I got tremendously backlogged on coffee reviews at the beginning of 2015 and this is one of my last for the excellent Portland roaster, Case Study Coffee Roasters. Both of these coffees are still available from Case Study (but not for long!), and if you are out of town you can call them on the phone and order coffee to be shipped. Today’s review is of one coffee processed two different ways: natural and washed. I believe each coffee is available for $18/bag and I would highly suggest you order both coffees so you can compare them. It’s not an everyday occurrence to be able to taste the very same coffee from the same plants on the same farm, just processed differently, and these are two completely different coffees in the cup, so take advantage of the rare opportunity if you can! Here are two blog posts Case Study did about these coffees: Effects of Processing on Flavor and From Fruit to Seed.
These coffees are from Nicaragua’s Finca Los Congos which can be found near the town of San Fernando in Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua. This region is just over the border from Honduras (which is on the other side of the mountain from this coffee farm!) and sits at an altitude of 1550masl. This is a preferred coffee growing region in Nicaragua and the Honduran coffees from the other side of the mountain are also well-regarded.
These Los Congos coffees are both the pacamara varietal, a hybrid that thrives at high altitude that is thought to have originated in El Salvador. What strikes most people when they see pacamara coffee seeds is how big they are. They are huge! I compared them to some other coffees and the pacamara seeds were almost 3-4 times the size of the caturra found in Novel’s Cielito y Maria and about twice the size of Case Study’s Toarco Tana Toraja coffee, a big bean in its own right! These things are massive.
I brewed these coffees using the Gino pourover dripper and I first brewed them back-to-back and drank separate cups at the same time, comparing each one back and forth, and then I had them on their own, separately at later dates. I am a sucker for natural processed coffees so I figured I would prefer that one of the two. Interestingly, when I tasted both coffees side by side the washed/wet processed version of the Los Congos was the clear “winner” (really I was the winner because both coffees are great in their own ways!). When I drank them on their own, however, I leaned toward the natural!
Comparing the visuals of the coffees, the beans were about the same size. The natural process had a bit of a reddish hue to them and looked smoother and drier. The naturals were also almost completely free of parchment while the washed coffee seeds still had a bit of parchment stuck in the groove down the center of the bean. The natural had the expected jammy, fruity, berry aromas coming strongly out of the bag, too.
When brewed the aroma from the washed Los Congos was chocolatey and with noticeable coconut (which I seem to be smelling in coffee a lot recently…). The natural had berries and also what I thought smelled like coconut, but it seemed more “synthetic” than the coconut I smelled in the wet processed coffee.
I was blown away when I tasted the washed coffee because there was a huge flavor of sweet watermelon right in the front. I couldn’t believe it at first and thought my brain was playing tricks on me, but it persisted throughout the cup and it was awesome! It died off immediately on my palate, but each sip had this quick flash of watermelon that was great! It had nice body to it and a very long, lingering aftertaste that was pleasantly bitter. The washed coffee seemed “smoother” or silkier in the mouthfeel than the dry processed Los Congos. As the cup cooled it developed into sweet chocolate and roasted nut flavors with a bit of lemon-lime in the high notes. The acidity was noticeable but not harsh and it gave nice balance to this coffee. Overall a clean profile that developed favorably throughout the cup’s cooling.
The natural Los Congos was super fruity, with the berries sticking with the flavors throughout the cup’s cooling. The fruit/berry profile was strawberry with something else that isn’t super-sweet… maybe blackberry. The aftertaste wasn’t as long as the washed coffee’s and the natural seemed to fall off my palate more quickly. There were floral notes in the finish. The natural Los Congos seemed less sugary-sweet than a dry-processed Ethiopian coffee, for example.
Case Study actually served this coffee three ways in their Portland coffee shops earlier this year and you could get a flight of the Los Congos as a natural processed coffee, a washed coffee, and as a cascara. Cascara is a tea (really a tisane, but you get my drift) made from the dried skins of the coffee cherries. I have only had one cascara myself, from Portland’s Red E Cafe, so I have no expertise in that drink, but what a FANTASTIC opportunity to try everything, literally, that a coffee has to offer! Wow!
I don’t know if Case Study has any of the cascara left but it never hurts to ask when you call them to order. These are both fantastic coffees, handled extremely well by Case Study, and I hope you can enjoy both of them as much as I did!