had to rectify the situation. And knowing that Old Dank Nick would once again be blowing smoke up chimneys this holiday season provided me the perfect opportunity to head their way.

Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of Star Lounge Coffee Bar. Today we are sipping what has become the annual Old Dank Nick holiday blend, from Dark Matter Coffee Company here in Chicago. Feel free to pull up a chair.

Last year, Old Dank Nick was a really unique and interesting cup of coffee. A really nice blend of beans from Nicaragua and (my then-favorite region) Papua New Guinea. This year, however, the blend is slightly different; while Nicaragua still has the spotlight on it, the other half shoved off from Papua New Guinea to another one of my favorite growing regions, Sulawesi.

The Sulawesi comes to us  from a farm that the Table visited not very long ago, so we can actually do a little bit of a deconstruction of the Old Dank Nick—PT Toarco Jaya Estate, which is located in Tana Toraja.

The highland elevations range from 1000 to 1250 meters, but much of their coffee comes from higher-altitude smallholder farmers they work with, upward of 1500 meters. It measures 530 hectares, but 300 is planted in coffee while the rest is preserved as native forest. The coffee is grown under a shade-tree canopy which they are restoring to nearly original condition.

As I mentioned, Toarco farm also purchases coffee from surrounding smallholder farms, and provides agronomic education to these farmers to make sure the strict quality measures are met (in particular, the purchase only of fully ripe, red coffee cherry, and exacting milling and sorting standards). All the cherry is processed at the Toarco wet mill the same day it comes in from the field, using traditional wet-process methods you would find in Central America or other areas with a washed coffee tradition.

Based in the Segovia region of northern Nueva Nicaragua, Promotora de Desarollo Cooperativo de Las Segovias (PRODECOOP) now includes 40 cooperatives and 2,318 families. The co-op was established in 1993 to provide assistance to its member families in sustainable production and the marketing of their coffee.

PRODECOOP promotes organic farming techniques, integrated systems of production, conservation of natural resources, and economic diversification among its members.

With revenue from Fair Trade sales, PRODECOOP supports many social and quality control programs, including:

• A scholarship program that has provided dozens of scholarships to members’ children so that they can attend primary and secondary school. PRODECOOP has provided books and backpacks to over 2,000 students
• An organic production program
• The establishment of 13 maintenance facilities for de-pulping machines, a dry mill, and three storage facilities
• A revolving social fund for building and improving members’ homes, disaster relief, healthcare, and neccessary infrastructure projects
• Creation of a quality control center and cupping lab

The co-op remains committed to producing coffee of the highest quality. In 2004, co-op members participated in the Nicaraguan The Cup of Excellence, in which the co-op was awarded five of the top ten quality awards.

the basics:

origins: Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia // Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua
farms: PT Toarco Jaya Estate // PRODECOOP, Nicaragua
elevations: 1000-1500 // 1200-1400 meters above sea level
cultivars: Typica // Bourbon, Caturra
process: fully washed, patio dried // fully washed, European preparation, patio dried
certifications: standard // Organic, Fair Trade

the coffee:

Old Dank Nick’s aroma is intensely sweet and very deep. It has a pungency to it that doesn’t so much waft out of the cup as it does erupt out of the cup—like a smoking volcano, just on the brink of eruption. It’s bold with big notes hazelnut, raw cocoa, salted caramel, and orange blossoms.

The hazelnut and raw cocoa are still prominent in the first few sips of the coffee, then they almost disappear; and they don’t stick around for long. The cup is sweet, and it only gets sweeter and sweeter, more and more intense, more and more lively.

A couple weeks ago, I had a conversation with a fellow coffee lover about being able to taste colors—particularly red, purple, orange, and blue. This cup is a bright and vibrant red.

Almost immediately after it begins to cool off, a geyser of red apple juiciness erupts and floods the palate. That’s just the beginning. It’s followed by a surge of strawberries, raspberries, plums, purple grapes, zesty orange peel, coconut, and a dusting of macadamia nuts.

Full body; silky mouthfeel; malic acidity; dry finish.

the bottom line:

I was NOT expecting Dark Matter Coffee Company’s holiday blend, Old Dank Nick, to taste the way it did. Last year, this blend was really good; really good. This year, this blend was incredible; amazing—INCREDAMAZING.

This coffee was huge; explosive, even. And totally unpredictable. When it started off with that deeply sweet and full aroma of hazelnut and cocoa, I had no idea that the cup was going to turn into a tropical festival of lights.

This year’s Old Dank Nick is a really fantastic cup of coffee. One that should not be missed.

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