Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Organic Honduras Marcala

Name: Organic Honduras Marcala
Origin: Marcala, Honduras
Roaster: The Gentle Brew
Roast: Medium-Brown
Varietals: (unknown)
Preparation: Freshly ground, French-pressed, sipped black

This is true of most types of stores, but wine shops are famous for it: One of the benefits of going into a good one is that the shopkeeper can recommend something for anything. Customers will be indulged in their zaniest, most preposterous fancies. Want a sweet red with personality, but maybe not the same old California Cabernet, but still not a radical departure from it, but you really are looking for something different, but not too different, but not the same either? Just ask, it is yours. Hosting someone who is crazy about Loire wines, and you are quite intent on making your famous chicken fricassee that evening, and the wine and chicken must meld together absolutely perfectly, and no you will absolutely not divulge what you put in it to the shopkeep or anyone else outside of the family, and by the way you hate Loire wines so it cannot be too Loire-ish, but it has to be something that this Loire fanatic friend of yours will appreciate along with his mystery meat? Ask, and ye shall receive. Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, once asked for a wine with the personality of Robin Williams - and was duly directed to one.

I, for the record, am not interested in imbibing any beverage whatsoever reminiscent of Jumanji. However, I do enjoy being able to bounce my more complicated requirements off of expert ears and get good direction. This is true not only of wine but of all things, including coffee. I have found that most of the good craft roasters are glad to oblige such discussion in their stores, and The Gentle Brew is no exception. As the only craft roasters local to me, they have borne the unenviable burden of indulging more of my questions, dithering, and pure indecisiveness than any mere mortal ever should have to. But what can I say? Some days I know what I want; others, I have no hope of independently thinking through the slightest trifle until I have had some darn coffee in the first place.

Recently I asked one of those patient souls to recommend some beans to take home and brew for a review. "Something organic," I specified, "that would be well brewed with a French press." There was little hesitation; my expert friend knew right away what I would want: the Honduras Marcala. It was a brilliant choice.

The Marcala region, by the way, claims a unique bragging right. Nestled in western Honduras - right in the heart of a part of the world with more than a few competing coffee regions - Marcala has the distinction of being the first ever protected denomination of origin for coffee in Central America. The region has taken pride in its coffee production for generations, and continues to be at the forefront of that sector. When roasted properly, its beans can be quite an experience.

The beans from The Gentle Brew were roasted medium-brown, but there is nothing very dark about the liquid in the press. Neither orangey nor blackish, it sports rather a chestnut hue. There were, however, two tones to it, or rather two layers to the one tone: a lighter cloud in the middle is surrounded by an amorphous frame of slightly darker brown. The coffee is not actually separated; that is simply how it looks.

The Marcala's aroma is nutty, with notes of toasted marshmellow, and florals around the edges. It has many notes of a dark roast, but not the feel, texture, or personality of one. As it cools, tannins become more apparent, as does a certain wininess along with it. The palate is moderately tannic, with plenty of fruity notes, but also fairly buttery with an underlayer of light toast. The actual acidity is under control, but flavors of acidic things are dominant. The coffee is light bodied, but smooth and rich in flavor, really no more than a notch or two short of bold - and yet the light body does not seem to mind it very much at all, holding all of those notes just fine. The finish is of white table grapes and toasted marshmellow, an unlikely yet pleasant combination. It is a light and easy finish, wispy almost, quick.

The Marcala straddles the line between medium and dark profiles. It is almost as though the roast did not meet in the middle of medium and dark so much as mix and match elements of each, and discover harmony among them. For such complexity and sophistication to appear in an unblended coffee is rare, and speaks to a true roasting expertise.

The next time that you are out to pick up some coffee (or tea, wine, whiskey...) think ahead of time just how you would like it to be. By no means should you ask for a cup full of your favorite big screen comedian, as that will likely backfire in more ways than one. But think about what makes your usual preference distinct. What else may you be looking for this week? Anything? Why? Ask an expert about it. Learn something about what is out there. Experiment a little! You may find the greatest new thing on earth right under your nose, or you may discover more than you ever knew about why you love your old standard. Either way, it will make coffee better for you, more intimate, more fulfilling. Enjoy.

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