This year, in a little town outside of Seattle called Mill Creek, a small cafe/ice cream parlor/coffee roaster named Spotted Cow Cream and Bean got in on the holiday roast game and offered up their Spirit of Christmas Holiday Blend.
Many thanks to my good friend Maxwell Mooney for sending some of it to the Table!
guatemala shb ep “ixil a’achimbal”
In 1989, Guatemala’s 36-year civil war ended. After many years spent hiding in the rugged mountains of west-central Guatemala, a group of Mayan Ixil indigenas returned to their village to find that their ownership of the land was not recognized by the new government. After five years, a collective of 80 families was able to purchase a meager 25 acres of land–not enough to sustain them, but enough to sustain hope. In 2000, with help from the Agros Foundation, the collective was able to purchase a much larger, 635-acre tract to raise bananas, lemons, oranges, and coffee. Thus was the Ixil A’achimbal community formed.
The goal of Ixil A’achimbal’s coffee project is to produce coffee of the highest quality in order to earn a reasonable return on their hard work. The natural environment of the Ixil A’achimbal area makes this a possibility, since the community (and its coffee plantings) sit above 4,600 ft.; the people of the Ixil A’achimbal communities make it a reality by planting only Bourbon and Typica coffee trees, and meticulously caring for the coffee from seedling to mill. The coffee is passive organic, hand-picked, hand sorted for defect, and sun dried on raised wooden racks. After the villagers have done the initial sorting (without the benefit of any machinery), the coffee is loaded onto burros, taken down to trucks, and whisked off to a cooperative mill in Guatemala City for final processing and export.
costa rica tarrazu
no information available from the roaster
nicaragua la segovia
no information available from the roaster
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping a cup of the Spirit of Christmas Holiday Blend, from Spotted Cow Cream and Bean in Mill Creek, Washington. Feel free to pull up a chair.
origin: Trapichito, Quiche, Guatemala // Tarrazu, Costa Rica // La Segovia, Nicaragua
farm: N/A // N/A // N/A
producer(s): smallholder farmers // N/A // N/A
assocation: Ixil A’achimbal // N/A // N/A
elevation: 1400 // N/A // 1600 meters above sea level
cultivars: Bourbon, Typica // N/A // Pacamara
process: fully washed, patio dried // N/A // N/A
The aroma coming off this holiday blend is pretty prototypical – it’s roasty, nutty, woody, etc.
Taking the first few sips of this coffee is like a time warp – I feel like I’ve been transported to the 1998 holiday season; this coffee seems to abide by the old mantra “bold is beautiful.” That certainly seems to be the indication by the tasting notes printed on the bag: “BOLD. SPICY. LASTING.” I’m surprised they didn’t slap “gourmet dark-roasted arabica beans” on there, too.
While I do get some hints of dark chocolate and toffee, the notes that are really standing out and dominating the profile are roasted nuts, paper, carbon, and burnt cedar with lots of black pepper and bakers spices. It’s not exactly a pleasant experience from sip to sip.
As it cools off, that roastiness is still front and center, but I can taste that there are some mixed berries and a very, very slight apple acidity that are really trying to push through the smoke, but they just… don’t.
full body; silty mouthfeel; malic acidity; dry finish
the bottom line:
If this holiday blend represents the Spirit of Christmas, then I’m aligning myself with those fighting the ubiquitous war on Christmas. The last few years I’ve reviewed Starbucks’ holiday blends but I decided not to this year – I’m glad Spotted Cow Cream and Bean stepped in to fill the void.
I’m going to give you a brief glimpse at the Table’s mindset: if I receive coffees from roasters that are clearly not on the same level as the likes of, say, an Intelligentsia or a Ritual or a whomever, I don’t expect the same results from them; with these smaller mom-and-pop style roasting companies, I take them at their own merit. Having said that, though, if a small mom-and-pop style roasting company is putting out products that is actively attempting to be akin to a Seattle’s Best, a Peet’s, a Starbucks, or, worst of all, a Gloria Jean’s, then I’m going to cup it the same way I’d cup a coffee from any of those roasters.
So here goes: this coffee is bland, boring, and kinda gross. All of the flavors got roasted right out of the bean and I’m left with a coffee that is mostly stale, very flat, and generally unpalatable. Before I tasted the coffee I was going to say that the packaging could use better, more accurate flavor notes, but now that I’ve tasted it I understand why they felt obliged to copy and paste tasting notes a la Starbucks.
Furthermore, I was really hoping for more information about this coffee. If it weren’t for my friend Maxwell, I wouldn’t have even known which countries were represented in this blend, let alone what farms/varieties/elevations/producers/associations/etc/etc/etc.
With the likes of the good Sir Maxwell Mooney there, I suspect that Spotted Cow Cream and Bean is on an upward trajectory; unfortunately, though, if the Spirit of Christmas Holiday Blend is indicative of their output, it’s going to be a steep climb.
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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.