The wisdom of OneNinetySeven’s Tanzania Mbinga

A 12oz. bag of coffee can last a long time. Doled out to mostly one drinker here at DofA world HQ, 12oz. can last…well, honestly, it can last a couple weeks. Even slightly more. Which puts any given coffee past (sometimes way past) a respectable expiration date. It can leave my cupboard overflowing with a multitude of coffee bags as it becomes a mini time capsule of coffees past. To be honest, I usually only avoid the “time capsule” when the budget is stretched, forcing me to dig a little deeper into the calendar and justify that next bag purchase by proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the most current bag has nothing left to give.

It’s a rare coffee that can deal with the time well, developing a minimum of off flavors and sometimes gaining or revealing some interesting flavors unavailable when inside the generally accepted 10-day zone of coffee deliciousness. The majority of the time capsule coffees I’ve tasted get worse. A select few, though, get interesting.

Keeping a bag around for its full life-span, from full to empty, also gives me time to hone in on the perfect combination of variables, finding the magic combo of grind, time, water temperature, method and technique that results in a cup I think represents the best that a given coffee can taste on a particular brew system, a sort of wise old cup gained from experience.

I mention all of this because I kept OneNinetySeven’s Tanzania Mbinga around for what amounts to eons for coffee, the longest since a bag of  Ritual Roaster’s Finca Matalapa La Cidra, El Salvador a couple years ago. Alternating it with a couple of bags of Intelligentsia, gifted to me by a generous barista here in Oakland (you know who you are [hat tip]), I was enjoying cups of the Mbinga for about three weeks. OneNinetySeven’s Tanzania Mbinga is one of those coffees. It ages well.

The young Mbinga: fragrant grounds of dark brown bread and brown sugar, the cup full of grilled peaches, anise and a pleasant cranberry-like acidity.

As it aged, I found the flavors mostly dulled and coalesced into a simple few key components. It never tasted bad, just simpler and subdued. The acidity waned, escaping to the background, the fruit became mellower while the brown sugar gained prominence, even while it too slowly morphed into a quieter version of itself. Pleasant throughout.

I used a Hario V60 the entire time and settled on a recipe that uses…

  • 23g of coffee at a finer grind than I normally use in the V60 (the 1st “fine” marking on my Capresso Infinity grinder vs. the 3rd)
  • 430g of water at 92°
  • A flat grind bed
  • :60 pre-infusion
  • A little swirl action at the beginning of the pour but slow, gentle and straight down the center for the bulk of it

Now, I’m not saying you should start looking for old bags of coffee. Not unless you have a thing for torturing your palet and throwing away hard-earned cash on what will mostly be terrible coffee. But, if you have to keep a bag around for a significant amount of time, you can’t currently do much better, I would think, than to pick up a fresh bag of the Tanzania Mbinga from Eric at OneNinetySeven, either from his site or at his weekly gig at the Rogue Café on Saturdays here in Oakland. It’s enjoyable the whole way through, from the first bean to the last.

A bag of Mbinga


2 thoughts on “The wisdom of OneNinetySeven’s Tanzania Mbinga

  1. yep, this is true. especially if the coffee’s been kept in a sealed bag with most of the oxygen pushed out. certain coffees can age pretty well–flavors aren’t even necessarily less intense but they are less complex.

    ecco’s last yirg, for example, was straight-up lemonade after a month of just hanging out. pretty awesome.

    1. Interesting. Makes me wonder how well OneNinetySeven’s Yirg would fare a few weeks out.

      It also makes me curious about what, beyond storage methods, makes a coffee able to age well. What, if any, are the commonalities between coffees that, three weeks past roast date, are still mighty fine drinking.

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