Our new featured coffee for the last week of January is a very special one for us. Fonseca Fine is a blend especially created for the plunger and drip brew method by our in-house coffee master, Priscila Fonseca [pictured alongside her favourite companion, the French press]. This is the second blend Priscila has made for us; the first, Le Réveillon, debuted during Christmas week.
Priscila's coffee pedigree is an impressive one. Originally from Brazil, Priscila grew up on a coffee farm and began drinking the family brew at the age of 10 and "never stopped". Last year, Priscila also certified as a Q grader - a professional cupper accredited by the international non-profit, Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), to score and grade coffee through sensory analysis; launched in 2004 with the aim of improving the quality of coffee produced globally. Priscila is now one of more than 4,000 Q graders worldwide, and one of 38 in Canada.
Watching Priscila sample coffee is something of an education in itself. At many a taste testing, the rest of us will try a new offering, and, after much swilling and swirling, we might manage the following: "Yup. This is definitely a coffee." The same cup, however, can transport Priscila into realms of sensation and illumination only another schooled and nuanced palate could appreciate. She is able to identify taste notes we would rarely associate with a cup of joe, like mango, and can pick out similarities between beans from across the coffee growing world. Quite a remarkable thing when your own palate is telling you so very little.
We sat down for a Q&A with Priscila to explore some of the quirks we've noticed about her at our in-house taste testings, such as Priscila's penchant for American (lighter) roasts.
Q: Priscila, what is it with you and American roasts?
A: Well, despite the fact Brazil is the largest producer of coffee in the world, we keep mostly the "bad" and sell the good. Sadly, Brazilians are used to drinking sub-par coffee. It's common for the bigger brands to roast beans mixed with chaff [the thin skin beans throw off during the roasting process] and other things to save money and increase volume. I came to associate dark roasts with bad coffee because that's how they hide serious defects, by roasting very dark and grinding the coffee thin. The flaws can't be seen but they're felt. The coffee tastes awful!
Q: How does that experience compare to coffee in North America?
A: After coming to, first the U.S., and then Canada, I began to notice that coffee could express itself in a rich and flavourful way at a darker roast. For example, the Starbucks experience isn't a specialty coffee experience but it's still a clean coffee without defects (and other things that are not coffee!) and it's a lot better than the coffee typically consumed on average in Brazil. I've come to appreciate the pleasant and bold mouthfeel of a darker roast, but the body gained comes at a high cost to flavour and complexity. Dark roasts tend to give the same characteristics to different coffees and I think it's important to preserve the unique characteristics that each one has.
Q: And is this the advantage of a lighter roast?
A: I think, most of the time, coffees show their attributes better at a light roast. I'm a big fan of African coffees, especially Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and Kenya. Both are very floral with a bright, fruity acidity that hides itself at a dark roast. My penchant for the American roast is due to my own preference for bright, complex and fruity coffees.
Q: What could we learn in North America from other countries and how they experience coffee?
A: Having access to so many different coffees already gives North Americans a great advantage. People pay more attention to flavour, like they do with wine, and that takes the experience to another level. As a Brazilian, if I didn't travel, I would never have been able to drink coffee from all over the world. Brazil has a law that prohibits green coffee from outside the country to enter Brazil, as a way to protect its own production. I really disagree with this. It keeps people from amazing experiences and from knowing the different varieties, climates and cultures that make up the world of coffee.
Q: What do you think Green Beanery has to offer in that regard?
A: Green Beanery offers a whole host of coffees I have never seen before. Customers can experience this through the Daily Roast with a coffee each day from a different country. This is incredible. The possibility to access so many coffees and fast. And being able to see the coffee freshly roasted is something I haven't come across in a coffee shop before.
Q: Why do professional cuppers identify notes in coffee the average person does not?
A: Coffee tasting is training. Training your palate to distinguish and recognize the different flavour notes. Having a good palate memory is a bonus. But most of all: practice. The more coffees you sample, the more your memory develops and your ability to distinguish flavours and aromas increases. The Q grader program helps a lot, of course!
Q: What can you reveal about your own blend, and our new Coffee of the Week: Fonseca Fine?
A: In this blend, we combined a bean offering an earthy flavour with the sweetness and great body of another bean and a third bean known for its bright acidity. That brightness, we agreed, produced a "fancy coffee" taste and a pleasant mouthfeel.
Q: Were any of those mystery beans from Brazil?
For more information about Q graders, what they do, and the intricacies of cupping coffee, see:
To join our Coffee of the Week $5-off deal on the world of coffees, sign up here.