I by no means claim to be a coffee expert. Quite the opposite, actually. I am an average girl who loves to drink coffee and started this blog because I was sick of going to the same coffee shop every day. For me, coffee is a combination of the drink itself, who you share it with, and the accompanying aesthetics of a coffee shop. This is why baristas tend to hate me, because when it comes down to it, I know very little about the coffee making process itself... but, not anymore.
Coffee god Joel Finelstein, founder and owner of D.C.'s own roaster and coffee house Qualia Coffee, shared with us a pointer or two about coffee roasting, brewing, and drinking. During the event we tasted three different types of coffee, all roasted in-house at Qualia Coffee in Petworth. Each of the coffees we tried had its own distinct characteristics ranging from color and size of the bean to the flavor, aroma, and body of the coffee itself.
The first thing Joel mentioned about coffee that it's extremely responsive to oxygen. Qualia Coffee prides itself is selling freshly roasted beans and is aware that coffee has a quick shelf life. Each bag of beans sold at Qualia Coffee has its roasting date stamped on it to make sure customers enjoy the coffee at its prime. Beans reveal their best flavor 24-48 hours post-roast and have a five day peak. After five days, oxygen has seeped into the bean tainting the unique flavors and characteristics of the coffee. See, look at that. The fancy baristas have nothing on me anymore.
Let's move on to the tasting. We tasted three different types of coffees, each with its own personality.
1. COSTA RICA TARRAZU
The first bean we tried is from Costa Rica and can be described by its brightness. As the coffee hits the your palate in different places it slowly reveals the different complex flavor of the coffee. As the coffee cools, the flavor sees even more changes. This coffee was rich in citrus undertones and had a light body. The aroma was weak, maybe a slight hint of caramel, but I could be making that up. Joel credited its weak aroma to the process in which the beans were sent. The beans were shipped using a wet process instead of drying the bean before shipment, which usually results in a stronger scent. I wasn't a huge fan of this coffee, pretty much because I hate things even remotely reminiscent of citrus, but it definitely has a bright flavor to help you wake up at the beginning of the day.
2. ETHEIOPIA SADAMO ARDI
This second cup was by far my favorite! The Ethiopia Sidamo Ardi coffee was DELICIOUS! It had a distinct cherry aroma and a much stronger scent than the first cup. While I feel the flavor was less complex than the first, I thought it was stronger and bolder with chocolate undertones. The body of the coffee was also more dense, carrying the rich bold taste all the way through.
To be honest, I would compare the first Costa Rica Tarrazu coffee to white wine, and the second Etheopia Sadamo Ardi to red wine. Both good in their own right, but I'll take a flavorful and bold glass of red over white any day.
3. FRENCH ROAST
During the tasting Joel made a point to say that the flavor of coffee should come from the bean itself rather than the roasting process. To prove his point, he had us compare a French Roast to the earlier two coffees and I instantly tasted a difference. It was bad, very bad. The beans themselves smelled amazing and I wish I could keep a bowl in my room at all times, but after tasting this I wouldn't want to brew them that's for sure. The French Roast had little actual flavor and all I could taste was smoke, and not in a good way. I couldn't even finish this cup.
After the tasting, Joel went on to do a brewing demonstration and I FINALLY learned the proper way to use a French press, which came in handy during Sandy. I left the event a caffeinated catastrophe and finally know a little something about the coffee making process. That isn't to say I'm going to base my quest for the best coffee shop in the District on the flavor of the coffee alone, because while flavor is key, it isn't the only thing that goes into a good cup.