First Published - May 12, 2014
So 2014 was the year that Dave Jameson, our Key Account Exec, got bitten by the competition bug. From judging at UKBC, guess where he went next?
The seed of an idea…
In the evenings after judging at the UKBC Superheats in Birmingham I was chatting to Steve Partridge from Sanremo about judging and how it had improved my skills as a barista, just from observing and analysing the performance of others. Eventually it dawned on me that just as judging baristas improved my performance as a barista, performing for judges would only improve my performance as a judge. I mentally made the decision to compete at some point, although I was thinking UKBC in a couple of years – maybe.
The idea grows
The previous week I had been fortunate enough to be invited to a presentation at our roastery given by Pascale Schuit, our Sustainability and Relationships Manager, and Graciano Cruz, owner of HiU coffee and the Emporium and Los Lajones farms which we source coffee from in Panama.
The presentation was so inspiring and eye-opening, you can’t help but be impressed with the work that these guys do. Central America traditionally uses the washed process to extract a hard, dry bean from the sweet, pulpy, grape-sized coffee cherry. This involves a lot of water, and a fermentation stage that accentuates the acidity but doesn’t particularly enhance the sweetness of the coffee.
Graciano had a vision to use natural processing, a style typical to Ethiopia in Panama. He grows fast-growing bamboo alongside his coffee, and this can be harvested and used to construct raised beds for drying coffee cherries with the pulp and skin attached. This method intensifies the sweet fruity flavours of the coffee and delivers a very unique flavour profile.
He also innovated a hybrid processing style – the Honey process, where the skin is removed from the cherry, but the mucilage (think grape flesh, if we’re following a similar analogy) is left on as the bean dries. This further intensifies the sweetness in the coffee and means that Graciano’s farms, and the other farms he has helped with his work at HiU coffee, are some of the most environmentally friendly in the world.
Before I knew what was happening…
These two events had no link in my brain, but when I received an email from the SCAE UK Chapter announcing that registration for Coffee In Good Spirits was now open, I registered almost immediately, with little or no thought to what I would do, other than knowing I wanted to use a Graciano Cruz coffee and a Scotch Single Malt Whisky! The competition itself involves making a designer drink of your own design and an Irish Coffee, containing only sugar, whisky, coffee and cream.
So after that rush of blood to the head that led me to sign up to this competition, I then had to work out what I was going to do! There are so many different coffees to use, and so many different spirits that randomly chosing was never going to work, and it would be impossible to compare a Gajah Mountain Sumatra paired with Laphroig against a Xejuyu Guatemala paired with a Dufftown Glenlivet.
Choose your weapons
The first decision I wanted to make was coffee. I already knew I had a great story to tell with Graciano Cruz and his naturally processed coffee from Emporium and Los Lajones in Panama, and I a colleague of mine, Tom, had made a drink using Emporium Caturra Microlot, Panamanian Rum and Honey at a recent event. I thought this might be a good approach to the competition – the rum being from Panama (like the coffee) and the introduction of honey to mirror the honey process which Graciano uses – so I ordered some rum and whisky samples from Master of Malt to experiment and see how they worked.
I initially picked three whiskys, all single malts. Two were from Scotland, and one Irish. Of the whiskys I tried, one stood out – Dalmore 15 year old. It is aged for 12 years in American Oak Bourbon Casks (as is normal for Scotch Whisky) and then for 3 years in 3 different Sherry casks, Apostoles, Matusalem Oloroso and Amoroso. This adds a great sweet spicy flavour to the Whisky, and when combined with an Aeropress of the Emporium Caturra it is like a mince pie with buttery pastry! Add a layer of spiked double cream, and it acts like brandy butter. I could not believe just how good this tasted when I tried it!
Sadly the rum did not fare so well. I found it sickly and unappealing, and my fundamental dislike of rum was a bit overwhelming! So I left it aside and kept experimenting.
I asked my brother, a former bartender, for some cocktail recipes to complement the flavour notes of orange, vanilla, strawberry and chocolate which came from the coffee.
He suggested several, of which two stood out as real strong contenders. Basil Grande is muddled strawberries and basil leaves, with Chambord, Grand Marnier, Vodka and Cranberry juice. I thought it would work without the vodka and using brewed coffee instead of cranberry juice. I thought of the defining characteristic of Cranberry juice, acidity, and thought if I did a short contact time, for an underdeveloped brew I would be able to replicate that experience.
The second was an Orange Custard Martini – Grand Marnier, Kahlua and Advocaat – yes, Advocaat – shaken over ice. Instantly ditching the Kahlua for espresso seemed logical. Next: more testing.
In his next post this week, Dave tells us about his time trials, and the recipes that made the cut.