Honest Coffee Roasters out of Franklin, Tennessee, have released their first Top Hat Series coffee and it’s two varieties of coffee from the same farm, processed the same way. I think comparing coffee this way with as many variables controlled as possible is the absolute best way to understand how changing things changes the coffee in the cup, so let’s take a closer look at the Villa Sarchi selection from Top Hat Series #1!
HONEST COFFEE ROASTERS TOP HAT SERIES #1: COSTA RICA VILLA SARCHI
I reviewed some of Honest Coffee Roasters’ coffees earlier this year and I was really impressed, so I was excited to receive this cool-looking gold box with two coffees inside! For this special series, HCR decided to use two varieties of coffee from the same farm, processed the same way, to highlight their similarities and differences. The coffees come from Finca Sircof where Marcos Oviedo, his father and a couple of workers manage a 10-hectare farm and specialize in honey process coffee. Honey process is an “in-between” between natural and wet/washed process coffees. After picking, honey coffees are run through a depulping machine that removes their skin and some of the mucilage, a layer of sweet, mucilaginous liquid that feeds the seed we call a coffee bean. The beans are dried with this “honey” layer intact, giving them more fruitiness and body than they would get if fully washed, but also retaining more clarity of flavor than if dry/natural processed. For this series, Honest Coffee Roasters selected a Catuai and Villa Sarchi lot, stating that the Catuai is “more rounded and sweet” while the Villa Sarchi has “more fermented flavors such as balsamic.”
For presentations, the two coffees are sealed in separate 4-oz nitrogen-flushed bags and contained in a cool metal tin. Nitrogen flushing is a type of modified atmosphere packaging wherein the air in the bag is flushed out with nitrogen when it is sealed up. This creates a lower-oxygen environment that should greatly decrease how much oxidation the beans will undergo. According to HCR, this keeps their coffee fresh 100 days past roast, so if you’re looking for a unique gift for a coffee nerd on your list, then buy now and save $5!
I decided to start with the Villa Sarchi variety. I don’t think I’ve ever had a 100% Villa Sarchi selection. I used my usual 1:16 pourover ratio of 28g of coffee to 450g of water in a notNeutral Gino pourover. I also used a Handground grinder on the 3.5 setting. This made for some lively cups of this coffee and HCR wasn’t kidding about that balsamic note! Wow!
Once the coffee cools to a reasonable drinking temperature, there is a lemony type of acidity that dominates the cup and pairs with the balsamic-like fermentation to create a unique and, in my opinion, really delicious flavor. I don’t want to call this note “sour” or “tart” because I know what a turnoff that is for most people, but there really is a bit of tartness to this flavor note. There is plenty of sweetness in the cup, too, to offer some balance, but the main note in this cup is that balsamic tone I mentioned. In the immediate aftertaste the balsamic character is more of a traditional ferment note, and I know between the balsamic tartness and the ferment I’m not doing a great job selling this coffee, but I personally love both of these flavors and I’m really digging this cup!
This is a singularly unique coffee. With notes of balsamic vinegar and citrus tartness and a healthy dose of ferment in the finish, it’s unlike any coffee I’ve had before. While it’s not as in-your-face as the Limoncillo Funky Natural I reviewed early this year, I think it’s just as “out there!” No doubt, this is a weird coffee, but that’s why I like it so much, too! We have this great shop here in town that sells uniquely flavored olive oils and vinegars and this cup does remind me a lot of the lemon and strawberry balsamic vinegars we get from there! I could see how this selection will probably not appeal to every coffee drinker, but I absolutely love the ferment and the balsamic tartness, too. I can’t wait to break into the Catuai and taste how much different it is!