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
Tasting Notes: Pepper, Caramel and Red Fruit
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.
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.
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