THE BLOG

11 Roasters and the Art of the Bean

08/10/2010 12:08 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Amber DeGrace Freelance writer + mother. Traveler + seeker of fine food, craft beer, & spirits.

There are quality wines and cheap wines; quality beers and cheap beers. The care and precision that is put into the production of these drinkables comes through in the final product. The same is true for coffee -- each bean has a distinctive quality and characteristic that is often lost in translation when it goes from tree to cup. Thankfully, there are companies like 11 Roasters in Bend, Oregon, that desire to provide a quality final product for your morning mug.

Do you need to add cream and sugar to each cup of coffee you drink? Does the thought of having coffee without masking its flavor make you grimace? If you answered a 'Yes' to these questions, then chances are you have never experienced a finely roasted batch of coffee.

Did you know that different coffees taste unique? There is a wide range of acidity, floral and fruity accents, and body that each bean has. Coffee beans are delicate and particular. The flavors and subtle nuances they exhibit depend on where in the world it came from, what type of climate it was grown in, and what type of humidity was prevalent in the farm (or estate) it was harvested from. This is similar to wine, in that a red wine from Italy should taste different than one from California or Chile. Coffee beans are green when they come from the estates and are roasted to specific temperatures under a constant and watchful eye to ensure they aren't over-roasted, because this affects the desired profile. If you think all coffee tastes burnt and feels like a bite in the back of your throat when you take a sip then you just haven't tasted a well-roasted product.

I first learned the joy of coffee at Sparky & Clark's Roasting Company in York, PA. It was my first job out of high school and the owner, Scott Dempwolf, had a passion for roasting coffee correctly. His love of the bean was infectious and as a result, all the employees were educated in cuppings, which is a term used in the coffee world for tasting it like one would a wine. Sniff, swirl, spit. We learned that each type of coffee has a personality, and in the hands of a skilled roaster, that personality shines through.

11 Roasters is the first roasted coffee I've had since my Sparky & Clark's days in which the individual characteristics of the coffee come out and stand in the spotlight. Sure, there have been places I've traveled that had decent coffee, that didn't taste burnt like ... well, we won't name names. I've had plenty of decent coffee, but I still add cream and sugar because it doesn't impress by itself and needs more to make it special. 11 Roasters coffee doesn't need the addition of anything. In fact, I may go as far as saying that it would be wrong to add cream or sweetener.

Allow this comparison: filet mignon should not be cooked well-done. It's just wrong.

Here is a quick list of a few 11 Roasters coffees and what I taste in each cup.

Tanzanian - this is light, and as the label says, juicy. Not dry at all, and very balanced. It is a good coffee for someone experiencing 'naked' beans for the first time.

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe - this is the one I am most excited about because it has always been my favorite. It is complex, with a light mouth-feel and sweet citrus and floral overtones. There is also a bit of fruitiness and earthiness to it that is pleasant.

Guatemala Palhu - also is a balanced cup, but slightly darker and stronger than the Tanzanian. There is some fruitiness that hits the tastebuds, but what really comes through is the caramel body. I like this for a morning cup and it's actually what I'm drinking right now.

Brazilian Tiger Espresso - this proves espresso doesn't have to have a charred flavor that hits you in the back of your throat. It is smooth, bold, strong, and not bitter at all. The beans are less oily than I'm used to in an espresso.

11 Roasters has some suggestions to further enhance your tasting experience. After purchasing the coffee, grind it yourself, preferably with a burr grinder. Clean the grinder with baking soda and water after each use to avoid stale grounds altering the flavor of the fresh grind. As the saying goes, "One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel." They also have a coffee club that sends a new coffee to you every month; memberships are limited due to small batch sizes, so sign up now!

Give superior coffee a chance. Let your tastebuds decide whether to go back to cream and sugar ever again.

Note: I have not been paid by 11 Roasters for this piece and it is a review, not an advertisement. Also, I am not a Master Taster of coffee, simply a girl that fancies the finer things in life.