My brothers, I’d like to share thoughts on coffee with you. I see the stuff you post with your smokes and…well… it doesn’t add up. You men are connoisseurs of the highest order when it comes to the leaf and I believe you might appreciate a little more enjoyment from your bean.
I’d like to begin by drawing a parallel between cigars and coffee, and how both have changed in recent years. In the cigar world over the last twenty or so years we have seen a “bah-zillion” boutique brands pop up. How can these brands compete with the big/corporate brands? There are many factors at play, but largely this comes down to the two biggies: quality and scale. These smaller brands can do things on a smaller scale that the big boys cannot. The little guys can make use of interesting/rare quality tobaccos that the big guys cannot or will not embrace, and for good reason. Your average big cigar corporation makes millions and millions of cigars a year for their mass-market cigars. What they need is consistency, so that every cigar in a given brand/vitola tastes exactly the same. Consistency is the name of the game. Buying/cultivating massive amounts of the same tobacco year in and year out is what makes sense in that scenario. So the smaller yield, more limited tobaccos can be bought and put to use by the small boutique blenders. It simply isn’t feasible for the larger brands to buy up small batches of a leaf to blend and market a cigar of which they can only produce 50,000.
With boutique cigar brands carving out a niche in the market—not unlike what was seen with craft beer a decade or two earlier—tobacco farmers find that it is economically possible to cultivate these harder to grow, lower-yielding, higher quality tobaccos. Thus more quality, diversity, and creativity has been on display in today’s premium cigar market. Growing, curing, aging, and blending have all advanced, both contributing to and benefitting from the boutique cigar boom.
Now, let’s look at coffee. For years, coffee in America was made in the home (or at the diner) in the traditional coffeepot or, generations prior, the percolator. The coffee was bought pre-ground and most likely preserved in a can (Folgers, Hills Bros., etc.). That was coffee in America for years, until the “second wave” arrived, which was the dedicated coffee shop. People started going out for coffee and some coffee shops specialized in roasting their own coffee. This was still the “dark” ages, though, in the sense that the style of the time was dark-roasted coffee. The darker and the more oily, the better—and for good reason. Coffees were still being grown with very limited varietals and very low quality. The lower quality the bean, the more it could benefit from a dark roast. Allow me to use another example: beer. Low quality beer tastes better if it’s ice cold, right? Ice cold Bud Light ring any bells? Similarly, low-grade coffee tastes better dark-roasted. In this manner, big coffee giants began acquiring cheap coffee crop, enabling a consistent flavor profile based on a roast style.
Like tobacco, craft farms operate on different values and are able to grow exceptional coffee in smaller lots. This, no doubt, results in the higher costs of labor-intensive growing and processing—practices that simply wouldn’t mesh with the big chains and their means of burning flavors away into the obscurity of a dark-roasted blend. Enter the micro-roaster, or specialty coffee, or the “third wave.”
At some point, growers began growing “fruit,” rather than “beans”
Coffee, if you didn’t know, is a fruit. The “beans” are actually akin to the pit of a cherry. In fact, the fruit itself is called a coffee cherry. At some point, growers began growing “fruit,” rather than “beans.” That is to say, with more care in the growing and processing of the coffee fruit, growers found that they were left with coffee beans that showcased more flavors from the fruit. These coffees offered brighter, sweeter, fruitier flavors. Processing, too, began to see improvements. How and when the fruit is removed from the bean makes a big difference in flavor. Washed coffees, where the fruit is removed right after harvest with the use of water, lends very bright, clean flavors to the beans. On the other hand, natural-processed coffee allows the bean to slightly ferment in the fruit before it is removed. These coffees, when properly done, can be extremely juicy and delicious and very fruit-forward. There are multiple other methods and combinations of coffee processing, but these are basically the two extreme ends of the spectrum (think natural vs maduro leaf shade, as comparison).
