Coffee Tasting: Adams & Russell; Burundi Sogestal

A balance of the classical core flavours of Bourbon coffees, together with a surprising whack of intense pepper, make for a great long cup.

Not one to be hastily consumed this coffee brings a fascinating balance of flavours with a kick of pepper in the background. An example of the great variation that can be found in Africa’s coffee crops, and worthy of taking a little time to savour. Your patience will be rewarded with a unique experience.

In More Depth

Origin: Africa; Burundi

Varietals: Bourbon & Jackson

Growing Altitude: 1,400+ MASL

Process: Washed

Tasting Notes: Pepper, Caramel and Red Fruit

The Coffee

Going back to African coffees is always like coming home for me, a long time ago I was entirely seduced by the amazing variety of flavours that the continent produces. The story of coffee starts in Africa and the mystique that comes with such a rich history would be enough to peak my interest, even without the incredible complexity of cup that the lands crops continue to demonstrate. Despite its African cultivation this coffee actually owes much of its lineage to India and the islands of the Indian Ocean. Let me explain, coffee as a plant has traveled a lot since its discovery in Africa. Once they developed a taste for it, European Colonial powers took coffee and planted it all over what is now the coffee belt, seeking to maximise growth and ensure supply of their beloved drink. This particular coffee contains two varieties who share a traveled history and a common theme of homecoming.

Let’s start with Bourbon coffee. It was the French who brought coffee seeds from Yemen to their Bourbon Island (now called Réunion Island) possession in the Indian Ocean around 1710. The birth of what we now call the Bourbon coffee variety was a tough one, early plantings weren’t particularly successful, though eventually the plant adapted and became established. Due to the particulars of its growing, and the attitudes of France at the time, the resulting plant remained on the island for a long time, no seeds were removed from Bourbon until the mid 19th century. As is often the case it was missionaries who took seeds of the Bourbon variety with them, planting them as they traveled into Africa. After a long journey the plant whose ancestors had come out of Yemen returned to home shores, forever changed. The resulting African Bourbon variety is now commonly grown on coffee plantations throughout East Africa.

As for Jackson, well this variety of coffee has, of course, its own tale to tell. The name comes from Mr Jackson, the owner of a coffee plantation in Mysore, India in the early part of the 20th century. Our coffee farmer discovered a plant among his crops which seemed remarkable in its resistance to leaf rust, a disease which is common in coffee plants. Upon making this discovery he sent samples to reputable coffee research stations in Kenya and Tanzania, where the plant was accepted as the Jackson Varietal, I can imagine he must have been rather proud of his achievement at the time. Sadly while the variety has remained in use over the years, the resistance to leaf rust slowly degenerated and finally was lost entirely, the plant is now just as susceptible as the next. Still this is one more travelled coffee, now grown in Africa, particularly in Rwanda and Burundi, which has experienced its own homecoming.


History to one side, how does it brew and taste? Well Adams and Russell have settled on a good mid roast, perhaps erring on the longer side (but that’s my own speculation, and I am as likely to be wrong as right) and produced an even roast. The aroma of the beans is rich and intense, so much so that I did actually check to make sure this was the coffee I was planning to taste when I initially opened the packaging. As ever I brewed on a V60 for balance, and looked for a grind giving about a 3 minute extraction time. The resulting coffee has a subtle aroma, in fact my wife noted it as smelling almost of nothing, and while I could detect the fruit scents coming from it, many might struggle. On first tasting I was principally surprised by the weight and mouthfeel, recently African coffees have been tending toward natural process and light body, not the case here. The mouth feel is full and has a good amount of weight, suggesting a deeper coffee then you might expect. The taste would be very much a caramel sweet one, but for the most noteworthy aspect of this coffee, the kick of pepper.

Now I am the first to admit that when it comes to tasting and flavour profiles coffee “experts” can seem rather odd, quite often the flavours we talk about are less than intuitive when you first sample coffee. Asking someone to distinguish between fruit flavours is quite the task unless the taste is particularly pronounced. But every now and then you (ok it might just be me) come across a coffee and make a note somewhere that you need to remember it for tasting classes. This one fits that bill for the taste of pepper in coffee, the spicy yet almost tobacco deep note that hits your palate really shines through, and is recognisable for what it is instantly. It’s important to be clear that this is not an unpleasant taste, quite often when you describe a flavour as being present in a coffee people raise an eyebrow over whether this can be a good thing. Trust me in this case the peppery note is very much a positive, it adds a great dimension to the drink and compliments the fruit and caramel balance very nicely. I also find a rewarding acidity in the finish, almost apple like in character, which cuts through the main body as the drink cools.

The Roaster

Adams and Russell are based in Birkenhead and have been roasting and supplying coffee for more than 40 years. Roasting daily and producing a wide range of coffees, they are an established name with a good reputation in the industry. My own interactions with them have always been great, and they are always willing to talk coffee. This particular offering has been well curated, I can imagine that finding the right roast to balance out the very distinctive favours of these beans would have been a little challenging.


Adams & Russell’s Website

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3 thoughts on “Coffee Tasting: Adams & Russell; Burundi Sogestal

Add yours

  1. Thanks Rich for the informative views on these beans. It’s always interesting to see how others perceive the taste, especially someone with an experience and passion in those matters. I tried several beans from Adams & Russel, some of them exhibited strange behaviour when extracting via espresso. I find it hard to describe the taste, because I normally detect only some aspects of, say, pepper, or apple or prune. So when I say that I detect a certain notes people look at me with amusement 🙂 Is there a document that indicates which aspects of a given item from the flavour wheel are eligible for calling that note? Or is it all a bit subjective? I taste a good amount of beans from many UK roasters, but don’t always get the notes advertised. Many roasters refuse to use the terminology from the wheel, using their own words, what are your thoughts on standardisation of the taste notes among the roasters? Should they stick to the flavour wheel? Thanks, Vik

  2. Firstly thanks for such kind words and a quality question! Some of my views on this can be found on my Coffee Tasting with a Big T article, but it’s a little limited in specifics. I’m going to say openly that this question has given me inspiration for a subject to address in the first of what will be an (hopefully) exciting new content format when Bear Essentials relaunches later this month. So I’m going to be a little bit teasey but I’ll be sure to shout you out when it lands (drop me an email and I’ll make sure you are notified!)

    But I’d hate to keep you waiting for too long so a quick first pass.

    Espresso extraction is a peculiar thing, over the years I’ve had some very different notes from coffees I thought I was pretty well “over the top of” when asked to brew them as espresso. Pressure & speed have some funny effects in the chemical breakdown, but I’m not going to address that here. Suffice to say I’m not too shocked that your experience has been this way. One quick little “hack” that may be useful to you is always stir your espresso shot with a spoon, don’t swirl but rather agitate fully. You may well have known this already but many don’t, so I find it’s always worth repeating. Crema is not actually that helpful in tasting. But that’s another subject.

    The flavour wheel is a great tool, but it is indeed sadly very subjective. With a palate that has trained to use the “common language” of the wheel, communication can be eased between various professionals. But as my article states I am not a huge fan of it in general use as it requires a particular mindset.

    Should the industry “standardise” flavour descriptions? I’m ruthlessly leaving that one to address later. Sorry/not sorry that you’ll have to wait a little while, but I hope it’ll be worth it.

    Many thanks,


  3. Also I will add that taste is massively subjective from one person to another and regarding a document to define the use of terms in the wheel, I am honestly not 100% sure if anyone has made such a thing, but will look into it for said future excitement!

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