GUATEMALA San Cristobal (CHOICE)
Most look to western Guatemala for coffee, but there is something exciting to offer right in the middle of the country. Finca San Lorenzo is a 225 acre estate in the less traveled department of Alta Verapaz near the city of Coban. Luis Valdés, affectionately called “Wicho” to distinguish him from his father and grandfather who are also named Luis, has been running San Lorenzo since 1999.
Wicho started following his father around the estate when he was young and later earned an agricultural engineering degree before taking the reins. Constant rain year-round at Finca San Lorenzo creates some unique challenges. Wicho has used his life-long experience and education to overcome this obstacle. The entire estate is terraced to protect against erosion during the heavy summer rains. Wicho has also created several different drying strategies (raised beds and mechanical dryers) to cope with the unpredictability of winter rains during the harvest.
Dried parchment is taken to San Isabel, a dry mill in Guatemala City. San Isabel is equipped with multiple pieces of equipment to sort green coffee typical in most dry mills, such as, gravity beds, screens and electronic eyes. The mill also has a piece of equipment called a catadora, which is placed immediately after the dehuller and operates like a wind channel to remove broken and less dense coffee beans. Mild weather in Guatemala City provides ideal conditions for storing parchment in the warehouse until it is time to export.
You have in your hands some of the freshest roast coffee you can get, so how do you do justice to it and get the best to your cup ?
Although it can be so tempting to grind (more on that in a moment) your beans and brew up, there is some evidence to suggest that allowing your coffee to relax for about a week after the roasting date can help enhance some of the more subtle flavours, particularly in the case of those "fruity blueberry" Ethiopian varieties. It's not going to taste bad but it might taste better in a subtle way.
As with humans, too much rest can be a problem - after about thirty days from roast date your beans will start to lose some subtle characteristics. Unlike wine, if it has been resting for a year, then don't expect too much.
Yes, it can be problematic adding another piece of equipment to your already cramped counter tops but this one is worth it. You should be grinding to order as part of the coffee "ritual". Tempting though it may be to re-use a whirly blade spice grinder (often sold as dual purpose) or buy the cheapest grinder you can find, hold out for something that is at least a burr grinder (conical or flat doesn't hugely matter at this point) from a reasonable manufacturer - OXO, Cuisinart, Kitchen Aid, Baratza, Eureka are some names that come to mind.
What's wrong with whirly blade grinders ? Well, as you can tell, they resemble upside down lawn mowers and their contact with the beans is going to be random at best. You are going to get larger and smaller chunks of bean depending on the quantity and grind time. That's going to be a problem when brewing as the finest will extract quickly and the coarsest not as quick, if at all. So this results in uneven extraction which can affect the overall balance of the taste. A burr grinder, like a flour mill, is more even and consistent.
Depending on your brew method, you may want to experiment with different grind settings, usually for non-espresso you are looking for something between coarse sand and table salt. For immersion methods like French Press, usually you want to be at the more coarse end of the grind.
Taste the water you are going to make coffee with. Is it off or less than palatable ? Well as coffee is 98% water, if the water tastes bad by itself, your coffee isn't going to be great either. Use either bottled water or a filter system to remove the chlorine smell/taste that is present in many municipal water supplies.
How Much Coffee:
Try and resist the urge to use the "scoop" per cup method - grab your kitchen scales or buy a cheap one which can measure to 0.1 of a gram. The problem with the scoop is it is by volume so that can change by up to 10% depending on your grind level. The average scoop is probably 10g.
A good starting ratio is 60g of coffee per liter of water. You can make your coffee stronger or weaker depending on your taste but start there and adjust the grind if your coffee is sour or bitter before changing the amount.
If the coffee seems bitter you have likely over extracted and should grind a little coarser. If sour, you under extracted and should grind a little finer.
Filter paper or metal permanent:
A number of coffee machines now come with a permanent metal filter as an alternative to using one time paper filters. Depending on your personal ecological stance, you might prefer the reuse of the metal. This will likely result in a more "bold" coffee taste as some of the coffee oils that add "body" will not be absorbed as they would with a paper filter and will find their way into your cup. This might be suitable if you like a lighter roast but may get too heavy with a darker roast. Try and avoid reaching for the sugar or creamer to compensate if a paper filter would save the day.