Although only 4 years old, Coava Coffee from Portland has placed itself in the elite roaster category through many accolades in barista competitions (including Devin Chapman taking the NWBRC the last three years), innovation that it has created in brewing methodology and the quality of coffees that it has been bringing forward. It was recently a treat to get to try a broad range of its coffees including espresso and drip profiles. But before highlighting my thoughts, let me briefly touch on the roasting philosophy and Able Brewing.
In terms of roasting approaches, my insights came from Matt Brown, the Director of Wholesale at Coava, who described their beliefs during a chat we had. As with many roasters that I have highlighted on this blog, Coava has a strong belief in direct sourcing unique coffees that are individual examples of the terroir and uniqueness. It is dedicated to a single origin approach, without any blends, and generally roasts for two profiles, drip and espresso. In terms of roasting qualities, balance was a theme that was highlighted during our conversation, along with body and sweetness. Certainly qualities that I noticed in the cup of the coffees that I tried.
Matt Higgins was Coava’s founding roaster who roasted several years as a roaster at Pacific Bay Coffee Roasters in Northern California, and then moved to Portland to work for the Albina Press. While at Albina, he begun roasting out of his garage and thus he started Coava in 2008 on his own. With previous roasting experience, and much coffee talent surrounding him, Coava has brought together top skills and innovators as it has opened both a roaster and a café. Then Matt invited his friend Keith Gehrke to partner in the company in Jan 2010. Together they developed the Kone as a way to help differentiate the Coava brand while making a sustainable American made filter. It quickly became apparent that roasting and manufacturing were two very different business models and so Matt and Keith developed a new brand Able Brewing. Keith stopped working at Coava in August of 2011 to focus entirely on new designs which led to the official separation of the companies in March 2012. The brewing innovations started with the Kone, a metallic filter for the Chemex which has gone through 3 improving iterations. The other product has been the Aerodisk, a metallic filter for the Aeropress, and more recently a Kickstarter-funded ceramic brewer that uses the Kone. As the brewing equipment business has come into its own, and the business models for brew equipment manufacturing and coffee roasting are dissimilar, this has led into spinoff of Able Brewing. This has allowed them to continue the business with the same cornerstones of strong research and product development to bring forward improvement to existing brew methods, while keeping with a made-in-the-US creed.
As I eagerly tasted the coffees that I received, the overall first impressions were of sweetness, body, cleanliness, and full flavour. All the coffees seemed to have a deep roasting penetration that brought out these qualities. While certain roasters can be characterized by light roasts that bring out a lot of acidity, my impressions of Coava were that they did not push the boundaries in this area, but that certainly the natural flavours of the beans themselves were present as each coffee had an individual character. Here are some quick impressions of the coffees:
- Flor De Concepcion (Guatemala) – drip and espresso – a wonderful example of a classically flavoured Guatemalan that comforts with rich dark chocolate that is balanced with a sweet jam and citrus acidity. The structure of the espresso was great with a honey and citrus nose, combined with light front citrus acidity and a long cocoa aftertaste with good sweetness. Between 70-80% pulling ratios were nice as more complexity came out including spicy cinnamon notes. In the Aeropress, the coffee was also a favourite among tasters as the cup was comforting and interesting at the same time.
- Gaturiri (Kenya) – espresso – a distinct tasting Kenyan with lots of sweetness. Strong toffee caramel combined with blackberry jam and medium citrus acidity that can be perceived to combine as a stewed tomato. Worked well with milk as the caramel and sweetness came into prominence. Generally preferred at shorter ratios in the 80-90% range as sweetness really came out and some spicy vanilla also emerged. The flavours were a bit polarizing among tasters.
- Kilenso (Sidama Natural) – drip – a classically flavoured Ethiopian natural with berry burst on deep milk chocolate with lots of sweetness and body. For this category, the coffee was among the better in terms of cleanliness with no wininess. Definitely recommended for those who like natural coffees, but not for everyone.
- Girasoles (Costa Rican) -drip – A juicy crispy coffee with good orange acidity and plum sweetness combining with a strong caramel body producing a flavour that I often think of as typically Costa Rican
- Santa Sofia (El Savador) – drip – rich deep dark chocolate balanced with a brown sugar sweetness and dry finish in a clean classic cup with just the right light cherry acidity to keep it lively. To me the profile exemplified what I usually like about the Typica varietal.
I whole heartedly added Coava to my list of great roasters that I have enjoyed coffees from. As I am thinking of readers who will most likely enjoy them the most, the first people that I think of are those who generally lean towards sweetness over acidity, and those who enjoy taste diversity and trying. something new, rather than sticking with a certain types of profile. Having said that, I think most will find something that they will really like.