Surprise, surprise and surprise…and surprise…

Have you ever had sour worms? They’re a type of candy (not a stomach ailment). They’re like gummy bears only in worm shape. They’re also like other gummy worms but have ascorbic acid added to them. You can tell the difference between the two just by looking at them. The regular gummy worms are slick, shiny and colorful. The sour worms, on the other hand, are matte, the bright colors of the normal worms being muted by a thick coat of ascorbic acid powder. You know ascorbic acid as Vitamin C but you also know it as the tartness in orange juice. And, oh yeah, I hear it also has antioxidant powers.

Kids love ’em. Why worms? I dunnow. Probably the gross-out factor in part but it’s also, in the case of the sour version, a test of fortitude. Because they are sour. They pucker the mouth. They’re incredibly sharp on the tongue. They’re food as physical experience in much the same way that hot, spicy food is. Spicy burns. Sour almost tingles. It’s actually quite fun for a time. But, as with all things, excessive consumption of the sour worm only leads to harm. I know. It happened to me. At a movie theatre. Sour worms from the bulk candy bin. Soooo goooood but what at first was a pleasant experience ended up costing me dearly. Its as if someone had taken a little Dremel tool with a sander tip to my tongue. It literally took me days to recover as my taste buds regenerated themselves out of the wasteland that all of that ascorbic acid had created.

Worms…and coffee?

Why, you might be asking, am I bringing up a terrible candy experience on a blog devoted to coffee? Well, for one, because this, my friends is a tasting note on a Costa Rican coffee and, because my unfortunate experience with sour worms is good analog for my past experience with the coffees of Costa Rica. In my experience, Costa Rica is the sour worm of the coffee world: pleasurable at first, tongue destroying in the end. Even in milk, once, in a takeaway au lait from the Blue Bottle Kiosk in Hayes Valley, that Costa Rica acidity reared its ugly head. Traveling through San Francisco on foot, cup in hand, I only got as far as Market Street before my tongue was begging me to stop. Add to Costa Rica’s brutal acidity, a lack of anything else of much interest – at least anything else of much interest that has the power to shine in the face of such an overpowering flavor component – and, yeah, you could say that my experiences with Costa Rican coffees have been a tad negative.

I’m all for surprises though.

The head roaster at Ritual Coffee Roasters recently made a “trip to origin” to Costa Rica ((A “trip to origin” is a trip to a country – and many times, more specifically, a farm – that produces green coffee. When I hear it mentioned it is, many times, spoken of in tones normally reserved for a sort of pilgrimage. For those that really care about coffee it is that important. I understand that the sheer volume of information gained by traveling to origin can be mind-boggling.)). That Ritual had gone through the effort of sending their head roaster to the country was a strong signal, to me, that there may be some Costa Rican coffees showing up at Ritual in the very near future. I’ve had very good luck with Ritual, especially within the last year. I’ve been impressed with both the variety of coffees – the whole bean coffee shelf at Ritual is an ever changing feast of coffees and countries of origin – and the quality and depth of what’s on offer. And so, I decided I was willing to give Costa Rica another try should the trip result in Costa Rican coffee on the shelves. My tongue was ready. I steeled myself for the pain to come.

And I was right. On my next trip to Ritual Roasters, on the shelf was a Costa Rican – Los Chacónes Organic Costa Rica – challenging me to make good on my promise. There was but one thing to do.

Bringing it home, I subjected the Los Chacónes to the usual round of preparations on hand at the Daniel of Arabica Laboratories© (AKA, the kitchen of our apartment): the press pot and the chemex. I added to that bunch of preparations one more method but I’ll get to that in a bit.

With my nose in the bag, the whole beans had a zesty, spicy fragrance: salt, lime, cayenne. It was the same with the grinds only more intense.

In the press pot

First up “in the lab” was the press pot. There it was. The acidity. But, wait. This isn’t bad. My tongue isn’t threatening to cry for mercy. My mouth isn’t puckering up. This is…nice! Lime, lime, lime in the acidity. That lime-like acidity became more intense as the cup cooled but it was still absolutely pleasurable. In the aroma? Sweet chili. I couldn’t get hot sauce out of my mind. It was the aftertaste. It was the way the spicy and almost savory feeling and flavor stayed in the mouth. And a nice, thick body.

In the Chemex

Next? The Chemex. I think I’ve mentioned before, how my prejudice of the Chemex has given way, of late, to a genuine respect. Paper filters, to me, had always meant a dulling of flavors when compared to the press pot. But the Chemex defies the presumption that it is, in any way, like your everyday, run-of-the-mill paper cone filter preparation. The Chemex can coax flavors out of a coffee that you would never find in the usual paper cone filter method or when solely sticking with the press pot. In fact, I’ve found some coffees that, while certainly good in the press pot, simply come alive in the Chemex. The Chacónes was one of those coffees. Indeed, it didn’t just come alive. It exploded. Mustard seed and dill in the aroma. It was dry. There was a fragrance of fennel that lingered in the mouth; green, vegetal, round and soft. Cranberry and orange peel cropped up in the acidity. There was a certain fresh spiciness to the cup. In fact, in the Chacónes’s characteristics of spice and fruit it reminded me, surprisingly, of some good Belgian White Ales I’ve had, which are traditionally made with coriander and curaçao orange peel.

This time, in the Chemex, the acidity was more persistent, staying on all through the coffee’s time with my pallet. Once again, though I was pleasantly surprised at how the acidity of this Costa Rica was a complete 180° turn from the carnage inducing acidity of the Costa Rican coffees in my past. I was truly surprised at how much I was enjoying this coffee.

Cold brew

There was one more method I added to the mix this time: cold brewed iced coffee. If you are at all interested in cold-brewing iced coffee, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. There are many, many resources to be had on the web so I won’t delve too deeply into the different ways of cold-brewing here. It’s incredibly simple, though. Here’s the short version of the method I used:

  • 1 cup of coffee beans, ground coarse, as if for a french press.
  • 4½ cups cold water.
  • Combine and stir
  • Leave in the fridge, covered, for 12 hours.
  • Drink.

It’s that simple. I put the Chacónes in the fridge at 10:30 at night and took it out at 10:30 the next morning. And man, was it tasty. Smooth and full-bodied. Fruity (cranberry again). There was this nice hit of acidity right after the brew hit my pallet that welled up and then disapperard as fast as it came, only to be replaced by the body, the subtle sweetness and that intriguing cranberry fruitiness.

Qué sorpresa!

So, what have I learned from this? Second chances can be a good thing. A name is just that: a name. Put the Chacónes and a Costa Rica from my past experience together and I would not have guessed they were of the same origin. Hmmmm…what else? Oh yeah, I actually like a coffee from Costa Rica! Qué sorpresa, indeed.

Where can I get me some Chacónes?

Places I know you can get some:

You can also try their other retail locations in Napa, at The Oxbow Market and their other San Francisco inside Flora Grub Gardens.


5 thoughts on “Surprise, surprise and surprise…and surprise…

  1. I thought you might want to add the step “strain out grounds” before “drink” in your cold brew section.

    That said, I have to agree with you about this Costa Rican. I have never been a big fan of CR coffees. Like you, I found them too bright. But this one was excellent and the cold brew iced coffee was amazing. Refreshing and delicious!

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