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Isa

by | Nov 4, 2020

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Our Isa coffee is a sweet, smooth, and balanced coffee from the Huila highlands of Colombia. This is a coffee we absolutely needed to have in our line-up for its versatility and its classic Latin American profile. We use it primarily for filter coffee, either as a pour-over or in our piping hot and fast  batch brew coffee. 

Origins

In my work with coffee colleagues around the world, I’ve taken an informal poll of everyone I meet: “What’s your favorite coffee origin country to visit?” Colombia has been by far the most popular answer. A few years back I had a chance to visit, doing work for the government of Antioquia Province, not far from Medellin. Immediately I saw why people say they love Colombia more than any other coffee country.

The landscape is one of incredibly steep mountains and valleys, with lush green vegetation on all sides. Towns and villages are nestled in between the mountains, with precarious roads snaking up and around the slopes connecting each little settlement. Arabica coffee plants absolutely love the high elevation and the consistent rainfall, making Colombia the second largest producer of coffee in the Western Hemisphere.

Any coffee farmer or buyer can tell you, though: it’s not just the land that matters, but how people treat the coffee once it’s been harvested. What matters is processing. It’s not a very sexy word, but when the coffee is processed well, the result is an alluring cup of coffee. And that’s where Colombia really shines. The Colombian Coffee Federation is probably the most organized, best-funded such organization in the world. Huge amounts of money and manpower are poured into making sure that coffee gets from farms to wet-mills in a timely fashion. At the mills, coffee is pulped, fermented, washed, and dried in a highly scientific manner.

What you get as a result is coffee with great clarity, a total absence of defects, and a classic, well-balanced flavor. We selected the Isa beans for precisely these characteristics. Our friends at The Coffee Quest specialize in bringing great Colombian coffee to Europe, and deliver to us this Colombian beauty exactly how we need it: clean, fresh, well-packed, and ready for the perfect roast.

Personally, I grew up drinking coffee like this. It’s immensely popular on the west coast of North America, in the great coffee cities that run from Vancouver, through Seattle and Portland, down to San Francisco. 

When we say “classic”, it means that the Isa coffee is grown, processed and prepared in a way that is most preferred in Spanish-speaking Latin America. It’s in the style of many famous coffee origins, such as Guatemala, Costa Rica, and El Salvador: grown at high altitude, and processed in what’s called the “washed” style. Washed coffee is very consistent in its flavor profile from bag to bag, and it tends to have brighter, cleaner flavors and somewhat lighter body. And Colombia is the mother-ship country of washed, high-grown arabica with these characteristics.

When we say “balanced”, what does that mean? Every coffee contains a tension between the aroma, the acidity, and the body. If you lack all three, you have a dull, flat, boring coffee (sadly all too common!). But if you have one or two, but not all three, you can end up with coffee that’s… shall we say, interesting, but not necessarily very good. Our philosophy at Coffee & Coconuts is that coffee should be good, first and foremost. That means enjoyable to drink. We love strange and exotic flavors as much as anyone else, but if something is more a “challenge” to drink than it is a joy, that’s a problem!

And the key to all of this is creating sweetness, as we shall see.

Roasting

To bring out the natural balance of the Isa, we use a relatively short, straightforward S-curve profile with consistent airflow all the way through. I probably shouldn’t reveal this, but this was actually a very easy coffee to come up with a profile for. It’s just such a classic bean that there’s no need to do anything fancy.

With a lighter roast, at standard airflow, with extended roast-development time after the first crack, we bring out four aspects of this coffee:

    1. A pleasing aroma with chocolate, caramel, and citrus forward
    2. A snappy and lively acidity dominated by citric and malic flavors
    3. A medium body that is smooth in the mouthfeel
  • SWEETNESS

It’s always the sweetness that brings together the various aspects of a great coffee. It’s the sweetness that makes you want to drink just one more cup. It’s the sweetness that turns something from “interesting” into “fantastic.” 

Because the Isa already had the first three characteristics of nice aroma, good acidity, and smooth body, all we had to do at the Coffee & Coconuts Roastery was bring out the natural sweetness through the caramelization phase late in the roast, and keep things nice and light. 

It’s a pleasure as a roaster to work with beans like this. Frankly, there are several different styles that could work with a bean this balanced, but the choice was obvious: just roast it with the most standard profile, monitor the heat during roast development to make sure that great sweetness comes out, and then stand back and get out of the way. Let Isa sing her own song. 

Brewing

The Huila beans that we use for Isa are also a small component of our Ayu blend, for their clarity and snappy acidity. But as a stand-alone coffee, the Isa is best enjoyed as a filter coffee. On dark Amsterdam winter mornings, I often prepare this coffee myself at home with a Hario V60 hand brewer, and you can always order it at our flagship store as a hand-brewed pour-over.

However, what makes me really excited about this coffee is how it performs in a “batch brewer.” Again, this is a style made popular on the west coast of North America. We use 170 – 175 grams of fresh-roasted Isa coffee (just 2 days out of the roaster, when possible!) in a flat-bottom basket, with a Bunn machine set to 92 degrees. 

The brewing cycle takes a little longer than hand-brewing, about five and a half minutes which brings out more of the flavor. This can be a problem with unbalanced coffees! Trust me, some coffees you do not want to get “more flavor,” because all that means is more bitterness and more harsh acidity.

But the Isa does extremely well with these parameters, showing its sweetness, aroma, and fantastic balance. This is fun, because it allows us to keep a fresh, heat-sealed pot of coffee always ready to go. You can order a coffee and have a hot, fresh, beautiful cup of Isa in 30 seconds flat.

If you have an automatic drip machine (like a MoccaMaster), I highly recommend this coffee. And as I said, it also performs beautifully in a pour-over, and is a key component in espresso for those that like brighter, cleaner flavors in their espresso. 

When evaluating this coffee at home, look for the great balance between acidity, body, and aroma. It should be sweet, refreshing, and easy to drink. Aroma notes are “classic” Latin American tones: chocolate, caramel, and citrus fruit. 

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