13 June 2006

coffee. coffee. coffee.

coffee, like chocolate, cocaine, and alcohol, is a substance once considered by wealthy Europeans to be a mind-altering drug-like treat. and this is still the case. some of these substances have been regulated, others like coffee, have not. Sam and I are culturally if not physically dependent on coffee for our daily routine, and thus it is central to our lives.

point one: peets sells the best coffee in the known universe.
this is perhaps the one ultimate, unassailable truth. we know this. and so we are faced with the ultimate dilemma: is it okay to pay 50% of the cost of the coffee itself to have it shipped to you overseas? especially as, along the way, one loses one of the key elements of peets' greatness: freshness? and so we entered the experimental phase of our journey.


  • to determine if a coffee comparable (not of course equivalent--see point one) to peets exists closer to home
  • coffee must be 100% Arabica beans, with no Robusta beans
  • coffee must be dark roasted, but not Italian or French roasted. no smokiness
  • coffee must be fresh enough such that packaging it in a canister or vacuum sealed container would be impossible due to the gassing of the coffee as it sits [by impossible, she means that the canister would explode, SC]
  • coffee must be balanced in taste, and although we do not dictate the region of origin, we will look spuriously upon 100% Latin American beans
  • deviations from these criteria may be made, but more than one deviation is ill-advised
  • entire experiment must include multiple alliterations

  • procure samples of the best coffees that meet most of the parameters in whole bean
  • make americanos (natch) with each sample
  • taste while hot
  • analyse and beat analysis to death
  • see point one.
Coffees tested:
  • Caffe New York EXTRA: 100% Arabica, good roast, good smell, best of the ones we tasted. A bit bright for our palates (we like the indonesian coffees) but a good blend, complex in front and back of the mouth and none of that harsh Robusta flavour. great crema for a 100% Arabica (robusta beans = crema, but they also =crap taste). cost: about the same as shipping Peets over. hm.
  • Arabicaffe Mediterraneo: no indication of robusta content, tasted fairly robusta-free. good looking beans (dark, a bit oily), but not as complex as the New York EXTRA. a bit light on the body, so there's nothing on the back of the tongue.
  • IZZO Espresso Napoletano: promising, in a paper bag (meaning potentially fresher) but no oil, not as dark as one would like. tasted good, but robusta beans got in the way, adding their acidy, almost artificial scent to the edges of the tongue. IZZO makes 100% Arabica, but only in a tin and we could only find a kilo-at-a-time. not good for testing at that rate.
  • Costadoro Master Club: 100% Arabica, but roast was incredibly light. no oil in evidence. they advertise light in the description as well, which means it's mostly Latin American beans, and thus none of the body we're looking for.
  • Mokaflor Chiaroscuro: 100% Arabica, and they list the origin of the beans, including some from Guatemala (the best region for coffee with some body in the Americas) and some Ethiopia Sidamo! very exciting. plus, the name is cool for us art historian types. result: crushing disappointment. more chiaro than scuro.
  • Arabicaffe Supermiscela: we didn't taste this one because it smelled bad. that's a sign of a truly bad coffee. [I mean, it smelled really terrible, like strong chemical cleaning agents, SC]
Bottom line: if you're in Europe and are looking for a nearby source for passable coffee, and your taste tends towards the peets, then Caffe New York EXTRA is a good choice, but not much cheaper than flying over your beloved peets from the homeland. folks in Europe value their crema, so they tend to put robusta beans in their espresso blends, which is counter to the quality parameters peets (and incidentally, Starbucks) follows. Europeans also tend to like a lighter roast, or at least they affirm it as a legitimate option, which it is not, in our book. so. looks like we'll be funding the USPS for a while longer, and continuing to ask our lovely visitors from the homeland to bring peets with them, evincing strange looks from customs officials and leading to conversations like this one:

customs: how long were you in Amsterdam?
Jeff: about an hour on layover from the states.
customs: why are you bringing coffee into the UK?
Jeff: have you tasted the coffee here?
customs: fair point. move along.

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