Photo Credit: dailyhealthpost.com
This brings us to the finished consumer project. Like the tobacco growers, where premium leaf is nothing without a skilled and creative cigar maker to showcase the leaf’s quality and unique characteristics—so it is with the coffee grower. The goal is to find a roaster with the skill to bring out the best potential of the coffee. What would be the point of having the finest Pelo de Oro leaf leaf jammed into the bunch of some cheroot-style dog rocket? (we may have to consult Clint Eastwood on that). Likewise, why would you want a delicious, fruity, sparkling clean, sweet coffee bean roasted until it’s black and oozing oil? Without getting too technical, the complexities of the coffee bean are destroyed by heat, and by roasting the oil out of the bean, those oils will be tarnished. It’s like taking a beautifully marbled, grass-fed, 30-day dry-aged ribeye steak and torching it to a black crisp; all you will taste is the char.
The goal is to find a roaster with the skill to bring out the best potential of the coffee
Enter the light roast. Not unlike comparing the golden hue of an Illusione Epernay to the jet-black cover of Altadis USA’s Onyx Reserve, you’ll find layers of intricate and nuanced complexities, vs the single-noted result of fermentation beyond recognition. A knowledgeable roaster will bring out the very best flavors of the actual coffee itself—a fruit product. Simply put, coffee doesn’t have to taste like dirt and char… and don’t get me started on flavored coffees.
Now that your appetite has been sufficiently whetted for the palate-rewarding sensations of third-wave coffee, you may be asking yourself, “How does one start down that slippery slope?” Unfortunately, not everyone has access to a skilled local micro-roaster. Have no fear! Many of the best roasters will ship coffee or, better yet, offer coffee subscriptions with ever-changing selections of coffees delivered once or twice a month. This is a great way to experience a wide variety of coffee regions, processing methods, and bean varietals. There are so many options available for coffee subscriptions, with every roaster having their own style and preference for roast, varietal, processing method, and origin. Many offer selections of blended or single-origin coffees. I’ll just mention a few that I really love.
Author Recommended Roasters
With a rapidly growing movement of craft/local roasters, premium coffee is now more akin to the craft beer and cigar movements. In the realm of craft/boutique cigars, it may be uncommon for the enthusiast to readily purchase the same brand, let alone an individual cigar blend… My advice? Try stuff! Lots of stuff! Latin American honey process… Ethiopian natural process… Yes, these may seem expensive considering you can buy a $5 pound of the old-fashioned dark roasted coffee at the grocery store or what have you, but if you’re not buying $1 cigars you already understand that the good stuff costs more. And that’s my whole point here—if you’re a connoisseur of fine cigars, you may be ready to delve into the world of craft coffee.
As for brewing, I’ll keep it simple and cheap (for now…). Buy a burr grinder. There are very reliable options in the under-$100 range. Of course, just like the S.T. Dupont lighter, you can indulge in luxury grinders, too (I love my Baratza Vario-W). Now that you’ve got your beans and you’ve ground them, it’s time to brew them. Here’s the good news: you can make spectacular coffee easily and inexpensively. Buy an AeroPress, generally priced at a very reasonable $25 – $30.
Photo Credit: lifeandthyme.com
Author Recommended Brew Method
- boil filtered water
- rinse filter and pre-heat cup with boiling water
- take water off heat
- grind 17 – 18 grams of coffee
- dump rinse water
- add grounds to AeroPress
- fill AeroPress to top with water (ideally around 204° by this point having turned off the heat in advance)
- stir gently
- let sit thirty seconds and stir gently again
- wait another 45 seconds and press the coffee
- enjoy! (preferably with a cigar to pair)
Now, of course, this isn’t for everyone. And OpusX isn’t the daily choice for most cigar enthusiasts all the same.
Everyone’s tastes are different. Smoke what you like, like what you smoke. Drink what you like, like what you drink. Even if that may be ultra-roast coffee or, you know, a Kentucky Cheroot. My intentions are to provide a helpful introduction to the wonderful world of craft coffee for the cigar connoisseur.
Feel free to reach out and comment below if you think I might be able to help—or, likewise, if you have your own tips and tricks to add to the discussion.