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- Commercial grade coffees for your cupping contemplation
It seems like a bad idea to sell bad coffee on purpose. But here's the story behind it...
I was sitting around with a bunch of roasters and coffeeshop owners, bemoaning the low coffee market prices, how it hurts farmers, lowers coffee quality, and ultimately hurts the entire coffee trade. Some people profit in the short term, but these are big companies that use coffees actually priced at New York "C" market levels. When the coffee market dips, their retail prices don't follow. As a group, the roasters and cafe people I was chatting with hadn't dropped prices much either, because we don't buy cheap coffee, and we don't pay low prices.
My idea was for coffeehouses to offer a free taster cup of market grade coffee next to theirs, and let people decide for themselves what they want the coffee farmers of the world to grow. Well, there were no takers, except me of course. When I can, I buy a cheap crappy coffee and offer it for whatever we pay for it. This is and "educational experience" so we linit it to 1 lb. because I would rather be hung by my toes than seriously sell unscrupiously cheap coffee, the kind that is breakling the backs of repectable coffee producers throughout the world.
Now, for a caveat --- it is actaully hard for me to get coffee as bad as the kind many big roasters use. These coffees often come in polyethylene "super sacks" (they are not even worth putting in a burlap bag), and they are sometimes not even whole seeds, but broken bits called "triage coffee." They often contain moldy beans, lots of dead "black beans", and a lot of rocks and sticks. Large roasters use equipment called destoners and scalpers to remove foreign matter from ultra cheap coffee. So what we offer here is the lowest grade coffees I can get from the port of Oakland without buying supersacks. Another fact: many cheap coffees originate with old, past-crop green coffee. So not only is it bad, its not from the current crop. There are coffees in warehouses in New Orleans... I have seen them ... that are 5, 8, 10 years old! These coffees are traded over and over again without ever being roasted. These are commodity coffees.
I have modified the idea of our Thumbs Down to include Specialty Coffees that are sub-par. The intention here is to offer a "calibration coffee" that reminds us how good our "usual" home roasts are, that there are really awful coffees being offered out there with all the same markings, in the same get-up, as good lots but they are as abyssmal as cheap dreck.
Our Unroasted "Thumbs Down" Coffee Offerings: Please refer to our Reference Page for definitions of terms and cupping numbers used below.
We are currently out of stock. The review below is provided for your reference.
Here is a very controversial coffee, because it flies in the face of tradition. Hmmm... flies might actually like this coffee! I know I hate it. Why? This is a full natural, a dry-process coffee, from Hartmann farm in Panama. It's non-traditional dry-process, and not really a typical dry-process that you would find from regions that DO have a dry-process tradition, like Harar and Sidamo in Ethiopia. I noticed in my travels that rarely do dry-processed Centrals get thoroughly dried ... they have more of a raisin-like, soft skin when the whole cherry is intact, and the colors of the parchment layer inside is a deep red-yellow. Ethiopia naturals are dried until the pod (the whole intact coffee cherry after it is dry, with the green bean "seeds" still inside) has a very hard shell, and I know this influences the coffee flavors as well. If you can't dry a whole coffee cherry quickly, things get musty. The Hartmann's called this (scrambled) WCB, which was supposed to mean World Champion Barista, because they wanted the Panama competitor in the WBC to use this coffee. Right now, it's the last coffee I would run as espresso; too fruity, medicinally so. But the thing that really sent this lot over the edge was the packaging. It wasn't dried well, and wasn't fully dried (I believe) when they packed it in mylar non-vacuum packing bags. I believe in Grainpro liners and VacPack 100%, but only when it is right for the coffee! Dry-process in impermeable bags is do-able, if the coffee is really well rested. Here is a textbook example of a coffee NOT to put in a barrier bag. It's is also a great example of dry-process you might find from Brazil or Ethiopia that was not processed well. Maybe it rained on the coffee on the patio, re-wetting it. Or it shipped without resting. Or the container was waylaid in the tropics for a few months! This is also a flavor found in some low-cost commercial coffees. Anyway, coffee cuppers and home users should know the difference between fruited coffee, and fruity-musty coffee like this. Here's your chance to learn! The dry fragrance of lighter roasts gives you an indication, there is definitely a musty odor in there, along with fruity-pulpy scents. With darker roasts, you can convince yourself that this coffee is passable ... well, at least for about 2 seconds. The aftertaste will let you know, this is not a clean coffee flavor profile.
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We are currently out of stock. The review above is provided for your reference.
