Carta Coffee Merchants is a new coffee company based out of Hawaii and owned by wine entrepreneur, Scott Burr. Scott bought a small coffee farm in Kona which produced its first harvest last year, and he also sources coffee from other Kona growers and sells it under the Carta Coffee Merchants brand name. Last week I looked at Carta’s Latitude, a 100% Kona natural process coffee. Today we are looking at the “traditional process” or washed/wet process version of Latitude. You can buy the washed version of Latitude for $43/12oz bag (or $22/6oz bag) directly from Carta Coffee Merchants. You can also buy a gift version containing a 6oz bag each of the natural and washed Latitudes packaged together for $47.
To review coffee processing briefly with you, remember that coffee is a fruit, with a cherry that grows on a tree. It’s the seeds inside the cherry that we refer to as coffee beans. There are lots of ways to process the cherries to get those seeds out, dried to the proper level, and then further prepared for what will eventually be roasted and sold to you. The two main types of processing, though, are “natural” (aka dry process) and “washed” (aka wet process). It’s a little unfortunate that Carta refers to their washed Latitude as “traditional” process since that’s not really a term used by the coffee industry, and, if it were me looking at a shelf of coffee in a store where I didn’t see the Latitude Natural Process bag nearby, I would actually think “traditional” meant “natural” since it’s the more traditional way of processing coffee! I can only imagine this was a marketing decision as the term “washed” seems to imply that anything that isn’t washed must therefore be “unwashed,” but I think it adds to an already confusing nomenclature for consumers who want to buy coffee, not be nerds/geeks.
Nonetheless, washed coffees like Carta’s “traditional process” as a whole (and these are very broad generalizations, keep in mind) tend to be a bit lighter in body and have “cleaner” flavors without the ferment and overt fruitiness associated with natural coffees. That being said, you can extremely fruity flavors in washed coffees, but they tend to be cleaner and brighter.
As with the natural version of Latitude, the washed version is roasted darkly, well into second crack, and this is definitely a coffee for those who prefer dark roasts. My only contact with Carta Coffee Merchants has been through their hired marketing firm, so I have yet been unable to figure out who roasts Carta’s coffee for them, but it is well roasted as far as dark roasts go and that’s easier said than done.
Overall, this is a fine cup of dark roast coffee. It has nice cocoa and caramel notes along with a slightly smoky roastiness, but that’s about it. And, frankly, those are the flavors most dark roast drinkers like and want to find, so there doesn’t need to be much more in the cup, does there? For as dark as this roast appears visually, it’s not burned tasting nor does it have any of that metallic drum flavor that commercial dark roasts are so well known for. It lacks the harsh “edge” that dark roasts can sometimes pick up and it’s a nice, easy-drinking cup of coffee. There is very little perceived acidity in this cup and really no fruity notes that I was picking up. It’s a lot of caramel, especially as it reaches room temperature (where I really enjoyed it the most, but that’s common for me) and a chocolatey/cocoa-y finish.
If I had to choose between the two Latitudes it’s a tough choice. On the one hand the natural process version had some dark fruitiness to it that gave it character and substance and complexity that the washed version didn’t have, but at the same time, the washed version has nice sweetness caramel and cocoa flavors and is a very easy drinker. Again, if I put myself in the mindset of, say, someone who’d just spent a week of blissful fun in Hawaii and I was looking for a bag of coffee to bring home to extend my trip a little ways, I think I’d be happier with the natural Latitude since it is different. My only “criticism” of this washed version is that for a premium price of $43/bag it doesn’t really taste much different than a $12 16-oz bag of one of D’Amico’s coffees. Again, this is the value argument… what makes Carta’s 100% Kona offerings “worth” the price? That question can only be answered by the purchaser, although the reality of growing coffee in the USA is having to pay higher wages to workers, and that’s a big part of the price. The relative rarity is another consideration.
But, all that being said, this is another nice and easy coffee from Carta Coffee Merchants. I still lean toward the natural and if you’re on the fence, I’d buy the sampler and get a 6-oz bag of each to try.