Thursday, September 27, 2012

Toby's Estate Kenya

Name: Yara Estate
Origin: Kenya
Roaster: Toby's Estate
Varietals: SL 34, SL 28
Preparation 1: Freshly ground, French-pressed, sipped black
Preparation 2: Freshly ground, 4 teaspoons combined with 1.4 cups water and 0.36 ounces (3 packets) of sugar, kept over medium-low flame until ready, sipped without further enhancement

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Toby's Estate's coffee is its character, which it undoubtedly gets from the fine ladies and gentlemen in the roasting house in Brooklyn. Your humble servant can say from personal experience that the various traits best associated with good character - cordiality, honesty, generosity, humor, sincerity, modesty, wit, approachability - positively exude from the splendid folks who run that shop. And, as it is well known that true artists and craftsmen pour their hearts and souls into their work along with their exceptional talent and expertise (which was also on full display), one can expect such character to be reflected in the coffee. Hence the remarkable personality of the Kenya.

When I asked their roaster, Deaton Pigot, how Toby's Estate roasts its coffees, he answered, "For the bean." That seems to be the hallmark of many serious gourmet roasters these days, but I was still hoping to get something out of him in the way of an actual shade.

"Perhaps, then, it ends up coming out sort of medium?" I ventured.

"Oh, I should think it comes out rather on the light side, really," Deaton said, interrupting (or, rather, accepting my interruption of) his detailed explanation-and-demonstration of how the temperature-responsive chemical breakdown of complex sugars within the coffee bean over a couple-minute period of the roasting process can affect the flavor enough to make-or-break the entire batch.

"But surely," I followed up, "some coffees might naturally be better suited to a dark roast?"

"There are definitely coffees that can hold the roast better than others," Deaton explained, "but even then you're going for the roasting flavor, not the coffee flavor."

Brilliant. Yes, the preference itself is a matter of taste and reasonable people may differ on which is better to drink, but the elucidation of the distinction in approaches to the roast is positively brilliant. And that quote, which is indeed a direct quote, was uttered as a simple answer to my question, made on the fly in conversation while we had been talking about something else and he was simultaneously roasting a batch of Brazilian in the machine. We are not talking about a committee-churned press statement sent over by e-mail a couple of days later. That is what I meant by exceptional talent and expertise.

Anyhow, at one point in our conversation he had just finished roasting a Kenya. As with all batches, he took a sample right as it was finished, ground it, and put it on the machine to get an Agtron reading. With this one, he handed me the cup of grinds and said, "Here, get a whiff of that." I actually uttered the word, "Sold." Some Kenya came home with me and went into the French press.

What brews is one of the lightest coffees I have ever seen. It is chestnut colored, as well as chestnut scented, though spiciness dominates the aroma with hints of citrus in tow. The palate is light, with dominant fruity notes, tannins, and acidity. There are hints of vanilla and white table grapes. The finish is a little more even, with less spice, and a little bit of smoke.

Talk about roasting for the bean! Everything about this coffee is what is right and good with light and bean-centered roasts. Each flavor of spice and fruit is alive and vibrant. I have never tasted so much of a terroir through a coffee.

I once had a Turkish coffee with cardamom mixed in. It was delicious, and what made it work was simple: the flavor of cardamom blends nicely with coffee, especially as prepared Turkish. Naturally, other flavors can also pair well, and the spice notes apparent in Toby's Estate's Kenya are most definitely among them.

This coffee, when prepared Turkish, results in a very light-colored beverage. It is spicy in the aroma, with a mere touch of citrus zest, and inherent scents strong enough to stand up to the sugar. The taste, too, is an excellent balance of sweet and spicy. That is perhaps a harmony better known in food preparation, but it works quite keenly with this coffee. The body is smooth, mid-level. And the finish offers a consistant smile on the way down.

Character. Conviction. Excellence. These are the things that we love in people, and also things that we love in what we drink. In the case of Toby's Estate, there is no need to distinguish when listing these attributes.

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