|A note: Sometimes people want to order our Thumbs Down selection to test out a roaster. They don't intend to drink the coffee. Well, this is not a great idea since the roast characteristics of the coffees I chose are not ideal, and your goal is to roast GOOD coffee, not just turn coffee brown. Coffee itself is a part of your roast system. Good high-grown coffee takes on and distributes heat differently than lower grown or defective lots. Would you install a sub-par thermal control on your roaster to test it? Would you install a motor that you know doesn't have the right RPM? Coffee is an integral component of the roast process, just as there are mechanical components. So I highly suggest buying an economical good coffee so you can see proper roast development. Also, we do limit this to 1 lb. because I don't exactly want to be known in my trade as a guy buying awful coffee! Also, we offer this coffee at cost, which is below what a good Sulawesi costs, so we just can't actually sell coffee like this and expect to stay in business. This is offered, altruistically, for the education of the palate.|
Past "Thumbs Down" Selections:
What is bad coffee? Have we become so spoiled by great lots that we forget how good our home roasts are? What part of the picture might be eluding you, Mr and Mrs. Home Roaster, from the perspective of a buyer who must cup many awful coffees to find a gem? Well, it's not exactly like that ... let's say that I cup many mediocre and average coffees to find good ones. But occasionally I get a genuine stinker, offered to me as Specialty Coffee, that I am sure some roaster is buying as Specialty Coffee, and it is horrible. So I finally found a new "Thumbs Down" lot to provide a good "educational experience" in this respect. Indonesians range from the triple pick premium lots of Tawar, Iskandar and Blue Batak, loaded with rustic sweetness, to lots that have bittersweet earthy, to musty coffees with just rank bitterness. Technically, many coffees we accept as being "positive" earthy are in fact technically defective. But there is a consensus about "good" rustic flavors and bad over-the-edge rustic, ie: dirty swampy muddy tasting dreck. I would call it a fine line between the two, but a confusing distinction for many. So what I have dredged up, literally, is Swampy Sulawesi, a cup that perfectly embodies nasty algae-like, musty, decomposing swamp rot. Compare it to even the most funky Mandheling we stock (the "classic") or the Tawar or the Batak, or our good Sulawesi Gr. 1 and the difference will be clear, I hope. And to illustrate the point, as you sip it, consider that the seller of this coffee told me there is a roaster on the coast in California who features this as the "best Sulawesi in 20 years", letting you know what you just might get if you walk into their shop and order a cuppa. Oh joy! Seriously. it is hard to taste this coffee and chalk up the flavor to "a matter of taste". It is nasty, but necessary, to understand the difference between available Indonesia lots.
|UGH! (The coffee) - 1 Lb.|
|Country:||Guatemala||Grade:||SHB||Region:||Fraijanes||Mark:||Bella Cruz Estate, Organic|
|Processing:||Wet-processed||Crop:||2003||Appearance:||Great Euro-Prep green coffee.||Varietal:||Coffea Arabica|
|Dry Fragrance (1-5)||Okay 2.6||
Notes: We offer this coffee as an educational experience for our customers and ourselves. It's meant to introduce home roasters to the pitfalls of buying green coffee. There is a LOT of coffee out there. Just blocks from our shop are warehouses loaded to the rafters with coffee that, on the surface, all looks like it good be fine. But in fact there is very little excellent coffee (true Specialty coffee is less than 10% of the market) ... and ALL that coffee in the warehouses finds a home. There's lots of way to fudge too, to make a coffee seem like specialty when it is not. Cupping is the ultimate test, but without that you can add a few fancy graphics and a supposed farm name to a bag, and make it look really pretty. But the coffee inside is still the same swag.
Our current Thumbs Down coffee is particularily interesting to me, and challenges pre-conceptions about what is "good coffee" and what isn't. Why? Because this coffee has everything going for it. It is a fairly fresh, current crop Guatemalan coffee. It is from a true Estate: Bella Cruz. It is single-origin. It is certified Organic. It is shade-grown. It is the highest grade, SHB, Strictly Hard Bean, which means it is grown at the highest range of altitude. The preparation of the coffee is excellent, it is screened, and there are very few apparent defective beans (I rated it at .2 per 300 gram sample defects). And it's not even that the cup is that bad : it has acidity, it has a hint of sweetness, it has body. But it is not good. Not good at all. Not for a Guatemala at least (if you like coffee with off flavors you might just think it is fine!) The first hints come with the wet aroma. Smell it ... it's not that bad but doesn't it seem just a bit unattractive? It's got some sweetness and maybe a little floral, but more like a chemical smells floral than something truly attractive and enticing. Now, I don't find the first sip that bad, and I am more prone to find the good aspects of the cup at first. But as the cup cools, and as the coffee lingers on your palate, and especially in the aftertaste, well after the coffee has left your mouth ... do you get that flat, rubber flavor? There's also hay-like, straw flavors in there. When the cup is cool the aroma seems really off, and I can't get over the ultimate off aftertaste. It's just yucky. I am sure you could put sugar in it and it would be fine. I am sure this is a lot better than coffee served at many restarants and coffee shops. But that's no excuse. This is not a good cup.
|Wet Aroma (1-5)||Flawed but with some good aspects 2.0|
|Brightness - Acidity (1-10)||some acidity, veiled by baggy flavors 7.0|
|Flavor - Depth (1-10)||Some sweet and floral aspects, but off notes lingering 6.3|
|Body - Movement (1-5)||Nice body, velvety 3.2|
|Finish - Aftertaste (1-10)||Ends up with a thud- rubbery- bitter -ugh 5.0|
|Cupper's Correction (1-5)||0||Roast: This coffee roasts just like a good quality coffee should, and you can get the best sense of the flavors (good and bad) at a City or City+ roast stage|
|Add 50||50||Intensity/Prime Attribute: Medium / Tainted Aftertaste|
|Score (Max. 100)||76.1||Compare to: A quality coffee gone bad - perhaps due to bad storage conditions, transit being delayed (a container that bakes in the sun/heat at port, waiting to ship), a taint picked up on the patio, or in the dry-milling stage.|
Before this, we offered Myanmar Arabica (Burmese coffee) and a different lot of Vietnam Robusta as "bad coffee" selection as a frame of reference to which you can compare good Specialty coffee.
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This page is authored by Thompson Owen and Sweet Maria's Coffee, Inc. and is not to be copied or reproduced without permission