Coffee love is a wonderful thing. For those not familiar with the concept, “coffee love” is the term some of us use when referring to samples of high-quality coffee sent to us by our colleagues working for various coffee roasters. Given the short shelf-life of coffee, sometimes this requires spreading the “coffee love” around, which means some of my local friends get some sweet samples to try.
The most recent coffees I have had the privilege of sampling have come from Mtn. Air Roasting in Asheville, NC and Joe Van Gogh, with their roasting facility in my old hometown of Hillsborough, NC and several coffee shops in Durham and Raleigh, NC. I received multiple coffees from each roaster, so there will be subsequent reviews, hopefully in the near future, as my schedule allows.
Today, though, I want to talk about a coffee that BOTH roasters sent me. Finca El Majahual is located in the Apaneca-Ilamatepec Mountain Range in the western part of the country. Surrounded by four volcanoes, the soil is well-suited for coffee farming, especially considering its altitude of 1500 meters. The farm apparently cultivates 50-80 year old Bourbon cultivars, giving credence to the idea that sometimes old methods trump the new.
I was running low on coffee, so I contacted Mtn. Air Roasting on Twitter, asking for their recommendation on what was really “singing” in their catalogue. The Majahual, among others, received high praise, so I ordered 2 bags of it: one for me, and one for my brother-in-law and his El Salvadoran bride, who frequently misses the taste of her homeland. I should have ordered three; that’s how GOOD this coffee is!
My brewing device of choice is the Clever Dripper, for its simplicity and consistency, brew after brew. Given the size and density of this particular bean, I chose a dose of 20g, with 340g water at 204 F. I used the Baratza Virtuoso with standard calibration, set on #38. My brewing procedure, taught to me by Jason Dominy of Batdorf and Bronson Coffee Roasters, consists of a 100g bloom, with an immediate stir to fully wet the ground coffee. Then another pour to 340g, followed by another vigorous stir, after which I cover the Clever. My dwell time is 2:45, whereupon I stir again vigorously just before I begin the drop. This creates a swirl that keeps the coffee from being left high and dry on the sides, resulting in a nice dome in the bottom, creating a more even extraction. Total brew time, around 3 and a half minutes.
Now, after I ground this coffee, I got my nose in close to see what aromatics I had. This coffee smelled wonderful, with a distinct buttery-ness and a hint of pepper. Upon brewing, the mouthfeel on this coffee is quite full and creamy, despite being drunk with no additives like sugar and cream. A distinct grapefruit brightness lends a pleasant acidity, with light floral notes and a hint of caramel. As the coffee cools, a genteel nuttiness exhibits itself, reminiscent of walnuts, and the citrusy acidity stays on the tongue for a dry finish. A wonderful cup of coffee!
A few days after I received my box of coffees from Mtn. Air Roasting, I received a box from Jonathan Bonchak of Joe Van Gogh Coffee. He had already informed me that their Finca El Majahual was included, so I offered to do a head to head comparison, a rare opportunity for me. It’s not often I get the same coffee from two different roasters.
Upon initial visual examination, the Majahual from Joe Van Gogh was just a hint darker roasted than its kinfolk from Mtn. Air. It’s still what I would term a light-to-medium roast, which is my normal roast preference. The dry ground aroma of the JvG Majahual was slightly different, with a hint of the other’s buttery-ness, but leaning more toward nutty, like peanut butter or Nutella hazelnut spread. There was also that hint of pepper, perhaps a bit more pronounced in this roast. This coffee has a more apple-like acidity, with a strong hint of black cherry jelly and toast. The mouthfeel on this coffee is equally creamy, and the finish reminds me of cherry Twizzlers. This coffee, while being slightly different from that of the one from Mtn. Air, is equally wonderful.
Which one is better? I honestly can’t say. Both were exceptional, both in flavor and aroma. Neither was over-roasted, both roasters obviously did a fine job developing a suitable roast profile. I recommend them both! To Mtn. Air Roasting and Joe Van Gogh Coffee I say, “Bravo!”
Stay tuned for more reviews featuring both of these companies!