Written by Amelia Banks
I am a coffee lover. Which is not the same as a coffee connoisseur.
Connoisseurs drink for balance and complexity. They have V60 chemistry sets in their kitchen. Weighing scales for their beans. They can tell you that the higher a plantation’s elevation, the richer its crop’s acidity (Mayni coffee is grown at 1650 MSL; roughly a quarter of an Everest).
Lovers drink coffee how winos (also me) drink chianti: mainly for its effect. We’ll dabble with filter paper, upgrade to a floral shot if that’s what the barista recommends. But when crunch comes, we need it heaped-spooned and instant. Lately, mired in deadlines, I’ve been reaching for the Nescafé Gold.
I’ve been freebied a batch of Easy Jose’s Mayni blend. Lacking fancy kitchen equipment, I’ve gone for pre-ground. I decide to experiment with brewing methods over the coming week. I hope to restore some ritual to my morning drink.
Day One: French Press
Ground coffee can stale slightly after 24 hours, so the advice is to secure the bag with a storage clip, and house it in a cool, dark place. I don’t own storage clips, and a cool, dark place evades me too. (Our kitchen cupboards have had their doors removed: the handyman won’t be here to fit new ones till Thursday.) Short of storing my Mayni in the attic, I settle for a plastic takeaway container. I hope that ghosts of chow mein past won’t degrade the coffee with their odour, which is what can happen, FYI, if you shelve coffee next to pungent foodstuffs in the fridge.
I wait four minutes then, slowly, plunge the sediment to the cafetiere’s bottom. First impressions: smooth, thick, honeyed. It definitely has what the SCA (Speciality Coffee Association) would call good mouthfeel. There’s no bitterness and no discernible acidity, which apparently means it’s balanced. I write down raspberry and nutmeg, then compare taste notes with the packaging. Almond. Chocolate. Orange. It’s a pretty low-stakes exam, but I’m competitive, annoyed at my coarse palette. I close my eyes and consider the aftertaste. I think I can detect almond now. It’s easier once you’ve cheated.
“I bring up the Easy Jose website and eye up their ‘community’ blend. Creamy stone fruit. Honeyed florals. I wonder if my palette is becoming refined.”
Day Four: Stove-Top Percolator
My housemate has a vintage Bialetti that serves one. It’s a bialitch to clean and complicated to assemble; I usually only have the willpower on Saturdays. Today, I put Skype on Do Not Disturb, then set the percolator on one hob, a saucepan of oat milk on the other. After three days on Easy Jose, it feels familiar, not-a-chore, to window-gaze as I wait for my latte to brew.
Coffee beans are sourced from two trees: 75% from Arabica; 25% from Robusta. You’d assume that Robusta, being rarer, would be the good one, but actually, it has double the caffeine content and a higher carbon footprint. Robusta is what goes into instant granules. It’s police-detective syrup, deadline juice.
I’ve noticed that with Mayni coffee, the ‘come-up’ is mellow. It’s sourced from Arabica trees, so this makes sense. I don’t know if it’s the comparative lack of caffeine, or the introduction of a slow, deliberate act into my day, but I feel less wired, more focused, as I tackle emails that afternoon. In a fresh tab, I bring up the Easy Jose website and eye up their ‘community’ blend. Creamy stone fruit. Honeyed florals. I wonder if my palette is becoming refined.
Day Seven: Cold Brew
It’s not the day for a cold brew. It snowed for twenty minutes on Sunday; we’re now paying for it with slippery, frost-thawing roads. The news is terrible, again. I consider NHS clapping and food parcels as I plop ice cubes into a glass of warm espresso. I top it up with half-milk, half-water, then stir. Self-care can feel frivolous in a pandemic. Equally, it feels wasteful not to take joy where we can. I don’t know where I’m going with this. The cold brew is creamy but has a piquant, citric spike, like a grown-up milkshake. It’s good.
I do know where I’m going with this, actually. Mayni coffee is tasty. Better though, is Easy Jose’s commitment to supporting this eponymous blend’s community. Coffee is unique among FMCG goods in that even supermarket brands tend to have Fairtrade stamps. This is good, obviously, but Fairtrade is still tantamount to minimum wage. It allows farmers to get by, which is not the same as paying them reasonably for labour, knowledge and produce that take years to refine. Easy Jose’s website describes what seems a fair, two-way exchange. They fund village infrastructure and pay wages to local growers, who in turn promise forestry protection and organic growing principles. Paying a little extra for a non-broken supply chain feels worth it. After a spate of January-sale purchases, it felt good to receive a parcel that wasn’t making evil people more rich.
Milk: Oat (hemp is better for the planet; oat is better for a smooth flat white).
Moment: 11am. Your dopamine levels peak in the morning; if you’re rationing, best to save your caffeine for later in the day.
Music: Little Dreamer by Future Islands
Mood: Wistfully sleepy. The manic meetings have been dispatched with. You’re ready to settle into a long project, or a good book.
Easy Jose work with the indigenous people of Peru to produce sustainable, specialty coffee. Grown organically under the Amazon rainforest’s canopy, these coffee beans are proof that the industry can evolve without widespread slash-and-burn. You can buy your own Mayni coffee here.