Tuesday, May 22, 2018
A Dazzling Dragonfly
Regular readers of this blog (yes, all three or four of them 😉) know that I've been more relentless in my criticism of what Trish Rothgreb calls "Third Wave" roasters than just about anyone - while also trying to honor their obviously authentic passion for coffee and (relatively few) genuine innovations in the service of coffee quality and/or farmer well-being.
There's an ocean of dreadfully under-roasted, ignorantly-sourced, stunningly over-priced and wretchedly-brewed coffee out there, but there are also more and more newer roaster-retailers striving for a more balanced approach to sourcing, roasting and retailing.
Dragonfly Coffee Roasters in my old hometown of Boulder, Colorado has been on my radar screen for quite some time due to an old coffee business friend with impeccable taste who's frequently recommended them but I only had a chance to finally taste a couple of their coffees this week and now I'm kicking myself for what I've been missing all of these years!
Founder/owner Tamas Cristman sent me a Kenya and a Yemen Mocha from their current offerings and I'm honestly at a loss for sufficient superlatives. Just the aroma wafting out of the bags when I opened them gave me more pleasure than 90% of the coffees I've drunk over the past few decades.
While I don't always agree with the ratings on my old friend Ken David's Coffee Review site I actually think he's being quite conservative in his scoring of these coffees - while his descriptions would be very hard to improve upon:
Kenya Ndaroini (94 points): Complex, deeply and richly sweet. Dried coconut, dark chocolate, cherry blossom, tamarind, molasses in aroma and cup. Juicy, balanced, sweetly savory acidity; delicate, velvety mouth-feel. The resonant finish is deeply layered, leading with notes of cherry blossom and molasses.
Yemen Microlot (96 points): Delicate, high-toned, richly sweet. Caramelized apple, honeysuckle, baker’s chocolate, tangerine zest, frankincense in aroma and cup. Balanced structure with bright, juicy acidity; buoyant, syrupy mouthfeel. The deeply sweet, flavor-laden finish leads with notes of cacao nib, honeysuckle and hints of bittersweet citrus zest in the long finish.
Here are photos of the understated packaging and the roasted beans:
It's always difficult to get a sense of roast degree from photos (let alone ones like these casually shot on a cell phone) but I'd call both roasts City+. Left to my own devices I'd have probably left both coffees in the roaster another 30-60 seconds but for drip and vacuum pot brewing anyway I find it impossible to criticize the end result here, which is coffee of astonishing quality expressing everything it has to offer aromatically and flavor-wise without the slightest interference from roast.
Now the Kenya auction lot is a very reasonable-by-contemporary-standards $18 for twelve ounces, while the Yemen microlot is a jaw-dropping $75 for eight ounces. Such pricing brings to mind comments the great George Howell made to me many years ago about the non-linear relationship of price to quality in Bordeaux wine specifically as an analogue for where coffee pricing needed to go. Paraphrasing from memory, he pointed out that grand crus sell for a multiple of the price of premier crus that can sometimes score within a few points of the former - meaning that for the difference between, say, a 92 and a 96 point wine one might pay close to a hundred dollars per additional point. All I can really say about this particular Yemen coffee is that (a) it being available at all is a miracle considering what's going on in that country, and (b) as someone who has doted on coffees from Yemen and Ethiopia since the late 1970's (and who personally selected, roasted and brewed Yemen Mocha Mattari for his own wedding in 1990) I have never tasted a better coffee - from Yemen or anywhere else - than this particular offering.
I look forward to visiting Dragonfly Coffee sometime this summer. Among other things, I want to know how they manage to make a living selling coffees of this caliber in über-expensive (but not particularly sophisticated, culinarily-speaking) Boulder, Colorado. Just knowing they're there is incredibly inspiring. Having worked for the very first place to sell whole bean coffee in Boulder (Brewing Market - later renamed Allegro by yours truly) starting in 1980 I can assure you I did not see coffee of this quality as a possibility even in my most idealistic moments.