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Coffee and Wine – Ultimate Twins?

February 11, 2017 17 comments

img_7157I know that many of the wine lovers live by the principal “coffee in the morning, wine in the evening”. The sad part is that for many, coffee is just a source of the jolt, the charge for the day, so it is expected to be strong and bitter, to deliver that “wake up punch”. But it is not what the coffee should be – while coffee bean has no genetic relationship with the grape, spiritually, it offers the same qualities: it can be as nuanced as wine, and should be consumed for pleasure – I’m also assuming here that this is why one drinks wine, looking for pleasure.

Before I will make an effort to prove to you my “twin” statement, I want to mention first that this post is also an answer to the last Weekly [Wine] Quiz #122. The object in the picture is coffee – these are so-called coffee cherries, and the coffee beans are inside of those cherries. Red coffee cherries are the ripe ones, and once they reach that color, they will be picked – but more about it later. For now, I’m happy to say that we had a number of winners – Kirsten (The Armchair Sommelier), Bill (Duff’s Wines), Anthony (Oz’s Travels) and Danielle (Naggiar Vineyards) all correctly identified coffee cherries in that picture – congratulations to the winners, you all get the prize of unlimited bragging rights!

The reason coffee came to the forefront on the wine blog, is simple. Well, it is more than one. First of all, I love coffee. Growing up, I was spoiled – not with the best coffee beans necessarily, but rather with one of the very best preparation methods for the coffee – so called Turkish coffee, where the coffee is made without letting the liquid to boil. Second, I just came back after spending the week on Hawaii’s Big Island, a home to one of the very best coffees in the world – Kona coffee. See, I simply had to talk about the coffee.

So what is going on in the coffee world today that it starts resembling the wine world so much? You be the judge:

Terroir and Origin Protection.
There is a growing understanding that similar to wine grapes, it matters where the coffee beans are growing. Hawaiian Kona region is a 26 miles stretch of land along the coast of Pacific Ocean, with the elevations from 800 to 3000 feet above sea level. All Kona coffee can be harvested only within that stretch of the land – any addition of the coffee beans from outside of the designated borders will render the whole batch of coffee not eligible for “100% Kona Coffee” label. Jamaican Blue Mountain designation has similar protection, as I’m sure many other places around the world.  img_7161

Ancient trees.
In winemaking, “old vines” refers to the vines which can reach the age of 100+ and still produce delicious grapes. With proper care, coffee trees can do the same – the ones you see below are more than 110 years old (planted in 1900), and they are expected to produce good fruit for at least another 20 years:

coffee trees

Vintage designations, aging and blending.
An absolute majority of the wines specify their vintage on the bottle, the year when the grapes were harvested, and we all know – vintages matter, not all vintages are created equal, by the powerful hand of Mother Nature. I never heard of vintages in conjunction with the coffee – until now. If any of you are Nespresso fans, there is a good chance you recently received an email, offering Nespresso’s 2014 vintage (!) – here you can find the description of that coffee. I will take a liberty to quote a few lines from the description:

Nespresso experts selected promising fresh Arabica beans from the lush Colombian Highlands and stored them under certain controlled conditions to create a whole new sensory experience” – aged for 3 years.

“Nespresso experts selected a more sophisticated split roasting technique. One part of the beans was roasted lighter to protect the specific elegant aromas of these precious coffee, and the other part was roasted darker to reveal the maturity of the taste and enhance the richness of the texture” – blending!

Harvesting by hand.
Kona coffee is always harvested by hand. The major difference here, of course, that during the coffee’s growing season, which is typically July through February, the coffee is harvested 4-5 times,   were in most cases grapes are harvested only once. Nevertheless, the Kona coffee is harvested by hand, picking only red ripe coffee cherries and leaving greens to continue ripening in the cluster.

coffee berriesI hope you see my point about similarities between coffee and wine, and I think coffee producers are only starting following the steps of the winemakers – for instance, I’m sure we will see more single cru designations for the coffee, more blending and more aging. While production process of coffee and wine are very different, the similarities conjugate again in a major way once the final products reach the consumers. Both coffee and wine deliver pleasure. And it is all in the taste – the nuanced, seductive goodness, which delivers excitement to the taste buds and challenges the brain.

What is uniquely different between coffee and wine is what happening with each product in the “last mile”. The “last mile” literally non-existent in the world of wine – once the wine lands in the hands of the consumer, it is necessary only to open the bottle and enjoy. Yes, the consumer still can affect the taste – try rich California Cabernet served ice-cold – you will see what I’m talking about – but still, the consumer actions are minimally impactful around the wine.

With the coffee, it is a totally different story – even if properly roasted, the coffee still has to be prepared by the consumer, and opportunities to totally destroy the taste are boundless. But – this probably deserves its own post (or two).

That’s all I wanted to share with you for now. Are you a coffee drinker? Do you drink it only for the jolt, or do you actually seek pleasure in that cup? Cheers!