How fresh is (too) fresh?

Last Friday, November 1st, we were lucky enough to take over La Marzocco's coffee lab in Old Ballard for our Roaster's Showcase.

(Side-note: if you're a coffee-lover and have not dropped by La Marzocco's showroom, add it to your list -the sheer volume of coffee knowledge housed under one roof is staggering).

Our event was titled "How Fresh is Fresh?" The basic premise: over a one month period we had set aside four separate roasts of two different coffees - Ethiopia Kelenso Mokanisa and Guatemala Finca Bourbon. We wanted to answer - or at least get closer to answering - when a coffee reaches peak freshness, and how that varies between coffees of different shapes & sizes. While we may not have arrived at any definitive answers, we certainly learned a lot, and were blown away by the amazing showing. Seattle clearly has not lost its passion for coffee!

We began by cupping the coffees double-blind (i.e. no one, or all but one of us, knew which roast date we were tasting).

The group came to a surprising consensus and ranked the coffees as follows:

1: 7 days off roast

2: 10 days off roast

3: 31 days off roast

4: 3 days off roast

* Note: all of the coffees were stored in a cool, dark place in sealed bags with one-way valves.

The top two placing roasts were fairly predictable. After that, the results got more interesting; people preferred the one month old sample quite a bit more than the 3 day old sample. The 3 day old roast was described as one dimensional, lacking sweetness & follow-thru, while the month-old sample was described as sweet, complex, and possessing crisp flavors ranging from peach and jasmine, for the Ethiopia, to dark chocolate and cayenne,  for the Guatemala.

We then brewed a Chemex of each of the samples using the uber incredible Uber Boiler from San Marco. We chose to use the Uber in order to eliminate as much brew-related variance between samples as possible. We brewed all eight samples using 205 F water and a 42 / 675 gram brew ratio. After tasting each Chemex, we shared our thoughts.

The Chemex results were fairly consistent with the results from the cupping table; the freshest roast seemed to be missing something, while the oldest samples hung with the best of them. The Ethiopia, a small, dense wild heirloom varietal, held up especially well through the Chemex, with a number of tasters indicating that they liked the one month old roast best. The Guatemala, a larger, more porous Bourbon varietal, held up very well through 10 days, but the one month old roast had certainly lost its citrus pop and spiciness. That said, the oldest roast was still preferred over the freshest roast, with the 7 and 10 day roasts taking top honors.

One interesting comment that was heard from a number of participants was how well the body of the Guatemala held up, despite the flavor falling off. This begged the question of whether a coffee loses body, or mouthfeel, at the different rate than it loses fragrance and flavor. One participant theorized that perhaps body is more stable because it's linked to the coffee's oils, rather than the  more delicate aromatic compounds which contribute to fragrance and flavor. A question for a future tasting experiment, perhaps?

A huge thank you to Ryan Wilbur and the rest of the amazing crew at La Marzocco USA!

We would also like to thank the Barista Guild for helping promote the event!