Carta Coffee Merchants are a company based out of Hawaii that was started by 3rd generation wine-guy, Scott Burr. Scott fell in love with Hawaii and bought a small 6-acre farm in Kealakekua on the island of Kona. The farm is named Nolyssa after Scott’s kids, Nolan and Alyssa, and they celebrated their first coffee harvest last year. Carta use coffees grown at Nolyssa, as well as those from other Kona farmers, for use in their blends. Today I’m looking at Carta’s Peaberry, a blend of 100% Kona peaberries that is also a mix of natural and washed coffees both from Nolyssa as well as partner farms on the island. You can buy this coffee directly from Carta Coffee Merchants for $27/6oz or $48/12oz.
When you look at a coffee cherry (and, yes, it’s a fruit and the “bean” is the fruit’s seed!) there are usually two seeds inside. This gives coffee beans their characteristic shape, round on one side and flat on the other, since the two beans are pressed against one another in the fruit and it creates that flat side. About 3-5% of coffee cherries only have one seed inside, though, and this is known as a “peaberry.” Instead of having the flat side, these are rounder, and they are American football shaped or even round after puffing up some in the roaster. Peaberries always bring a smile to my face because they are cute as hell, if nothing else! There is a thought that because 100% of the good stuff happening inside the coffee fruit is going into one bean, instead of two, that peaberries are sweeter and better flavored than their regular counterparts, but I’m not sure how factual (or unfactual, for that matter) that is. Peaberries are commonly separated out from the other seeds, though, and are generally sold as their own lots.
Perhaps more importantly for Carta’s Peaberry blend, is that they use both natural and what they call “traditional” (washed/wet process) coffees. I reviewed Carta’s Latitude blends recently, one of which is natural process and the other washed. They are quite different coffees, with more complexity and fruitiness coming from the natural version. So, in a way, this peaberry blend is potentially the best of both worlds. Let’s have a look!
I was never able to find out who does the actual coffee roasting for Carta Coffee Merchants, but I can only assume that it is contracted out to a roaster in Hawaii. My guess would be Tiare Lani, also in Kona, but that’s just wild speculation based on the mention of that company in some articles and marketing pieces about Carta that I read. In any case, like the Latitudes, this Kona coffee is roasted quite dark. That being said, it’s a well-done dark roast, just like the others, too. I can definitely taste the presence of some natural process coffees in this one. It has a bit of that dark fruit and blackberry note I got from the natural process Latitude. The washed Kona was pretty clean and neutral flavored, mainly highlighting the sweetness of the coffee and the roast characteristics, so that makes a good base to build this blend from, too.
This Peaberry sample has a medium-heavy body with a silky mouthfeel and a long, sweet finish. There is a lot of milk chocolate as well as darkly caramelized sweetness, but it seems a little restrained on the roast characteristics compared to the washed Latitude. There is a bit of berry and fruit character from the naturals, but that is also a bit restrained compared to the fully natural process selection. As you’d expect from a dark roast this coffee has low perceived acidity and it’s very drinkable. I can only imagine it’d pair fabulously with milk. I recently picked up a “phin,” used to make Vietnamese coffee, so I am going to try this coffee out using that style, as Cuban coffee and maybe even throw it in the espresso machine, too, and see what happens!
But, as a filter coffee, which this is designed to be, I am happy with this cup. It’s sweet, clean, super drinkable and inviting, and has both what I like and some of the things I didn’t like as much from the other two Carta coffee styles I tasted. The only hang-up is really the price, and that’s economics for you. Coffee costs a lot of money to grow, pick and process in Hawaii. Workers make at least minimum wage, so it really illustrates the point about how sadly low the price is of coffee from other places in the world, largely because the cost of labor is so low. I was browsing Sweet Maria’s home-roaster selections just the other day and they have a Hawaiian coffee available. The unroasted, “green” beans are fully twice as expensive as anything else from anywhere else and that’s just the reality of Hawaiian coffee.
All that being said, Hawaiian coffee sometimes gets a knock for being “not that great” and aimed at being souvenirs for tourists. I don’t find that to be the case, at all, for Carta’s coffees. They are well-roasted, delicious coffees, so if you’re going to spend premium prices on Hawaiian coffee, this would toward the top of my list.