At a Glance: single origin (Kenya); full body; bright, zesty, herbal, currant, citrus; high acidity; washed

Good day to you, fellow coffee enthusiasts, and welcome back to my table here in the corner of this cafe. I’m really glad you could make it to the table today. Once again, it is a cold, rainy, windy, miserable day here in Chicago, but at least we have some coffee to warm our hands and bellies. So if you want to escape the cold, feel free to pull up a chair.

If you recall, over the past few weeks, I’ve been taking you on a tour of coffee shops in Evanston, IL; one coffee company that kept popping up over and over again in those reviews (and has actually popped up several times in the short history of this website) is Chicago’s very own Metropolis Coffee Company. I’ve written that a great percentage of locally-owned coffee shops all over Chicago and the surrounding area proudly serve and even sell Metropolis coffees, I’ve even written a review of the Metropolis cafe in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood, and I have one their coffees almost everyday; however, I was surprised to see that in all of the reviews I’ve done this year, I have yet to write a review of one of their roasts.

Now, that has changed.

Metropolis Coffee Company is (arguably) the second most popular roaster in the city of Chicago—second only to Intelligentsia—and is run by the father and son duo of Jeff and Tony Dreyfuss—a couple of really dedicated, really professional coffee fanatics. Honestly, these guys are to Chicago coffee what Pippen and Jordan were to Chicago basketball. Since they founded Metropolis in 2003, the company has become one of the most highly-regarded micro-roasters in the nation, even being declared the 2007 Micro-Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine.

And rightfully so.

Luckily, today, we have the good pleasure of drinking their Kenya Ruthagati PB. Metropolis gets their Kenyan coffee from the UTZ certified Ruthagati cooperative in a town called Karatina, which is located about 65 kilometers south of the equator. This area of the world is dominated by Mount Kenya, which rises to an impressive 5,199 meters above sea level. This is the highest mountain in Kenya and the second highest in all of Africa—second only to the snow-peaked caps of Kilimanjaro. This coffee is grown at the foot hills of this mountain, which the natives refer to as the Mountain of the Kikuyu God (or, Kirinyaga). This part of the mountain has elevations between 1,650 and 1,700 meters, which is just about the right altitude for coffee growing.

Sampling this selection from Kenya feels apropos to me; especially since my last two coffee reviews were about Ethiopian coffees and—much like a Metropolis roast—I haven’t dedicated a full post to a coffee from Kenya. I’ll be honest with you—it’s not because I just haven’t had much opportunity to sample Kenyan coffees; it’s because Kenyan coffees really intimidate me. I have always viewed them as kind of the wild card in the deck of African coffees, because you really never know what you’re going to get. Of all the coffees in Africa, it always seems to me that Kenya is the most dissimilar of the bunch; and when I particularly enjoy just about all of the other coffees that come from Africa, spending my hard-earned dollars on a coffee from Kenya, knowing that it is usually wildly different than the African coffees that I like, makes me really nervous.

Then again, you only live once. Right?

I recall conducting a comparative cupping at Peet’s Coffee and Tea this past February in recognition of African-American History Month where we sampled all four (four at the time, anyway) of their African coffee offerings—the Arabian Mocha Sanani, Ethiopian Fancy, Uzuri African Blend, and Kenya Auction Lot. Three of the coffees had really similar basic elements—chocolate, fruit, and flora, namely—, but the Kenya Auction Lot was an entirely different thing.

Now, the past few weeks, I’ve been pretty fortunate—I’ve gotten to taste two different coffees from two different regions of Ethiopia that were completely unlike each other (one of which was completely unlike any coffee I’ve ever had); and, once again, this week I got to sample another African coffee; and, once again, am finding Metropolis Coffee Company proving that Kenyan coffee is a wonderfully complex coffee that is unlike any of its African counterparts.

The Kenya Ruthagati PB is a really full-bodied, but bright and zesty cup of coffee. There were hints of chocolate and floral notes in the aroma, but that flowery, chocolatey sweetness didn’t really carry over into the coffee’s flavor profile—those elements were there, but in a limited fashion. Rather, this was a tart, tangy cup of coffee. The most dominant flavor was a very zesty citrus—akin to an orange, tangerine, or grapefruit. Underneath all of that tartness though, was the sweetness of herbs and dried fruit; imagine jasmine and bergamot sprinkled over dried pears, red currants, or apricots.

As the cup cooled, these flavors became even more prominent and the coffee became even more tart as the acidity level seemed to heighten. It had a really nice dry, smooth finish and each sip left behind a very distinct aftertaste that coated the palate. The Kenya was almost reminiscent of the Guji Shakiso we sampled last week in its similarity to an astringent Earl Grey tea, but not nearly on the same level; the astringency is there, but not a dominant feature.

The Bottom Line

Metropolis Coffee Company’s Kenya Ruthagati PB is a really good cup of coffee. I’d go so far as to put their Kenya on the same level as Peet’s Coffee and Tea’s Kenya Auction Lot. True to form as a Kenyan coffee, it is quite unlike anything else that Africa has to offer. It’s full-bodied, but with a high acidity and brightness. Pretty tart, pretty tangy, pretty citrusy. This is a really great coffee to have with fruit first thing in the morning—I had it with a blueberry muffin, and that combination was out of this world.

Just like the citrusy orange juice it most resembles, though, it probably isn’t wise to drink this coffee immediately after brushing your teeth.

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