The Familiar Taste of… Jute?

I have a particular coworker who shares my love of coffee.  She often acts as my co-adventurer in tasting activities, but even further than that, we tend to exchange beans we find particularly good or interesting.  I was not terribly surprised when I got an email yesterday saying “I have some beans for you.”  The beans were an Indian Monsoon Malabar from Porto Rico Importing Company in the East Village of Manhattan.  I immediately tried a bean and thought “Hmm, this has a slightly strange, but familiar, aftertaste.”

This morning I tossed some in my French Press and brewed it for my morning coffee.  Again, I did not think the coffee tasted amazing, but it had this strange aftertaste that I thought I had tasted before.  At first I thought it was similar to a Sumatra’s peetiness, but it was not quite as full, and was a little muddier.

Then it came to me… JUTE.

Let me back up for a minute.  When I went to a cupping / seminar at the George Howell Coffee Company a couple months ago, one of the tastings we did was of a coffee stored in jute bags before being roasted versus the same coffee stored in vacuum-packed bags for the same amount of time.  It was truly amazing the difference between the two.  The vacuum-packed tasted fresher and more lively, but the jute-bagged tasted so familiar for the obvious reason that much of the coffee we all grew up drinking was packed this way until the last 5 years or so.  The coffee took on the aroma and flavor of its storage device.

So fast forward to April 16, 2009, I recognized that taste as jute.  Sad to say a company that recognizes itself as a specialty coffee shop / importer cannot keep its coffee fresh, but I guess if they cannot provide us with a fresh coffee,  at least they can give us a taste we all know.

Note: To give the company a little credit, on their website they do say that with the Indian Monsoon they are trying to replicate the flavor given to the coffee by Indian monsoon winds by leaving it out to “age.”  However, all that really does is give the coffee a standard jute-flavor, which is nothing special, and these days is merely the sign of a lazy importer / roaster.

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