While I was checking out the features of the Evzdrop app last week, I wanted to revisit some shops that I haven’t been to in a while. One of those shops is just a few blocks away from my office at Northwestern University—The Unicorn Cafe, […]
Tag: Alterra Coffee Roasters
Good morning, boys and girls. I hope you enjoyed your winter’s nap. Welcome back to my table here in the corner of this cafe. We are on the cusp of a new year; we are dwellers on the threshold of 2012. Of course, a new […]
Hello all you coffee kids, and welcome to my table here in the corner of this cafe. Well, the sands of 2011 are quickly coming down to the very last granule; in a day or two, it’ll be time to, once again, flip the hourglass and get 2012 started. Over these next couple of days that remain in 2011, I’m going to be frantically scrambling to get one last review in—Alterra Coffee’s Starry Night. Since day comes before night, today, we’re going to be sampling that blend’s counterpart: Snow Day Holiday Blend.
So, take a small break from organizing your New Year’s resolutions, and feel free to pull up a chair.
It’s kind of ironic to be drinking Alterra Coffee Roaster‘s Snow Day Holiday Blend on a day like this; it is still the holiday season and all, but this season has been… unseasonable—particularly for Chicago. For instance, despite the fact that I’m drinking a holiday coffee titled “Snow Day” in very late December, the last couple of weeks have been warm and rainy. So I feel very out of place sitting here, watching the rain fall instead of snow flakes, listening to Radiohead’s King of Limbs instead of Christmas music, and drinking a coffee called “Snow Day” instead of “Rainy Morning.”
Regardless, I’ve been really looking forward to reviewing an Alterra Coffee roast for quite some time—ever since I ventured up to Milwaukee for a day trip around this time last year, really. Of course, when my cousin got a barista job at a cafe that retails Alterra, my desire to review them grew even more, but I still never got around to it. I couldn’t find the time to squeeze Alterra in my rotation even after having a coffee meeting former SCAA President and current Alterra Coffee employee, Mike Ebert!
But this holiday season, I was absolutely determined to review Alterra; especially when I learned that they were offering not one, but two holiday blends this year! And I must pause here to send out many thanks to Mr. Ebert and Alterra Coffee Roasters for the generosity and kindness of shipping me two sample pouches last week. You guys are great!
According to their website, “Every year, Alterra customers and staff look forward to the arrival of the much-anticipated holiday blend, almost as much as school kids look forward to a snow day.” If the coffee is this good year after year, it’s no wonder that it’s arrival is so “anticipated.” This year, Snow Day has components from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Ethiopia’s Sidamo province. Each of these regions is known for their very flavorful coffees, so I’m eager to see if their big personalities will play together nicely. But, before we do, let’s do a “deconstruction cupping” to see how each of these regions tastes on its own.
Alterra gets their Guatemalan coffee from a farm called Bella Vista, in the city of Antigua—a city that’s set high up in the air in the midst of three massive volcanoes. One of these volcanoes, Volcan de Agua, was originally named Hunapu—which is what some Antiguans still call it to this day. Out of respect to the volcano that destroyed the Guatemalan capitol in 1541, the farmers of Bella Vista decided to name their coffee Hunapu. This coffee is grown at elevations of 1,500-1,800 meters above sea level in (obviously) really rich volcanic soil. The result is a full-bodied coffee that lives up to its name by packing a punch of citrus, cherry, and cocoa.
Their El Salvador beans come from Finca Monte Rey—a farm that is perched at the outskirts of Bosque El Imposible National Park, one of Central America’s most important natural areas and one of El Salvador’s last remaining rain forests. This 100% organic and shade-grown coffee is grown at elevations of 1,200-1,600 meters above sea level in very fertile, tropical soil. This coffee has a very elegant flavor profile with notes of fruits, raisins, a citrus acidity and light floral aroma.
Then, of course, we have the big hitters: the Ethiopian beans. Alterra got their Ethiopian beans from Yirgachefe, in the Sidamo region. We’ve visited this region from our seats numerous times now, so I think at this point it’s sufficient enough to say that, with flavor profiles of deep, dark chocolate, citrus, and flora, Sidamo is home to some of the best and most flavorful coffees in the world.
With Ethiopia and Guatemala romping around in the piles of snow and drifts, and El Salvador daintily sprinkling bright, shiny snow flakes over the top of it all, Alterra Coffee’s Snow Day offers a very rich and rewarding holiday coffee.
First of all, the aroma of this blend is very safe, warm and soothing; very inviting. I detect wonderfully sweet notes of maple, cocoa, walnuts, and graham crackers. Even more pleasing was the faint scent of cedar. They say that scent is the sense most related to memory, and this aroma brought me back to the days of camping out in a cabin in the North Woods during the winter, roasting s’mores in the fireplace. Waking up to stacks of blueberry pancakes the next morning.
And, honestly, the flavor of this coffee isn’t so far removed from these memories.
The Guatemala and El Salvador are the first to greet the palate immediately post-brew. The Guatemala sets the stage with it small hints of cocoa powder, maple syrup, and walnuts, and the El Salvador sparkles with notes of cherry, strawberry, plum, and orange peel citrus acidity. Ethiopia provides the final act with a smooth, creamy, milk chocolate, and blueberry finish. While the three of these regions can be detected independently of each other, they also combine to create an warm and cozy, buttery waffle flavor.
Snow Day finishes nicely with a crisp, flora and citrus acidity, leaving behind a hint of astringency.
The Bottom Line
Alterra Coffee Roasters really hit the nail on the head with what a great holiday coffee should taste like. While some roasters were doing the same old thing of full-bodied, chocolate, spice, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and some roasters were going the completely opposite direction by offering really light-bodied, fruity, exotic coffees, Alterra’s Snow Day split the difference by offering a medium-bodied roast that was equal parts bold and fair—it had really rich flavors of maple syrup, walnuts, and chocolate, but also had garnishes of berries, citrus, and flowery arrangements.
Of course, now that this Snow Day is over and we’re all tuckered out from a day of fun in the snow, it’s time to get in our jim-jams, light a fire, and settle in for the Starry Night. Sleep tight, boys and girls—I’ll see you all in the morning for the last review of 2011.