Thursday, August 16, 2012

Farewell my Special Geisha

The last cup.  With Madame de
Pompadour in the background
All good things have to come to an end, and Esmeralda's involvement in my life was no different.  It was too good to last, and from the very beginning, I knew this day would come.  But before she left, she gave me one last sip of her sweet nectar.

It was bittersweet.

The coffee, that is.

Still beautiful - still looking a stunning dark chocolatey colour with bubbles of freshness and swirls of flavoursome oils; with a fragrance that was a subtle aroma of sweet cocoa with something more that was ephemerally unidentifiable; a rich, smooth, thick texture; and fresh flavours displaying the bright and cheerful, bubbly citrusy notes I've come to know and love, underlaid with soft caramel, but with a very subtle coffee bitterness starting to show through.  Maybe Miss Silvia over-extracted.  Maybe it was my conflicted emotions affecting my perspective of the flavours.

But a great cup of coffee nonetheless.

Farewell Esmeralda.  Until the next roasting ...

Monday, August 6, 2012

Esmeralda Special Geisha Caballeriza - sublime Panamanian coffee

Have you ever tasted the delights of a Special Geisha?  Well, me neither, so I woke up today all happy, feeling like I was a child again and it was Christmas morning; bursting with anticipation and excitement.

Esmeralda, my exotic mail-order Panamanian Special Geisha, was arriving this morning.  Hailing from the Jaramillo region, some 1,500-1,650 metres above sea level, she even came with a certification of quality from the Rainforest Alliance.

While I waited, I busied myself with making Esmeralda's new home presentable - I gave Miss Silva a good back-flushing and topped her up with fresh water, cleaned out the grinder and wiped down the bench top.

At around mid-morning, the Express Post delivery man dropped off Esmeralda at my front door - nestled in a little cardboard box for protection during her flight from Sydney.  Finally!

Esmeralda's heady scent just made me want to keep inhaling it: dark, rich cocoa with some ephemeral candy-like notes.

Eventually, I had to bite the bullet and put Esmeralda through her paces with Miss Silvia.  The first taste of this sweet nectar had to be perfect, so I didn't take any chances, pre-heating a cup with hot water and then temperature-surfing Miss Silvia to get it hot and heavy.

Ground reasonably fine - with a setting of 5 on my Sunbeam Cafe Series grinder - in an 18g double-basket with a light but firm tamp, making the cup of espresso was a joy to behold.  Thick, oily nodules of dark, glistening liquor began to drip slowly out of the twin fonts of the portafilter 5 seconds after I switched on the water, and when I switched it off at the 25th second, the cup contained a perfect compact shot of beautifully rich, dark espresso, swirling with flavoursome and aromatic oils and sporting minute bubbles testifying to the freshness of the roast.

The coffee was delicious - a rich cocoa nose with slight florals ("florals, WTF?" you ask? Yes I kid you not!), followed by a seamless, smooth and sublime taste experience of fresh, bright flavours: my favourite citrus notes in the forefront but not overpowering; a soft, slightly sweet back note; both of which were bridged by a creamy, rich coffee flavour (it is coffee after all!) accompanied by hints of caramel.  After the finished cup had been sitting on the counter for an hour, I couldn't help myself and had to have a sniff - it was surprisingly sweet: the caramel was dominant now, akin to the smell of brown coffee crystals.  In case you were wondering, no I don't have sugar in my coffee - it interferes with the complex flavours and there is enough innate sweetness in good coffee anyway.

Esmeralda Geisha - one of the most hyped-up coffees of the 21st century.  Oliver Strand of the New York Times' T Magazine Ristretto blog describes it as the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti of coffee. Ah yes pinot - another one of my loves. Also with those beautiful candy-caramel notes in the bouquet and flavour. But I digress.

I discovered this coffee on the Campos Coffee website last week.  Normally, I refuse to buy coffee beans online, because no website ever guarantees the freshness of the roast, or tells you when the beans have been roasted (more than 3-4 weeks old and the oils start to dry out, leaving a hollow, one-dimensional shadow of the freshly-roasted version).  With the Geisha, it's different.  They roast a new batch every Thursday to fill orders on hand, and then express post it out within hours of roasting.  Being on the other side of the country, I didn't expect to receive my Geisha on Friday, but my hopes were rewarded when it turned up on Monday, 4 days after roasting, a perfect time to start savouring the coffee and to track the evolution of its flavours over the next week or so.

