At a Glance: single origin (El Salvador); medium body; chocolate, hazelnut, plum; medium acidity; semi-washed

Chimo, coffee lovers! Welcome back to the table here in the corner of this cafe. I’m really excited about this edition of my coffee review because this week, we’re taking a look at a coffee roaster that I’ve been wanting to try for a long, long time—Forty Ninth Parallel Coffee Roasters of Vancouver, British Columbia. Well, today’s my lucky day as I have sitting on the table in front of me a steaming hot mug of their El Salvador La Guachoca Peaberry. I took the liberty of getting a mug for you as well, so feel free to pull up a chair.

I first learned about Forty Ninth Parallel a couple years ago. I can’t remember the context, whether I read about them in a magazine or another coffee blog, or if a coworker told me about them. Regardless, it was during my “I am going to relocate to the Pacific Northwest, so help me God” phase (which, if I’m being honest with myself, I still haven’t outgrown) that I came across Forty Ninth Parallel—a time when I was doing all the research I could on Vancouver, Portland, and Seattle. This area of the world is, after all, a coffee enthusiast’s Mecca.

Forty Ninth Parallel, conveniently enough, is located along the forty ninth parallel—the historic border between the United States and Canada which K.D. Lang paid homage to with her album of the same name. This company is notorious for their very meticulous approach to sourcing, buying, and roasting their coffee and the fruit of their efforts really shows in the mug. Michael Piccolo, their Master Roaster, travels all over the world selecting lots himself, then purchasing the beans himself, then roasting and cupping the beans himself—if the cupping doesn’t meet his standard of excellence, they won’t sell it. Their mission is to provide only the best coffee they can, and part of their approach to ensuring this is travelling to these farms, meeting with the landowners, and establishing direct relationships with the farmers. The proverbial hands of Forty Ninth Parallel touch the coffee in each stage of its life.

They’re also dedicated to being ethical. Part of the guiding principles of these direct relationships was establishing a special premium that they pay, which is actually above the minimum standards provided by the Fair Trade certification organization.

Furthermore, they strive not only to provide great customer service and great product, but also to be open and accessible to their customers. On their website, for example, they have a page called “Essentials,” where they offer all sorts of tidbits from revealing what happens behind the scenes of their business (purchasing, roasting, processing, etc.) to advice about brewing the perfect cup of coffee.

It’s very easy for me to get excited about a coffee company that gets excited about their product, whether they’re from the Pacific Northwest or not, and I’ve been wanting so badly to sample some of Forty Ninth’s coffee for so long; so one could imagine how excited I got when I walked into Wormhole Coffee in Wicker Park last week and saw that Forty Ninth Parallel’s El Salvador La Guachoca Peaberry was the guest roast at their pour-over bar. I was planning on living the high life for a few minutes by getting their Peanut Butter Koopa Troopa, but when I saw that little blue Forty Ninth bag sitting on the corner I immediately changed my order.

It was perfect—lounging on their couch, listening to Neil Young on my headphones, and drinking Forty Ninth Parallel while grey clouds blanketed the sky and drops of rain streaked down the windows of the storefront. If that’s as close to living in Vancouver as I’ll ever get, that just might be good enough.

So, what about this particular coffee?

It comes from a farm called La Guachoca in Santa Ana, El Salvador—the farm gets its name from the Guachoca bird, a rare breed of quail which can be found only in this area. Much like Forty Ninth Parallel, the farmers here are hellbent on quality; this desire to provide only the best is what led them to their ISO 9001-2000 certification—this certification allows them to keep traceability, control points, and perform effective actions in order to improve quality. The family that owns this farming also implements a style of coffee-growing known as “Agobio,” where they bend the coffee trees a certain way during growing season. Now, this is something I’m not all that familiar with, so it’s probably best if I let Forty Ninth Parallel explain it. From their website:

To uphold production and encourage new growth, the Pacas family is practicing “Agobio” – bending of the coffee tree. During the hot and humid season when growth is intense, they perform the bending to ensure multiple stem growth without capping the tree. The method is performed by keeping the principal stem inclined horizontally by using a wooden hook fixed into the soil. Multiple suckers shoots from the bended stem, and the suckers to retain are then selected according to their distribution and vegetative growth. Every time a tree is planted at a Pacas farm, an empty hole is dug to help with irrigation control and mulching.

All of this effort to providing excellent coffee really pays off. I was truly blown away by how good it tasted.

First of all, the aroma was so delightful, it almost bordered along sinful. It was very sweet, creamy, chocolatey—really decadent. It was kind of similar to that fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie smell that fills a kitchen when you open the oven door. But only if those chocolate chip cookies had raisins and almonds baked into them. The flavor was almost too much—a real treat. The chocolatiness was still there, but wasn’t as prominent as the hazelnut and batch of dried fruits that came to the forefront. Apricot, plum, raisin, with a little touch of citrus all combined to create a truly wonderful cup of coffee. It had a very smooth, clean finish, with a nice amount of acidity—really well-rounded cup of coffee.

The Bottom Line

I’ve been wanting to try some of Forty Ninth Parallel’s coffee for a while now and when I finally got the opportunity, their El Salvador La Guachoca Peaberry did not disappoint. It was a really well-rounded, medium-bodied, fruity, nutty cup of coffee that I highly recommend. I can’t wait to get my hands on more of Forty Ninth Parallel’s roasts.

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