Case Study Coffee Roasters, with several locations in Portland, Oregon, hold a special place in my heart. Social media did what it is supposed to, in this case, and shortly after I started KC Coffee Geek, I had the opportunity to travel to Portland for work. As I reached out to some of the local roasters and shops there, I got a very warm welcome from Case Study Coffee Roasters and met one of their then-directors, Emily, who hooked me up with an amazing bag of their coffees to write about and gave me the low-down on where else to go in Portland. As someone who was just getting their feet wet in coffee, I felt like a superstar whenever I dealt with Case Study Coffee Roasters and it was a good feeling! On the few occasions I’ve made it back to Portland, I make sure I always have time to stop in at one of their cafes and their coffee is consistently excellent. When they reached out to me recently to see if I wanted some of their recent offerings to try out, of course I said yes!
The first coffee we’re looking at is their natural Pacamara from Finca Los Congos in Nicaragua. As of this writing, Case Study aren’t doing online sales on their website, but in the past they said just to call the number on the site and that they can take orders over the phone and ship them out. I hope that still stands true! I don’t have a price for you on this one, but their coffees are competitive with what you’d expect to pay from other specialty roasters, so I’m presuming this is in the $16-$20 range per bag (I could be way off, though). If you’re a hardcore KC Coffee Geek reader you may remember that I wrote about this coffee in March 2015, too, also roasted by Case Study Coffee Roasters, so here’s the link to that if you’d like to re-visit it!
Case Study have a direct relationship with Cafe Vidita, the family-owned business that owns and operates several farms and mills in Nicaragua. Their story starts over 70 years ago, when family patriarch, Jose Rene Paguaga (Don Rene, as he’s known), started helping on his father’s coffee farm. By 1979 Don Rene had expanded his business to several farms and a dry mill, and then civil war came to Nicaragua. The corrupt radical government seized the farms and mill and Don Rene escaped the country with his family to ensure their safety. When things calmed down in Nicaragua, he came back and, in his 70’s, started all over. 1 Finca Los Congos is one of the Paguaga’s farms, established in 1997. It’s located in the Nueva Segovia region of Nicaragua. The farm sits at 1350-1600masl and much of it is left undisturbed as a habitat for wildlife, including the farm’s namesake monkeys. Los Congos has a great reputation in specialty coffee, winning many awards. Because they grow three varietals using washed, honey/pulped natural and natural/dry processing, Finca Los Congos is a great farm to work with in order to showcase the importance of varietals and processing in flavor. 2
And that’s exactly what Case Study Coffee Roasters have been doing for the past couple years. They even showcase drinks using Los Congos’s cascara, a “tea” that is made using the discarded coffee cherry skins. It’s a pretty unique opportunity to be able to have, in this case, a Pacamara from the same farm, same trees, only one is washed and one is natural processed and even be able to taste the cherries themselves in the cascara tea! It’s a great idea and Case Study have mastered the art of presenting this type of tasting to their customers in special events.
So, let’s look at this coffee. Today, I’m drinking the natural version of this Pacamara. Pacamara is hard to mistake as anything else… the beans are simply gigantic, usually about twice the size, if not more, than a normal coffee bean. It’s cool to see and when it comes from a farm like Los Congos and then roasted by a company like Case Study Coffee Roasters, you know you’re in for a treat. The dry fragrance on the beans in the bag is like a melange of berry cereals, like Frankenberry and Booberry. It’s sweet and sugary and fruity, right in the bag. If it was polite to do so, I’d rig up a feed-bag situation like horses use and just clamp the bag onto my face so I could walk around smelling it all day. It’s that good of a fragrance!
As the coffee brewed (I used my usual 1:16 ratio pourover in the notNeutral Gino with Kalita 185 filters) it was putting off this sort of funky, pineapply aroma. In the cup, this coffee seems to be pretty consistent this year as with last year, based on reading my previous review of it. The aroma from the cup is sugary and caramelly with hints of fruit. It has a relatively light body and a short aftertaste, especially for a natural, and I found that last year, too. There is some very light citrus acidity on the front end of the cup and the fruit notes that come from the processing take over more on the back end of the sip. This is not a sugar bomb like some African naturals can be. It’s quite restrained in its sweetness, although it’s still a sweet cup no doubt. The flavor is quite complex. There is a bit of milk chocolate in there for me and the aftertaste has a bit of funky pineapple (by “funky” I mean a bit of ferment, like fruit that is maybe a day or two over-ripe… this is a flavor that is sometimes not well-liked by people who don’t like naturals, but I love it, even when it’s turned up to 11 like in the case of Golpie’s Funky Natural pacamara from Nicaragua). There is a touch of berry in this fruitiness, too, maybe more strawberry than anything else. The finish is quite dry and the aftertaste is there but doesn’t last super-long. Like I said, this is a light coffee for as complex as it is, and for the fact that it’s a natural, which often have heavier bodies.
This is a great coffee. I loved it last year and I think I like it even more this year. It has unusual complexity and dimension for a natural, which can often be sort of one-trick ponies, but there’s a lot of flavors happening in this cup to explore and think about. At the same time it’s delicious, sweet, balanced, juicy and drinkable, too. Another top-notch job! Excellent. Get it, if you can, and I’d say you’d be smart to pick up the washed version, too, so you can compare the two!