Good morning, coffee lovers. Welcome back to my table here in the corner of this cafe.
The past few weeks, the Table has been inundated with coffees from Portland (specifically, Stumptown Coffee Roasters) to help get everybody geared up for the United States Barista Championship and Brewers Cup. Now that it’s all said and done and the dust has settled, I wanted to come back to Chicago for a week or so – just to reset. The last couple of days, of course, we sipped a Guatemala and a Colombia from Metropolis Coffee Company; today, though, we’re hopping on the CTA Red Line and heading downtown to pay a visit to the roaster that put Chicago on the map as a legitimate coffee town – Intelligentsia Coffee.
To be honest, I probably should have transitioned from SCAA week to this week with an Intelligentsia review right off the bat then reviewed some stuff from Metropolis because, like I said, Intelligentsia is the coffee that made Chicago famous (so to speak). Intelligentsia regularly has baristas compete at the national level, Intelligentsia was one of the first companies to really popularize the so-called “third wave” of specialty coffees, and Michael Philips (the owner of Handsome Coffee Roasters in Los Angeles) actually won the World Barista Championship a few years ago under the banner of Intelligentsia Coffee.
Ready to see why Intelligentsia is so renowned? Feel free to pull up a chair.
Today’s coffee, Agua Preta, Brazil, comes to us from the small town of Carmo de Minas, in the Minas Gerais region of Brazil.
Carmo Coffees is an organization, owned by cousins Jacques Carneiro and Luiz Paulo, that represents the best coffee farmers working the Serra da Mantiqueira, a beautiful and lush mountain range in the southern part of Minas Gerais. Most of the coffees under their umbrella come from farms owned by their uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandmothers in Carmo de Minas. These family-owned farms have formed a small group called Gruppo Sertao and they have maintained a stunning track record, capturing first prize in the majority of Brazil’s Cup of Excellence competitions.
One of the many remarkable farms in this group is Fazenda Santa Inês, run by the Pereira family and owned by Francisco Isidro Pereira. The Pereiras have been farming coffee in Carmo de Minas for over a hundred years now and possess the ability to produce great coffee that only comes with time and focus. Santa Inês has several awards for its efforts including numerous Cup of Excellence and regional quality awards. In 2005, one of their coffees set a new record for price paid for an auction coffee when its winning lot brought in over an astonishing $50 per pound!
Santa Inês, like the other members of Gruppo Sertao, employs all the little details that contribute to ensuring excellent coffees come to life – harvesting ripe cherries in multiple passes, careful and slow sorting of coffees in processing, and proliferation of coffees prized for their quality rather than high yield. This would explain why Intelligentsia buys Francisco’s coffee over and over again (this is their fourth consecutive year doing business together).
Origin: Carmo de Minas, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Farm: Fazenda Santa Inês
Elevation: 1200-1500 meters above sea level
Cultivars: Yellow Bourbon
Process: washed, patio dried
Certifications: Direct Trade
The aroma of this coffee really has me swooning already. Within the vapors of steam rising out of the cup I’m finding dominant but sweet cocoa powder, nuts, and honey.
I take my first sip and I’m immediately sold. Wow, what a tremendous flavor! This is a full-bodied coffee with an even fuller flavor. Immediately post-brew, this coffee has a firm foundation of cocoa – rich and chocolaty. Over the top of it is a sprinkling cane sugar and honey – the kind of flavor and mouthfeel akin to sprinkling a few granules of Sugar in the Raw on your tongue and letting them dissolve in your mouth (which, if you’ve never done, do it now and thank me later). There’s a certain element of earthiness in the body, but it’s still very smooth – maybe the phrase I use should be “velvet soil.”
As the cup cools it gets even sweeter – the dominance of the cocoa diminishes (but doesn’t disappear altogether) and a vanilla creaminess comes to the forefront. Even cooler now, the vanilla becomes even more full and I’m also getting notes of a really nice roasted almond, all resting on a fruity bouquet of raisin, plum, and currants. Quietly bubbling under the surface of these dominant flavors is a very soft, very mellow cranberry acidity – in no way does it overpower any of the other flavors, it merely complements them.
Soft, mild acidity; velvety, silky mouthfeel; clean finish; full body.
the bottom line:
I’ll be honest with you, and the folks at Intelligentsia know this about me – I’ve never really been taken with their coffees. It’s not that I don’t like them or anything, but the coffees I’ve had from them were always too light for my palate: lightly bodied, lightly flavored. I’m not sure if this is an issue for me at the roaster level or at the brewing level, but I had never had a coffee from them that really “wowed” me.
This coffee, though, the Agua Preta, Brazil, really impressed me. I have a feeling that at the end of the year, if I were to do a “Best of 2012” list, this coffee would probably be on it – it’s just that great. It’s so warm and inviting and soothing; this is the coffee you drink when you curl up on the couch with a book, when you’re staring out the window on a gloomy day, when you just want to enjoy a damn fine cup of coffee. It’s full-bodied and sweet with a mild acidity and smooth, creamy mouthfeel.
An instantly classic cup.
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Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.