click image to purchaseHappy Monday, coffee lovers! Welcome back to my table, here in the corner of this cafe. I hope you all had a happy and safe holiday weekend.

Today’s coffee is from Los Angeles–based Handsome Coffee Roasters, and comes piggy-backing on last week’s review of a coffee from another California-based company – San Francisco’s Ritual Coffee Roasters.

Ready for another comparative cupping? Feel free to pull up a chair.

This Rwanda comes to us from the Abakundakawa Cooperative in the Gankenke district in the northern part of the country. The cooperative was formed in 2004. Besides being incredibly fun to say out loud, Abakundakawa currently boasts a producing membership in the thousands. More impressively, in a continent that isn’t really known for equal rights for or even friendliness to women, Abakundakawa promotes the efforts of its’ female farmers, who comprise 40% of the coop.

Of the current 1,760 members of Abakundakawa Coop, 720 are women. Seventy women make up the Duhingekawa women’s group – which means “let us grow coffee” in Kinyarwanda. The women who are in the Abakundakawa group are women heads of household – that means their husbands were mostly killed at the time of the genocide in the mid-1990′s. They are looking after their own children, but often they are also looking after orphans from families of relatives, and even of non-relatives, where both parents were killed. They have formed a group within Abakundakawa.

the basics:

Origin: Gankenke, Rwanda
Farm: Abakunda Kawa Cooperative
Elevation: 1700-1900 meters above sea level
Cultivar: Bourbon
Process: washed, raised bed dried
Certifications: standard

the coffee:

The Abakundakawa we had from Ritual, if you recall, had the unmistakable aroma of s’mores. Chocolate, roasted marshmallows, cinnamon, and graham cracker. Today’s batch, from Handsome, is very similar as far as the aroma goes. It has the deep dark chocolate and a hint of the roasted marshmallows, but rather than graham cracker or cinnamon, this batch has a sweet and buttery caramel aroma mixed in. Furthermore, this version has a slightly floral aromatic – it’s not so strong that I feel I can accurately describe it (maybe violet or lavender?), but there’s something a bit lighter and floral in Handsome’s that wasn’t in Ritual’s.

The flavor, on the other hand, almost makes it seem like an entirely different cup of coffee. Almost.

Of course, the chocolate and roasted marshmallows, being such unique notes in the aroma, are present in the flavor immediately post-brew. However, the caramel is a bit more heavy-handed in the flavor than it is in the aroma; that caramel is accompanied by a nutty nougat flavor. So, in the first few minutes of this cup, it seems like Handsome’s version might be a better suit for those with a “sweet tooth” than Ritual’s, as this tastes a lot like a Milky Way chocolate bar.

However, as the cup cools, all of those big and bold flavors dissipate, backing down more and more as the cup’s temperature drops, giving way to a soft surge of fruitiness. There are notes of sweet cherry, juicy red delicious apple, and an ever-so-slight tartness of strawberry. Underneath all of this, though, is a muffled bed of cinnamon graham cracker flavor and mouthfeel, which keeps the cup consistent – even though the dominant flavors in both stages of the cup are radically different from each other, it retains that one consistent element throughout the life.

Mild strawberry acidity; full body; smooth, creamy, clean finish.

the bottom line:

I really enjoy doing these comparative cuppings, because it proves that the roaster has a lot of impact on how a coffee’s flavor turns out. There are a lot of altruistic people out there that often argue that “the roaster is a limited factor in a coffee’s flavor outcome; the real magic happens at the farm level!” I used to be one of those people, believe it or not. Today’s coffee, Handsome Coffee Roasters’ Abakundakawa, proves the point that the individual roaster is a major influence in a coffee’s flavor. Oftentimes, the roaster is the deciding factor – that’s why you should always buy your coffee from roasters who know what they’re doing. A really great roaster doesn’t overroast or underroast; rather, a really great roaster knows how to make adjustments to nail what the coffee’s profile should be, while still bringing out a lot of the nuances in the beans. A really great roaster knows how to bring out a coffee’s full potential.

I think Handsome did just that with the Abakundakawa; while Ritual’s version was very unique, tasting almost exactly like a s’more, Handsome’s version had a bit of the s’more thing going, but then a lot of other things too. I think Ritual hit the nail on the head with finding the right profile, but Handsome brought the Abakundakawa to its fullest potential.

Which is better? As usual, it’s not for me to say. It really just depends on what you like. Unfortunately, Handsome is no longer offering Abakundakawa as a single origin, but they are offering it as a blend (coupled with their Los Naranjos, Colombia) in their Scout’s Honor espresso. Abakundakawa makes up 75% of the blend, so you’ll still be able to taste a lot of what makes this coffee so unique!

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