Things got a little crazy at the auction for the top lot of coffee at the 2008 Guatemala Cup of Excellence. Sweet Maria's was in a buying group with the main bidder, Stumptown, and Maruyama Coffee from Japan. We had to get this coffee. But there was a powerful and unrelenting bidder out there, somewhere, someone with very deep pockets. That's where the craziness came in. And don't be shocked when I tell you it was Target. Yes ... THAT Target. Via a large roaster called CBI, Target wanted to make a statement and crash the party, get a lot of press, pay a lot of money, buy a coffee that (in my opinion) was the best Cup of Excellence lot of the season. We didn't know it then, but afterwards our group felt vindicated; we prevented the big guys from pillaging a treasured lot of coffee that each of us has bought for years and years. It was the highest CoE price of the year. Was it worth it (beyond vindication, beyond having a story to tell)? Well, when I cup this coffee I say, unequivocally, YES! This lot was prepared only from the large-bean Pacamara cultivar planted at the well-known farm El Injerto. This is a farm I visited from way back around 8 years ago, and that Stumptown has shared with us this year. Most of the coffee is planted between 1500 and 2000 meters, on a farm that dedicates a huge portion of its total land to an uncut old-growth forest. Pacamara means Pacas X Maragogype, the later being the large bean mutation that occurred spontaneously in Brazil 80 years ago. Pacas is a Bourbon hybrid that came from El Salvador in the '50s. Pacamara can be a little hard to roast due to the large bean size. I also note that this coffee passes from City+ to FC+ quickly, and with a proper rest time (72+ hours) the lighter roasts can be the best. The dry fragrance at C+ is complex, floral (violet), with layers of fruit (Rambutan, Lychee). The wet aromatics have tea, root beer and mulling spice suggestions, with some lingering fruited citrus. In the cup, the aromatic clues are realized in apple cider notes, spice (cinnamon, black pepper), sarsaparilla and a dark brown sugar sweetness that remains well into the aftertaste. As it cools there is a touch of dry black currant, mint and fig. The Injerto Pacamara is unique in the way it relates to other Pacamaras from El Salvador or Nicaragua. It's clean, sweetly fruited, spicy. Pacamaras grown at lower altitudes can be more herbaceous, oniony (salad onion or scallions usually) and a bit more muddled in the flavors ... less articulate. At FC roast the body is really velvety, with creamy chocolate truffle flavors, but the cup is less dynamic. The City and City+ roasts have a wrinkled bean appearance, not as pretty as FC or FC+, but with proper rest I think the cup is fantastic.
Update 5/27/09: I have had the opportunity to cup our Hacienda Esmeralda Gesha vac pack lots (#2, #10) from last year against the new crop, and was surprised at the quality of the '08 coffees. I took the most expensive coffee from the '09 auction home for the weekend, and brewing it every which way, I made coffee I thought was "nice" but nothing that really popped out, nothing I would pay $117 a pound for! It made me think about what I really would pay for a very special coffee, and during the long Memorial Day weekend I came up with a figure, $45 per pound, as a reasonable amount for really top notch, award winning coffee. At that rate, each cup is about $2, which seems like a fair price. And if I roasted a batch that really "nailed it on the head" and another that was a shade too dark, or too light, I wouldn't be all broken up about it. So I decided, given the fact we have a few expensive coffees in vacuum pack that are not selling in this down economy, why not have a $45/Lb. sale? We are offering our formerly $125 Panama Esmeralda Gesha Lot 2 for $45/Lb (without the pound of Lot 10 we were previously pairing it with). We bought only about 300 pounds of Esmeralda in the auction this year. We have cupped all of these vacuum pack coffees and they are fresh as they day they came in!