This is a quick review of Compelling & Rich’s Zinfandel Barrel-Aged Loma La Gloria coffee because I had just a small sample that was included in my order of the excellent Kenya Karimikui and Compelling & Rich has sold out of this coffee, too! Never fear, though, Kian is working on a barrel-conditioned coffee as we speak, so keep your eyes peeled for that. This coffee retailed for $19/12oz bag and I received a gratis 35g sample with another order.
This coffee is from Finca Loma La Gloria is El Salvador and was aged in a cherry wood barrel that had contained 2009 Zinfandel from Elyse Estate in Napa Valley, CA. This washed coffee is Red Bourbon varietal grown between 1350-1770masl in the Quezaltepeque region at the center of the country. This farm sits on a volcano and you can taste volcano in every single sip of this coffee! (just kidding, but volcanic soil is supposed to be pretty good stuff). The farm is run by Anny Ruth Pimental, whose family owns Finca Loma La Gloria, and there’s a fantastic article about her and the farm on the Spro Coffee website. The farm has a great reputation with green buyers.
I had no idea what to expect with this coffee as the other barrel-aged/barrel-conditioned coffee I’ve had was River City Roasters Colombia Supremo in oak bourbon barrels and the bourbon was the primary player with extremely in-your-face flavors. I didn’t think a wine barrel conditioned coffee would be as aggressively flavored but I really had no idea. I guessed right.
Lots of coffee roasters have been playing with liquor and wine barrels for the past few years and it’s a bit of a trend in the coffee community right now. The idea most likely came from coffee’s pals in the beer business, who have been going absolutely bonkers for barrels of all types for years. It makes sense for coffee because pre-roasted coffee soaks up flavors like a sponge. The process of barrel-aging or barrel-conditioning is that pre-roasted, “green coffee” is put in the barrel for a period of probably 1-5 months in most cases. The beans have to be watched pretty carefully because the inside of these barrels can get relatively humid and cause problems, so this isn’t just a “set it and forget it” process. Green coffee is notorious for absorbing flavors, much to the disappointment of importers who will find that the beautiful coffee they bought at origin tastes like the burlap sacks they were shipped in, or the chemicals that the coffee was in a container with as it came over on the boat!
In this case the conditioning is very subtle. I would go so far as to say that if I didn’t know this coffee was wine barrel-conditioned I would have never guessed. Whereas the River City coffee was dripping with flavors from the bourbon barrel, this Compelling & Rich example is the exact opposite… the wine barrel was used to enhance elements of the coffee in a subtle way without becoming the primary player.
I liked both coffees for the opposite reasons, but I’m a little torn, too. On the one hand, barrel-conditioning adds cost and so these coffees will be a few dollars more to buy than their unconditioned counterparts. From that perspective, I want to be able to taste what my money paid for. At the same time, while I enjoyed River City’s bourbon-barrel coffee, it was super aggressive and was more like a dessert coffee that you may have once in a while for something different whereas with Compelling & Rich’s Loma La Gloria you could easily drink this everyday since the wine itself is really not apparent.
According to Kian’s website, “the effect of the wine barrel aging adds ripe fruit notes, intensifying the raspberry acidity up front leading into a sugar cane sweetness.” So, the barrel is used to enhance the coffee rather than add a separate flavor to it. True to that, I found this coffee to be nicely bright with a jammy acidity (definitely a berry-like acidity rather than the citrus that was bursting from Compelling & Rich’s Karimikui). I got a raspberry-blackberry flavor in the aftertaste, which was subtle but lingering. It’s a really nice coffee and super easy to drink from freshly brewed until it was at room temperature.
A subtly infused coffee like this has to start with a good coffee bean because the barrel isn’t adding more flavor as much as elevating what is already in the coffee. It’s nicely roasted and the flavor profile is clean, sweet and bright. I think the only “problem” with this coffee is that if someone is buying it thinking it will have obvious wine notes, they’ll be disappointed. Once I got over the idea of looking for wine notes in this coffee, I enjoyed it immensely and just like with peach flavors, if you can get raspberry and blackberry notes into it, even if just into the aftertaste, I am probably going to be a fan!