Carta Coffee Merchants offers 100% Kona-grown coffee from Hawaii. Like much of the coffee from Hawaii, it is roasted somewhat dark, so I was excited when a box unexpectedly arrived from Hawaii containing Carta’s new Meridian lighter roasts. Links are below, including my initial reviews of Carta’s darker standard offerings.
CARTA COFFEE MERCHANTS MERIDIAN ROAST 100% KONA
Carta Coffee Merchants was founded by California wine-guy, Scott Burr. Enamored with Hawaii, and coffee, Scott bought a small 6-acre farm in the Kealakekua district of Kona and established Nolyssa Farm (named by mishmashing his kids’ names). Carta uses coffee grown at Nolyssa as well as sourced from other Kona growers, but it’s all grown right there in the soil of Hawaii. The kind folks at Carta Coffee Merchants sent me three samples of their coffees earlier this year (links up top!): their “traditional” (which is a washed/wet process coffee), natural “Latitude” and peaberry offerings. Like pretty much all of the coffee I’ve been exposed to from Hawaii, it was roasted dark (grounds were just about Oreo cookie level of dark), but they were well-done dark roasts and I enjoyed all three coffees. Yes, as a specialty coffee guy, I like to taste origin in every sip, but I can also expand my consciousness enough to enjoy a well-crafted dark roast, too, and Carta’s coffees certainly qualified as such.
Not too long ago, a box from Kealakekua arrived unannounced here at World Domination Headquarters and it contained some samples of Carta’s new Meridian coffees. They included a bag of the Meridian Roast, which is available in a 6oz bag for $24 or 12 oz for $45, as well as the coffees from their Side By Side (SBS) Tasting Sampler. This SBS features Carta’s “Latitude” coffees, which are their natural process offerings. The sampler includes one 6-oz bag each of Carta’s natural process coffee roasted their traditional darker way as well as the Meridian lighter roast for $47. The lighter Latitude natural is not available for separate purchase yet, so if you want to try it you’ll need to buy the SBS Tasting Sampler format.
Carta says that the Meridian Roast is, “the lightest blend in the portfolio” and it consists of coffee from Nolyssa and other Kona farms. They say to expect, “notes of citrus flower and fruit” and “bright acidity tempered by the deeper, earthier nuances of hazelnut, dark chocolate and subtle smoke.” I was a little surprised opening up my bags of coffee because the Meridian Roast and lighter Latitude natural have a ton of oil on the surface of the beans, implying that they made it into second crack or beyond. The beans still had some color to them, but by contrast the dark Latitude roast had darker beans but more of an oil sheen rather than a heavy oil gloss like the lighter roasts. I have to say I was a little disappointed because I still haven’t found a truly light roast from Hawaii yet, but I think I will have my hands on some just after the new year, so stay tuned on that!
Without being able to compare the Meridian Roast with their darker profile it’s impossible to do a comparison. As you’ll see when I tasted the SBS sampler literally side by side, a lot of nuances were made apparent. Nonetheless, I still consider this to be a pretty dark roast by specialty coffee standards. There’s a reason Hawaiian coffees are usually roasted dark and that has to do with their market. Dark roasts sell to people buying gifts and souvenirs, they play nice in Mr. Coffee, and I suspect the high amount of Japanese tourism to the state has colored the coffee profile, too. Sure, there’s a massive specialty coffee/light roast renaissance going on in Japan today, but traditional coffee there is dark, so it makes sense to roast for what appeals to the market.
I used my standard 1:16 ratio of 28g of coffee to 450g of water in a notNeutral Gino pourover using a Handground grinder on the 3.5 setting.
As such, there is a lot of roast notes in this cup. I did get some hints of citrus in the front end and finish of each sip and so a bit of the acidity peeks through. The roasty notes add some smoke to each sip but, like what I found with Carta’s dark roasts earlier this year, the roast isn’t very “edgy” and is not harsh, which can easily happen with darker roast profiles. This is a sweet cup and it would appeal to any dark roast lover. It has some additional nuance compared to Carta’s darker roasts and it’s a very pleasant drinker all the same, however I would still put this solidly into a “dark roast” category. It’s just that their standard roast is even darker. I like a well-crafted dark roast, like I wrote earlier, and this one qualifies, for sure. It’s sweet, clean, doesn’t have any fish odors to the beans (that happens with a lot of dark roasts and it NEVER converts into the aroma or flavor in the cup… I’ve had some REALLY fishy coffees and you can’t taste or smell it at all in the brew) and it’s just tasty!
