In the past couple years that I’ve been running A Table in the Corner of the Cafe, I’ve come across a couple different regions that just haven’t impressed me. Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, Hawaii, and certain south African countries have yet to impress me; several cups that were consistently great really changed my opinion about Colombia and Brazil.
El Salvador, however, has been a total enigma to me. If you go through all of my reviews, I’m betting that I’ve reviewed more coffees from El Salvador than any other region; and in all of those reviews, you’ll find that there wasn’t one coffee that I didn’t like—or liked. My opinion of each cup was very middle of the road, very “meh”, very “no but yeah, yeah but no“.
So far, every El Salvadoran coffee that I’ve had in 2013 has dazzled me. It’s a streak of great luck with the region, and today, Day 2 of February MistoBox Week, we’re going to see if that streak of luck is going to continue.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping El Salvador Nazareno, from Demitasse Coffee Roasters in Los Angeles, California. Feel free to pull up a chair.
Coming to us from the mountainous Apaneca, Ilamatepeq region of El Salvador, the El Nazareno microlot is a 100% Bourbon coffee that was processed using the honey natural (or, semi-washed) method.
“Honey” is a relatively new term describing coffee that has been dried with all or some of the sticky fruit pulp or “honey” (miel in Spanish) still adhering to the bean. Essentially, “honey process” is another way of saying “semi-washed” (or even “pulped natural”).
Those familiar with coffee processing methods will recognize this practice as a kind of the happy medium of the two more familiar processing methods: the dry method—in which the beans are dried while entirely encased inside the fruit—and the wet method—in which all of the soft fruit residue, both skin and pulp, are scrubbed off before the coffee is dried. The honey process consists of pulping a coffee, then foregoing the fermentation stage.
It’s called honey process because the beans get sticky and sweet during the drying process—as The Jesus and Mary Chain once sang, “just like honey.” The result is a cup that has characteristics of both a dry and wet-processed coffee. It is often sweeter than wet-processed coffees, has the body of a dry-processed coffee, but also retains some of the acidity of a wet-processed coffee.
This type of processing can only happen in countries where the humidity is low so the the coffee covered in the sweet mucilage can be dried rapidly without fermenting. Like all variations in processing method, honey processing profoundly impacts cup character, which is the main reason many producers are now experimenting with it.
Particularly in Central and South America, producers are experimenting with a lot of different processing, washing, and drying methods. While most producers practice patio drying, some are now looking into raised bed drying, like Kenyans do; while most producers fully wash their coffees and many practice the dry (or, natural) process, some are now experimenting with this honey process.
origin: Apaneca, Ilamatepeq, El Salvador
farm: El Nazareno
elevation: 1200 meters above sea level
process: semi-washed, patio dried
The El Salvador Nazareno’s aroma is very, very faint; very, very delicate. It’s light and tea-like, with notes of hibiscus and cherry blossom; it also has a bit of sweet savories like raw cocoa and honey; and some faded fruits like berry and citrus.
Up front, this coffee is very light, very airy, very delicate. I’m actually not picking up a lot of flavors—it’s really that airy. It’s floral and tea-like, as I’m getting very faint hints of rose hips and hibiscus lightly brushing against the roof of my mouth, and there’s a bit of raw cocoa and salted nuts in the finish.
As it cools off, the coffee starts to sneak up on me. It’s as if the cup is melting, and all of the flavors start coagulating in the middle of the palate after each sip. It went from being a light and delicate and airy coffee up front to being sweet and concentrated in a matter of a few minutes. It’s practically a different coffee.
At this point in the cup the coffee becomes very flavorful, with massive fruit notes dominating the taste buds: blueberry, nectarine, plum, purple grape, and crazy juicy blood orange acidity. All of these flavors are pushed forward by a bubble of spicy, belly-warming flavors like cherry cough syrup (which, coincidentally, is what I think this coffee’s mouthfeel is most like), Bordeaux wine, and honey rum.
In the finish of each sip, a veil is lifted to reveal trail mix in the finish—cashews, milk chocolate, cranberries, and, actually, I’m getting a slightly lingering aftertaste of Bailey’s; I’ve tried this coffee three or four times now because I refused to believe my palate on this one, but I really do taste Bailey’s in the aftertaste.
Full body; lightly syrupy mouthfeel; citrus acidity; clean finish.
the bottom line:
The first time I brewed the El Salvador Nazareno, from Demitasse Coffee Roasters, I really thought my grind was too coarse, that my water wasn’t hot enough, that I hadn’t ground enough coffee or used too much water. The coffee was so light and delicate up front, that I really thought I had diluted.
Five minutes later, though, it was like I was drinking an entirely coffee! It cooled off, and suddenly became very sweet, very juicy, very concentrated. The closer to room temperature the coffee gets, the more delicious it gets, featuring a fantastic berry and citrus profile and an incredible lightly syrupy/winy mouthfeel. This coffee sparkles with effervescence, its flavor dances all over the palate, its clarity so crystalline—absolutely, truly a wonderful coffee.
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