Coffee Chronicles: New Single-Origin Offerings at Joe

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[Photos: Liz Clayton]

Not every crop of new coffee selections arrives with a personal ambassador, but when you have the chance for a formal introduction, why not take it? Ecco Caffè coffee educator Amber Fox paid a cross-coastal visit to Joe this week to introduce the California-based roaster's newest coffees.

Since Joe switched to Ecco beans last fall, the five-shop chain has undergone some changes, introducing by-the-cup brew in four of its stores (on-the-go Joe Grand Central Station being the exception) along with a new, considered attention to more seasonally focused single-origin coffees. Upping the geek level benefits all of us, and today's guided tasting—meant primarily to familiarize Joe baristas with the nuances of each selection—got this geek pretty excited for fall.

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On today's tasting table were three new single-origin Ecco coffees, exclusively offered at Joe, from three different countries. Together with David Latourell from Intelligentsia (Ecco Caffè's parent company in Chicago), Joe staff tasted filter-brewed coffees from Guatemala, El Salvador and Kenya.

First on the table: El Salvador El Ausol, a coffee born from a relatively recent venture called HiQ, which bills itself as sourcing "customized" "designer" microlots. If you can stomach the fancy sales pitch, you'll get a deeply flavored, heavy bodied coffee reminiscent of almost-tart stone fruits, molasses, and a tempting acidity.

Next up we sampled the El Tambor from Guatemala, a coffee exclusive to Joe and Ecco, which my pal Percy Ramirez plans to use when he flies back to his native Guatemala to compete in the national barista championship. If it's not too sentimental to say so, this coffee is all about autumn: poached pear, pie spice, and a flavor that cools to caramel lollipop.

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Last up (and though you can tell Fox tries not to play favorites, her eyes light up when this coffee comes out) is the Kenya Kiunyu, an auction lot selected by Intelligentsia green coffee buyer Geoff Watts, but available only at Joe. The dry aroma on this one is wild—like sticking your nose into a brambly fruit bush. We slowly sip and Fox says she gets "lots of coconut green curry, lots of wine" out of the Kiunyu, with sugars emerging as it cools. Latourell likens it to the savory elements of an oxidized oolong tea, as all kinds of other conflicting and complimentary flavor information crosses my palate (cola, leafy berry, the aforementioned coconut). This coffee is weird, strange, delicious, and just as inspiring as anything you've ever drank (or smelled). I'd recommend that those who don't "get" specialty coffee yet (especially beer lovers) wander over to a Joe location for a cup of this, if I don't drink them out of stock first.

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