In August of 2011, I had never had the good pleasure of drinking a coffee from Counter Culture Coffee. Not until Joel Dewey, the owner of Istria Cafe, invited me down to Hyde Park to check out his shop and to try two of Counter Culture’s latest offerings: their Finca Nueva Armenia and Grotto Microlot. I was impressed with his operation, I was more impressed by the coffees; I even wrote a review about them, in which I expressed my surprise at how radically different from each other two coffees from the same farm could taste.
As of a week ago, when I received two packages of coffee from Counter Culture to review (last week’s La Golondrina, Colombia and today’s coffee), I had never written about two harvests of the same coffee. That changes today.
Welcome to my table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today, we are sipping the 2012 harvest of Counter Culture Coffee’s Finca Nueva Armenia. Feel free to pull up a chair.
Finca Nueva Armenia, located in the Sierra Madre Valley, high in the rocky canyons of Guatemala’s Huehuetenango district and just a few miles away from the Mexican border, is one of Latin America’s crowned jewels. The farm, which is owned by twin brothers (and environmental engineers) Jorge and Javier Recinos, has won a number of international coffee tasting contests, was established as one of the first certified organic coffee farms in all of Latin America, and even recently attained Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center certification (“Shade Grown” or “Bird Friendly”). With such distinctions under its belt, it’s obvious that the farm is at the forefront of production in Guatemala; however, despite its progressive nature, Finca Nueva Armenia is rooted deep in tradition.
The Recinos brothers are fourth-generation coffee farmers, the farm being passed down from son to son since the days their paternal great-grandfather planted the first Bourbon variety trees on the slopes of the Cuchumatanes Mountains 70 years ago. Many of those trees remain to this day, having been pruned back to stumps many times, but still produce lush green foliage and beautifully ripe red coffee cherries.
origin: El Paraiso, Huehuetenango, Guatemala
farm: Finca Nueva Armenia
elevation: 1200-1833 meters above sea level
cultivars: Bourbon, Caturra, Typica, San Ramon
process: washed, patio-dried
certifications: Organic, Direct Trade, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center
The flavor of this coffee immediately post brew is really wonderful – very sweet and soothing, but with just a hint of fruity liveliness playing underneath the surface. A thick, creamy, syrupy, and buttery body of cocoa and salted caramel coat the palate while a light flutter of floral aromatics on top dance across the roof of the mouth. Flowing between the bulk of the body and the lighter floral notes is a thin stream of tangerine-like citrus acidity.
There is a very noticeable taste of raw almond, which I find peculiar because almonds usually have a pretty dull, mute, lifeless taste; they’re neutral – easily forgettable. Unless they’re roasted, of course. But in this cup, the almond really stands out as the steady center that the rest of the coffee’s flavor swirls around; it’s present immediately post brew, it’s present in the middle of the cup’s life, and it’s present now that the cup is cooling down to room temperature. And it’s a good thing it’s there – if it wasn’t, the flavors that start to come out while the cup is cooled down would be almost too jarring.
Really big flavors of purple grapes, peach, apricot, Granny Smith apple, tangerine, and a bouquet of floral aromatics come rushing out of the cup, the acidity intensifies a bit, and the coffee is suddenly pungent and tart instead of soothing and sweet, like it was at the beginning. However, the steadying hand of the almond – ever constant and true – saves the flavors from going too far.
Full body; round, lively acidity; sweet, syrupy mouthfeel; clean finish, slightly lingering floral aftertaste.
the bottom line:
In 2011, Finca Nueva Armenia was the very first Counter Culture coffee I reviewed; it “wowed” me then, and it “wows” me now.
This is a bold cup of coffee – very forward with an explosive flavor. Counter Culture’s tasting notes described the Finca Nueva Armenia as “the classic Latin American breakfast coffee” – it’s certainly that. It starts off sweet and smooth, helping to ease you into your day; then the cup transforms completely, becoming lively and vibrant to get you off and running. Soothing flavors of almond and salted caramel coat the palate, then the cup bursts to life with crisp notes of red grapes and Granny Smith apples with a pungent, juicy citrus acidity that swirls underneath all of the flavor.
I want to say that this is a pretty complex cup of coffee, because there are so many flavors happening in it, but it really isn’t. It’s actually a very clean cup of coffee, where every nuance in the flavor is clear, distinct, and easily identified.
Yes – this is a cup that wakes you up; it heightens your awareness, and makes your taste buds stand at attention. “…the classic Latin American breakfast coffee.”
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