SIDE BY SIDE TASTING SAMPLER – LATITUDE NATURAL PROCESS
I think if you really want to get the most out of these coffees, this is the way to go. Sure, the sampler is two bags of coffee, so it’s more expensive, but they do a nice job packaging them for a gift presentation (important this time of year!) so this is a no-brainer for any Hawaiiphile on your list! Drinking these two coffees separately on different days didn’t give me nearly the experience as drinking them side by side at the same time, which brought out a lot of nuance.
For my comparison, I used a 1:16 ratio of 28g of coffee to 450g of coffee. For the dark roast I used my notNeutral Gino and for the lighter roast a Chemex with the same ratio. I used a 4 grind setting on the Handground grinder and I poured them both at the same time, so they started, finished and cooled at the same time. I know the pourover device and filters are responsible for some of the differences, too, but I wasn’t going to buy a second Gino just for this! LOL
When I drank the Latitude lighter roast alone, my notes read, “still very oily beans. Raisins and dark fruits in the brewing aroma. More fruitiness coming through than I remember. Lot of roast, nuttiness and chocolate/semisweet choco character especially in the finish. A little more harshness/bite to the roast character than I remember.Not sure about citrus notes, hard to say what I’m perceiving for fruit, but it’s light and complements the roast and nut/choco flavors well. A little citrus and berry ferment at close to room temp that I really like.”
Side by side, I got a lot more out of both coffees..
You can link to my original review of the Latitude natural dark roast at the top of the page for more complete notes on that coffee. Carta’s website says to expect, “earthier, deeper, smoky tobacco notes balanced by notable, yet smooth acidity.” For the new lighter roast, they say, “higher citrus notes, citrus blossom, tempered by light earthiness and nutty character.” The aroma on the dark roast was definitely a lot more solidly “roasty.” In the cup I was getting tons of roast in the aroma as well as very sweet ferment that reminded me of the aroma of canned blueberries. The Meridian natural also had a ton of sweetness in the aroma but more fruit notes, too. At warm temps the lighter roast’s roastiness was a tad harsh and I also noticed some berry flavors. To contrast, at warm temps the darker roast was pretty much just a solid wall of roast and smoke and it was comparatively quite “carbony.”
As the cups cooled I noted that the lighter Meridian roast created a bit of a sensation on my palate that I described as a bit of “puckering” or “tightening” of my taste buds, especially in my cheeks. So, when tasted side by side, I could literally feel the acidity of the lighter cup compared to the darker cup. As the cups cooled further this difference became more obvious and I could definitely appreciate that the acidity was higher in the lighter roast and was certainly of a citrus character. I didn’t get this at all drinking this same coffee alone, so the side by side comparison really helped pull this contrast forward. The darker roast was just sweet and smooth and roasty at cooler temperatures and it also lost some of that hardness to the roast character. It mellowed out nicely as it cooled. I picked up some candy-like fermenty berry notes in the finish and aftertaste on the dark roast. It was a little caramel in the sweetness as it cooled, too. As I drank these two coffees the analogy of roasting marshmallows popped into my head and I think that works really well for these coffees, actually! The lighter roast was like a toasted, browned marshmallow in its sweetness and roast notes while the darker roast was like a marshmallow that got blackened in some spots… still sweet and pleasant to eat, but with a lot more of the roast coming through.
I was a fan of Carta Coffee Merchants’ Kona coffees the first time around and I still am today. My overall impression is that you’re buying one bag of their coffee, it’s a flip of the coin whether you pick one of the darker roasts or go with the lighter Meridian. Enjoyed alone, they read quite similar for the most part and I consider them both to be dark roasts for all intents and purposes. If you are going to buy more than one bag, though, definitely by the SBS sampler because a lot more nuance and contrast comes out, and these coffees end up being quite different when you can compare them the way I did. Hopefully Carta will release version 3 sometime soon with a city-City+ roast so we can taste all origin and minimal roast, but until then, these are nice coffees and a great way to enjoy the flavors of the islands in a high quality, well-crafted format!