Hey there, coffee friends. Welcome back to my table here in the corner of this cafe.

Last week, I got the opportunity to head over to Passion House Coffee‘s roasting facility in Fulton Market to assist with some cuppings. One of the roaster extraordinaires working there is Shannon “Knuckles” Steele – a dynamite coffee rockstar. Not only does she have a fantastic palate and a knack for roasting, she’s also a very talented barista – a former employee of Chicago’s Caffe Streets. The day she invited me over to the roastery, she was working on the presentation – or, demonstration of her rockstar status – that she was planning to give at the North Central Regional Barista Championship and Brewers Cup, which was held last weekend in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood.

The barista title went to MadCap Coffee’s Ryan Knapp for the second straight year, and the Brewers Cup went to Jon Ferguson – an independent from Lincoln, Nebraska -, but Shannon had a solid performance that deserves applause. Really, all of the competitors deserve applause – people don’t realize how nerve-wracking being up on that stage is.

As a way of thanking me for helping out, she and Joshua Millman (the owner of Passion House) gifted me two bags of coffee to try out at the Table.

Ready to help me thank Passion House for their generosity? Feel free to pull up a chair.

Located in Ciudad Vieja, Sacatapéquez, in the Antigua Valley, Guatemala’s most celebrated coffee region, under a lush canopy of gravilea trees lies the Alvarez family’s 41 hectare farm passed down through the generations. Finca Puerta Verde is a fourth-generation family farm owned and operated by the Alvarez family since the late 19th century. Their commitment to environmental sustainabilty and quality led them to seventh place in the 2009 Cup of Excellence.

The farm benefits from a rich volcanic soil and an average altitude of 1,540 metres. The coffee is grown under a protective shade canopy of Gravilea trees, which provide a great habitat for several local bird and insect species. The cherries are picked by hand, before being pulped and sun dried at a local wet mill. Waste water from the process is recycled to avoid polluting local water courses. The coffee is then rested and milled prior to export.

the basics:

Origin: Ciudad Vieja, Sacatapéquez, Antigua, Guatemala
Farm: Puerta Verde
Elevation: 1540 meters above sea level
Cultivars: Bourbon, Caturra
Process: washed, patio dried
Certifications: standard

the coffee:

Wow! First sip is like one of those Fruit Gusher candies – you know the kind that your mom packed in your school lunch? I guess maybe that only applies to kids of the 1980’s and 90’s. But inside each of those candies was some sort of fruity, sugary syrup that gushed out of the outer shell onto the tongue. The first sip of this coffee is a lot like that – immediately, you’re greeted by a rich, dark chocolate and caramel flavor; but that is immediately followed by a gush of citrus and berry fruit that coats over the entire palate; then, immediately after that, the dark chocolate flavor reemerges in the finish. Chocolate – fruit/citrus – chocolate. I like the way Passion House describes it on their website: “…a river of dark chocolate slides its way to your throat with a lasting finish of caramel…”

Yeah – I’m pickin’ up what they’re layin’ down.

I just can’t get over this gushing fruitiness, though. If I could paint a word picture to describe what this fruitiness reminds me of, it would be a picture of molten lava slowly rolling down the side of a mountain. It’s that intense and thick. I’m getting heavy-handed notes of strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, black currant, and, most of all, blood orange – crisp, in-your-face, juicy blood orange – all wrapped up in a rich, tart acidity.

As the cup cools, these details dull a little bit, and the finish gets a little more straightforward, but the flavor is still delicious and pleasing.

Tart, citrus acidity; full body; silky, creamy mouthfeel.

the bottom line:

Sometimes I wonder if people think I’m easily impressed – I give a lot of really stellar reviews at the Table. But let me be entirely forthcoming about one thing: I am not easy to impress. I believe in healthy skepticism, but am all too often incredibly cynical and judgmental about the coffees I drink.

This is the third coffee I’ve reviewed from Passion House Coffee Roasters, and the third coffee from them that I’ve absolutely raved about. With this – the Guatemala Puerta Verde – I literally exclaimed, “Holy cow!” when I took that first sip. Huge, full body, nicely rounded tart, citrus acidity, and flavor elements of caramel, dark chocolate, citrus, and berries. Now, just to show you how fair I am, I will say that the cup kind of let me down as it cooled off and the more intense flavors started to dissipate – but that’s only because I was so excited by the flavor of it immediately post-brew. When the cup is cooled down, it’s still pleasant and flavorful with the same elements of caramel, chocolate, and fruits – they’re just not as intense. As a friend of mine says, “Not complain’, just explainin’.”

I don’t think it’s coincidental that this is the third coffee from Passion House that I’d urge anyone to rush out and buy – I may have just gotten lucky with their selections. I highly doubt it, though – Joshua Millman and Shannon Steele are incredibly knowledgeable and talented coffee folks. I didn’t think that they could top their results with the Bufcafe they gave me last month, but I’m not so sure now – this Guatemala was nutso (that’s my professional opinion).

There are a lot of coffee roasters that have a steady incline towards their pinnacle, but it sure does seem like Passion House instantly plateaued at the “awesome” level.

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