One of the Starbucks Reserve coffees that I tried at the tasting event the other day was the Kenya Tana River. This coffee is grown near the base of Mount Kenya by a network of small farmers that all grow coffee in the same rich area. It has a unique, but distinctly African (and I’m referring to African coffees here) flavor to it. It has a noticeable black tea flavor, a subtle grassy fruitiness and notes of berries throughout. Best of all, this coffee is incredibly smooth and balance. This makes it a coffee that literally anyone can enjoy. It also means that not only does it make a wonderful hot cup of coffee, but it also makes fantastic iced coffee without a hint of bitterness. The tea notes come out a little more strongly in the iced version, which makes it very refreshing. I drink it black both hot and cold, but I think that it would take very well to sweeteners, especially when served over ice.
Our coffee master paired this coffee with orange cranberry stones, where the bright, tangy acidity of the orange and cranberries brightened up the coffee and highlighted the berry notes. I’d definitely match this with anything orange, but its smoothness and balanced flavor means that this is a coffee that would pair well with delicately flavored foods without overpowering them, so while it is a limited edition, it’s definitely an all purpose coffee.
I’ve seen pistachio flavored coffee on the menu before (wouldn’t recommend it unless you LOVE spumoni ice cream), but I’ve never heard of coffee that is made with pistachio nuts instead of coffee beans. Recent research conducted by chemists at the University of York indicates that this just might be possible – and that there are quite a few reasons why coffee drinkers, as well as coffee companies, might want to take note.
The nut in question is variety that grows on the Pistacia terebinthus tree. It is smaller than the pistachios that you would find in a bag of mixed nuts, and it has the same chemical “signature” as coffee. In other words, when the nuts were roasted to the same types of high temperatures that coffee beans are roasted to, they took on a very coffee-like aroma and flavor. The “coffee” made with pistachios has no caffeine, although it can be brewed up just like the real thing, making it seem like it might be a fantastic fit for those who want coffee without the kick and would otherwise opt for decaf on a regular basis. Even better, the nuts are much cheaper to buy and produce than coffee beans are, so pistachio could be a very cost-effective business to get into, as well.
But the process of turning pistachios into coffee isn’t perfect yet. The Sunday Telegraph challenged a couple of local (UK-based) coffee experts to try the pistachio coffee and see what they thought about it. One tester found the flavor to be very distinctive with a much stronger pine flavor than any regular coffee, but noted that the overall aroma was very pleasant. Another trial ground the nuts to brew espresso with. Like most roasted nuts, the pistachios were too oily to be ground so finely and turned into a buttery paste (think peanut butter) that would not pull a shot. When it was brewed, however, the pistachio coffee had a pleasant “woody and spicy flavor.”
With these small issues taken into account, researchers are trying to perfect the roasting process to remove excess oil and make the pistachios perform more like coffee beans. The hope to keep their unique flavor but improve their performance. Coffee prices are still increasing and for some manufactures an affordable alternative could have a lot of appeal.
This week I had the opportunity to take part in a great Starbucks tasting event, tasting some of the Starbucks Reserve coffees with a Coffee Master, Yuli. Starbucks Reserve Coffees are rare, small batch coffees that are being released in very limited quantities at various Starbucks stores across the country. They have coffees like Jamaica Blue Mountain, Organic Blue Java and 100% Kona Coffee. They’re coffees that come from small growers (in some cases, from single farms) and they’re items that will appeal to serious coffee drinkers (like me!). Of course, limited quantities also mean that once they’re gone, they’re gone for good – or, with any luck, until the end of the next growing season.
Our tasting was of Sumatra Tapanuli and Kenya Tana River. This was also my first time experiencing the Clover coffee brewing system first hand. It’s a very unique brewer designed to produce the perfect cup of coffee. Very few coffee shops have these, and only a handful of Starbucks locations. The way they brew, they are supposed to give you the most flavorful cup of coffee possible.
Lately, it seems like green and white teas are chosen to blend with fruits more often than black teas are. Green and white teas can have such a mild flavor that it is easy to bring other flavors out in a blend with them. As a result, I wasn’t sure exactly how much actual mango flavor to expect when I tried Trader Joe’s Mango Black Tea – and was very pleasantly surprised when there was a lot of fruit flavor there!
This tea is made with black tea, natural mango flavor, blackberry leaves, hibiscus and calendula petals. Mangos are a fruit with a very sweet, floral flavor to them and it was a stroke of brilliance to add these extra elements to the tea (rather than just tossing in some dried mango pieces) because they really highlight the floral flavors of the mango. If you’re already familiar with the flavor of hibiscus, you’ll be able to pick it out from the other background flavors, too (although if you aren’t, it will most like just blend in). The tea has a smooth black tea background, but is really bursting with a tropical feel and a distinct mango flavor. I typically drink tea unsweetened, although this is one that I found was even better with a little bit of honey added to it, as that also served to enhance the mango and make the tea “juicier.”
I haven’t tried this tea iced, but I suspect that a pitcher of iced tea with some actual sliced mangoes in it would be a huge hit at a brunch!