Stuart George

Coffee, horses and donkeys: Grumpy Mule coffee tasting

In Tastings on November 9, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Although I have been to a few wine tastings in my time, I had never been to a coffee tasting. But on 22 October, the Yorkshire-based importer Grumpy Mule presented a tasting of coffees at Waterstone’s on Piccadilly.

Ian Balmforth and Damian Blackburn

Ian Balmforth and Damian Blackburn of Grumpy Mule.

There are two main coffee bean varietals: Robusta, which is hardy, generally grown at lower altitudes and has a big dose of caffeine, and Arabica, which has less of the aforementioned attributes.

Damian Blackburn, Grumpy Mule’s Quality Assurance Manager, gave me a tutored tasting of 13 coffees. The tasting technique for coffee is essentially the same as that for wine—an assessment by nose and then plenty of slurping in the mouth.

Uganda Robusta (control sample)

Burnt rubber, smoky. Not subtle.

Brasil Santos Arabica (control sample)

Much more refined, with a noticeably “cooler climate” aroma.

Sumatra KBQB Cooperative (certified Organic and Fairtrade certified Arabica)

Grumpy Mule’s best-selling coffee, produced by a cooperative of 1,600 smallholder members.

Sort of halfway between the first two coffees, though perhaps a bit closer in style to Santos than Uganda. Mild palate.

Ethiopia Harar, Illili Derartu Cooperative from the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (certified Organic and Fairtrade certified Arabica)

Grown at 2,000 metres altitude but surprisingly quite low in acidity. Winey! With the addition of hot water during the second assessment, it showed blueberry aromas.

Kenya Gethumbwini Estate Lot (Arabica)

The beans for this were “fully washed”, which, according to, means “coffee prepared by removing the skin and pulp from the bean while the coffee fruit is still moist. In the traditional wet process, the coffee skins are removed (pulping), the skinned beans are allowed to sit in tanks where enzymes loosen the sticky fruit pulp or mucilage (fermentation), after which the loosened fruit is washed off the beans (washing).”

Brighter nose and more acidity than the previous coffee—washing intensifies acidity, apparently.

Rwanda Musasa, Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, Bourbon Arabica

Bright style again. Clean and fresh with the addition of hot water.

Tanzania “Footprint”, Blackburn Estate Peaberries (Arabica)

“Deeper” than the previous pair, with a bitter, chocolaty palate.

Guatemala Pocola, Finca Santa Paula (Arabica)

“Green” and leafy.

Costa Rica Finca La Pira (2009 Cup of Excellence award winning lot Arabica)

A bit richer than the Guatemalan coffee but still suggesting “cool climate” origins.

Panama Esmeralda Special 2009 “Mario San Jose”, Hacienda La Esmeralda, Geisha Arabica (micro-lot)

Very perfumed, with orange particularly noticeable. Lovely and very unusual, and probably my favourite of the tasting. A 227g bag costs almost as much as a good bottle of Premier Cru white Burgundy!

Nicaragua La Picona, Maragogipe Arabica (2009 Cup of Excellence award winning lot)

Herbal, especially on the finish.

Colombia Las Delicias Arabica (2009 Cup of Excellence award winning lot)

Smoky, with a milk chocolate finish.

Brazil Fazenda Santa Terezinha Arabica (certified Organic)

Pungent and chocolaty. Less acidity than the Colombian.

Jamaica Blue Mountain, Clifton Mount Estate (Arabica)

Mild and a bit smoky.

Andrew Jefford wrote a splendid feature on tea and wine a couple of years ago but I think there is a good article still to be written on the relationship and parallels between coffee and wine, involving extensive travel and research in Central and South America, East Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean…

More seriously, there are clear parallels between the structure of the wine and coffee industries. I read recently that the 14 clans that commanded El Salvador’s coffee industry have morphed over recent years into eight conglomerates.  The same has happened to, for example, the Australian wine industry. It is a depressing scenario…

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