Review: Peet’s Coffee and Tea // Ancient Abyssinia
Some coffee companies aren’t well-known for transparency. When you look at their online store and see all of their current offerings, they won’t tell you where the coffee is from, what altitude it was grown at, what farm it was grown on, what sort of processing method was used, etc.Some companies will even mask the coffee’s origin by avoiding names that reveal a coffee’s specs by, instead, labeling it with something a bit intentionally vague—like Costa Rica, or East Africa, or Los Hermanos Brasil.
To be honest, I don’t even like it when beans are called Ethiopian Yirgacheffe or Sumatra—those are very big regions.
We mostly see this with the big coffee chains, of course, but some roasters avoid transparency all together and opt for pageantry—giving their coffees names like Mystic Mountain because it comes from the same general region as Mount Kenya, or Amazon River Peaberry, or… the name of today’s coffee.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we will be enjoying a cup of Ancient Abyssinia, from Peet’s Coffee and Tea. Feel free to pull up a chair.
Ancient Abyssinia—shrouded in mystery, steeped in legendary tales and history; a lost civilization, like Machu Picchu or Tenochtitlan or Atlantis. As Peet’s says on their website: “A rare artifact unearthed from the highlands of Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia.”
Not really—just some coffee beans from Yirgacheffe.
This coffee certainly is shrouded in mystery, however, as I can’t find a single detail about it. Well, other than the fact that the coffee is from Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia. Again, Yirgacheffe is a big, big place where untold amounts of coffee are grown; telling me that a coffee is from Yirgacheffe—well, it doesn’t tell me much. And, honestly, I could have guessed that the coffee was Ethiopian just from the name that Peet’s gave it.
Ethiopia, in olden days of yore, was also referred to as Abyssinia. In fact, Kaldi, the mythical man who allegedly discovered coffee in the Ethiopian highlands, was an Abyssinian goatherder.
Peet’s says that “this coffee pays homage to that heritage,” especially to the Ethiopian ritual of drinking their own coffee. From the most modern, cosmopolitan cities to the most remote villages in East Africa, families still pan roast their beans in a wok over an open fire, grind them in a wooden mortar and pestle, and brew them in a beautiful traditional clay pot called a Jebena.
It’s all good and well to “pay homage” to Ethiopian culture, heritage, and coffee rituals, but they’re certainly turning a blind eye to the region in which this coffee grew, the farm on which it grew, and the farmers who planted it, cared for it, and harvested it. (Am I being too harsh about this?)
origin: Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia
The aroma of this coffee—whoa, man. I’m talkin’ herbal BOMB. Massive scents of oregano, cardamon, and basil. There’s a small tinge of floral delicacy, and even fainter traces of citrus and caramel; the herb smells really dominate the aroma coming out of this cup.
I’ve taken my first few sips and this is a pretty delicate cup of coffee—which is surprising, considering it’s from Peet’s, a company known for “dark roasting” (though they’ll fight you tooth and nail over that description (they prefer to call it “deep roasting”)). In any matter, this coffee is pretty green tea-like with notes of jasmine and miscellaneous cooking spices. There’s a small trace of raw cocoa nibs and cinnamon resting at the bottom of each sip—sweet and spicy, like a Mexican hot chocolate—, creating a soft bed that coats the palate and allows the lighter floral and herbal elements to come floating in over the top.
As it cools off, some sweet, tart fruitiness emerges: raspberry, blackberry, lemon, and tangerine acidity. It cools off a bit more and the tartness gives way to sweetness as a warm, creamy caramel finishes the cup off.
Full body; soft mouthfeel; low acidity; dry finish, astringent aftertaste.
the bottom line:
I have to admit, I actually liked this coffee. Much more than I thought I was going to, anyway.
It’s been a long, long while since I last visited my old stomping grounds (or, brewing grounds, rather) at Peet’s Coffee and Tea in Evanston, Illinois. In the amount of time that’s passed since I left that job, my palate became a bit more sophisticated, my understanding and knowledge of coffee grew, and my taste evolved. When I worked at Peet’s, I believed in the Peet’s doctrine—that Peet’s is the best. I was the poster boy for Peet’s.
Since I left, though, and my eyes were opened to independently-owned specialty roasters, I started to lose my affinity for Peet’s coffees. I started to recognize that Peet’s overroasted their beans, that their coffee (though not nearly as overwhelming as Starbucks or Caribou) is just too much for my palate.
This coffee, though, the Ancient Abyssinia (fancifulness of the name aside), really is pretty good.
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