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Tasting Coffee with a Wine Drinker’s Palette: Intelligentsia Cruz Del Sur

February 23, 2011

Happy Wednesday (aka Dining Section day) to you all. Ever since the Minimalist disappeared from the Dining Section’s pages, I’ve been forced to dedicate more attention to columns I otherwise would have skimmed over.

Case in point: The Pour, by Eric Asimov. I have neither the legal requirements nor the cash to spend money on booze, let alone classy wine. I can tell the difference between something like Yellowtail and a Cote-de-Rhone, obviously, but my wine-tasting palette… let’s just say it doesn’t hold a candle to my coffee snobbery.

Today’s article, Summing Up Wine in Two Words, may have been about wine, but for once, I could apply it to what I know: COFFEE. Both the coffee and wine industries are similar in that they tend to utilize overly pretentious vocabulary, with descriptions that I see as a game of word association (see my thoughts on this here).

Asimov seems to agree with this, saying,

Most of the gaudy descriptions found in tasting notes will not help a whit to understand the character of a bottle of wine or to anticipate the experience of drinking it. While it may seem heretical to say, the more specific the description of a wine, the less useful information is actually transmitted.

He goes on to add that each bottle will be different, depending on the time it’s opened and how much time passes before tasting (Just like coffee… see a pattern?). Asimov’s main point is that wines can be divided into two general types: sweet and savory. Now, I don’t especially think this holds true for coffee, but what really struck me was his definition of sweetness:

But when I use the word sweet, I’m thinking not only of actual sugar in the wine, but more often of the impression of sweetness… Savory wines, as you imagine, are the ones that don’t leave the impression of sweetness.

Now, just as I was reading these words, I happened to be sipping on some really excellent Intelligentsia Cruz Del Sur, Peru, which I’ve been drinking for the past week. The description on the bag says, “Balanced with a gentle acidity, easy-going notes of nougat, toasted dates provide depth. The finish is honeyed and chocolatey.”

I actually think this description is well-worded. Don’t know how much I taste nougat per se, but what I want to emphasize is the word “finish.” Note that the coffee itself is slightly acidic, but the aftertaste is rounder and sweeter. Before reading The Pour today, in my mind this coffee was just “sweet.” In fact, the description on Intelligentsia’s website claims that it “tastes like a big, chewy brownie.”

I profoundly disagree with this. Most brownies are stodgy, cloying and much too sweet. There isn’t much depth, and certainly no acidity. I’ve realized that going by the terms “sweet” and “savory,” Sumatras tend to be savory (associated with bell pepper flavors) for the same reason that South Americans tend to be sweet: their aftertaste.

So, take away two things from this post:

  1. If you are a wine snob, you have the potential to be a coffee snob, and vice versa (presuming you have the $$)
  2. Never chug coffee. Otherwise you’ll only taste the predominant flavors of the cup, and that elusive, subtle aftertaste that is, in effect, its “soul,” will vanish.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. J zeitlin permalink
    February 23, 2011 5:48 pm

    I don’t usually comment though I’m an avid reader and fan because I figure you want to hear from people other than your mother! But today’s blog has kindled my desire to make pour overs in my ny apartment as I move ever further from my expresso drinks monogamy. Gimme coffee is selling a clever for under 15 bucks plus a handcranked Japanese burr grinder for $48. I’m sorely tempted though it does t really make sense, given how little time I have left in NY . They’re v. Portable though.I can imagine carrying it on my travels elsewhere. So OG and OG readers, please weigh in with your opinions.


    • February 23, 2011 6:39 pm

      I say go for it, IF you are willing to make it PROPERLY.
      This means:
      1. rinsing the filter first
      2 Making sure to measure out your coffee and water, and make sure you’re adding water just off the boil as opposed to fulling boiling.
      3. Set a timer, stir after 1:30, make sure to cover. After 4 minutes drain the Clever over a mug.
      4. Finally, take care to pour in a smooth stream, trying to even out any air pockets.

      BUY THE BURR GRINDER. I’ll take it if you don’t want it! How finely does it grind? Could I use it for Turkish coffee?

  2. jz aka mom permalink
    February 23, 2011 6:58 pm

    With this authorization, my afternoon walk will take me back to Gimme Coffee, where I will get a free Clever pour over with a pound of coffee beans to boot. Then all I’ll need is a small scale. Unfortunately the burr grinder doesn’t grind that finely apparently, but it is very cute. MOOG

    • February 24, 2011 2:50 pm

      Let me know how it goes. And if you ever want to buy me a spice mill for Turkish coffee… be my guest.

  3. jz aka mom permalink
    February 24, 2011 4:36 pm

    Moog’s first attempt at the clever. I’d give myself a B+. Not as good as the OG’s of course, partly because I haven’t yet found a scale and so used 4 1/2 TBLS as a measure instead. It seems a little to strong, not quite mellow enough but aftertaste is good. Certainly decent.

    • February 24, 2011 10:33 pm

      Yeah, a scale is SO NECESSARY. did you buy the grinder? what kind of coffee did you use?

  4. jz aka mom permalink
    February 28, 2011 9:05 pm

    I’m writing to report on Moog’s second attempt with the clever–with mini kitchen scale duly purchased. Quite good. Not as good as OG’s yet but definitely much closer to the mark. Just to reiterate the proportions I used to double check: 22 grams of beans, 12 oz water.

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