Name: Guadalupe El Salvador
Origin: Ahuachapan, El Salvador
Preparation: Freshly ground, French-pressed, sipped black
There are elitists who cannot help it, and there are elitists who do not want to help it; I am of the latter variety. I often eschew trendy things - which, much like celebrities, seem to exist merely for their own sakes these days - just because they are trendy. This is not to say that I am under the illusion that more obscure things are necessarily better; to avoid something just because it is trendy involves no more rigor of thought than to gravitate towards it for the same reason. But setting myself apart from the masses does feel good - great, often - and so I continue upon that path. It is a habit, in other words, based on aesthetic, not philosophic, convictions.
It is therefore rare indeed to hear me ask, "What's popular these days?" But in a craft coffee roaster's shop, there is no avoiding the fact that that is a wise question to pose. Firstly, if the roaster is a good one, it is hard to go wrong with just about any variety. Secondly, anybody inside the shop, in all likelihood, posseses faculties of epicurean discernment well above those of the unwashed masses. So if it does so happen that an elite clientele with inevitably diverse preferences is generally congregating around one or two beans in particular - id est, if there is something popular or trendy - then it is hard to avoid the conclusion that these beans are receiving so much attention for good reason. And indeed, I have never visited a gourmet roasting house in which this did not prove to be true.
I had the pleasure of conversing with Dan Streetman of Irving Farm lately. The timing coincided with a favorite season of his, the arrival of Central American harvests. So, while congratulating him on his recognition by the SCAA, I took the opportunity to ask him what some of Irving Farm's popular Central American coffees are. The answer: Santa Isabel Guatemala and Guadalupe El Salvador. Sounds pretty good! I picked up some Guadalupe beans the next time I was in the store, and brought them home to brew.
What emerges is a coffee of a light oaken color. There is no specific orange tinge, but much like a blend reviewed here some months ago, it is of such a hue as to remind us that brown is really a shade of orange. Most remarkable about the coffee's appearance, though, is the complexity of its opacity. It is perhaps the most obscure translucence possible without abandoning translucence altogether. At first glance it appears opaque, but not quite viscerally so, and upon closer inspection one sees that, if one were to travel through a great body of the liquid, one would not at all be hard pressed to expect to find a light to guide one to the surface.
The Guadalupe El Salvador opens with an aroma of earthy notes, but soon expands into fruit and spice, and remains smooth throughout. There is some sweetness, but one has to dig deep to get to it. The moderate level of acid works well here. When sipped, the coffee is smooth, with simultaneous notes of earthiness and sweetness at first. There is some chocolate there. Slight florals and citrus appear over time, but they do not compete for dominance, simply complementing the primary earth and sweetness. Tannins are moderate, and acid is low. The coffee rides a fine line between rich and medium-bodied, and continues to flow smoothly down the throat. It is alive on the tongue and palate, but that is not to say jumpy; it is just that one can feel the freshness. As the sips go on, more and more citrus surreptitiously slips into the flavor, as does a vague scattering of spice. Are these notes beginning to compete for primacy after all? Compared to their counterparts a few minutes earlier they are certainly aggressive, yes - and yet, generally speaking, they are no threat to the earthiness and sweetness, which have a comfortable hold on the positions of principle flavors. The coffee's finish bears mention here: rather unexpectedly, it offers notes of white table grapes and chocolate.
It is not altogether mysterious that this fresh, dynamic coffee should be popular among clientele at Irving Farm. Far from yet another obnoxious example of silly nonsense being popular just for being popular, we have in the Guadalupe El Salvador an exemplary instance of high quality and prime taste rising above worthy competition on the merits. Trend-followers, trend-setters, and even my fellow crotchety, haughty trend-eschewers would all do well to pick some up and learn from the example of what popularity really ought to be about. In the process of all that, enjoy.