But is it worth $45 for a 250g bag? I don't think you can think like that. Is a Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti worth $10,000 a bottle? It's a slippery slope; I for one could not prove that the incremental superiority in quality over another good quality coffee corresponds to the incremental increase in price point. It's more like an exponential curve, if you really wanted to be mathematical ... ish. Ultimately, it comes down one of market forces and supply and demand - there is a tiny supply of these beans available to a global market and there is always someone out there who has no price limit. Campos had to pay the price it paid to secure them for Australia, and good on them for taking the punt. It's the Geisha rule: if you want to enjoy that sweet nectar, you gotta pay. Worth a try? Certainly. Will it become my daily coffee of choice for years to come? Maybe when I start drinking Romanée-Conti every night with dinner ...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hennessy Cognac comparative tasting: VS, VSOP, Fine de Cognac and Diptyque

What do you do when you find yourself home alone on a cold winter's night with nothing and nobody to keep you busy?  Why, you pull it all out, of course.  I meant my 4 different varieties of Hennessy cognac - I don't know what you were thinking and don't really want to know ...

I happened to have a VS, VSOP, Fine de Cognac and my remaining Diptyque sitting in my maxi bar at home (no mini-bars in this house!), so I decided to give my Riedel Hennessy Cognac glasses a whirl, and the picture says it all.

Unsurprisingly, the VSOP's deep caramel colour is darker than the VS's glowing caramel hue, probably due to spending longer in the barrel.  The Fine de Cognac, on the other hand, was a pale straw-gold.  The Diptyque was almost similar to the VS in colour, but lighter by a shade or two.

I found the bouquet of the VS and VSOP difficult to distinguish from each other, both biscuity wood and spice, although the VSOP proffered some molasses-caramel notes.

The Fine de Cognac was day to their night - a floral, ephemeral bouquet one which one wouldn't be surprised to find on the neck of a beautiful woman.  Or maybe I'm spending too much time with my liquor ...

The Diptyque on the other hand was the stand-out, and so it should be for friggin' $250 just for a little 500ml bottle (my other bottle - it is a "diptyque" after all - was a casualty of last year's birthday party when someone mixed it with lemonade as a failed cocktail idea, and didn't even finish it - my fault for bringing it out at the end of the party, I guess).  Rich, soft, velvety and almost hinting at turkish delight, with exotic spices binding it all together.

The VS was delicious - all fresh wood and spice with sweet grape undertones, then moving to a more syrupy, sweet finish with warming spices on the back palate.

The VSOP actually sported a stronger, more robust flavour, displaying more wood up front with the spice taking a subtler back seat, and finishing long with an almost minty after-taste.

The Fine de Cognac, on the other hand, came across as a sweeter, flowery, almost syrupy flavour, but with lots of fine underlying spices which come to the fore at the back.  In fact, there were some microseconds that I could have sworn I was tasting a fine Speyside.  Interesting.  My mate Angus the cognac and cigar fiend (known to down a bottle and smoke 5 sticks in one long sitting of poker) reckons it's too sweet.  Well, compared to the others, yes it seems to come across as too sweet, although I suspect that there is more sweetness in the VS and VSOP, but that sweetness is counterbalanced by the strong wood and spice flavours, so you don't really notice it.

The Dyptique was clearly the most refined and flavoursome of the lot.  Well-balanced big up front flavours of velvety, rich wood and spices, with a grapey sweetness that does not overpower the other flavours.  The finish is also more flavoursome than the others, a complex mix of a different aspect of the same flavours I experienced up front, gradually fading into a beautifully complex aftertaste, again reminiscent of a fine whisky.  Very interesting indeed.

So there you have it.  Different styles for different tastes, although it seems that if you're just indulging in casual cognac drinking, you'll quite happily enjoy the VS (and save a shed-load of money in the process).  Of course, if you have time to sit and savour and reflect on the sublimely complex and balanced flavours of the Ditptyque, or just like to indulge in gratuitous wank and have money to burn, then the Diptyque is the one to get.  It also comes with a friend, but unfortunately, I can't remember how that one tasted.