Stalking the Wild Bean: Whiff Roasters Papua New Guinea

If you’re like me – or like most geeks – a good cup of coffee is one of your greatest joys in life. Granted, part of it is that a good cup of coffee is a caffeinated powerhouse that gets our days started and keeps our engines running on all cylinders over the course of the day, but there’s more to a cup of java than the caffeine that it rushes into our bloodstream after the first couple of sips.

You may or may not know this, but there’s a whole world of coffee that goes beyond the cup of hypersweetened espresso drinks you’ll get at your local Starbuck’s and the oh-so-traditional cup of joe you’ll snag at the convenience store you visit on the way to the office. Granted, that world is vast and deep beyond measure – complete with exceptionally high-priced gadgets and entire kitchen appliance installations designed specifically for the perfect cup of coffee. You don’t need to dive that deep to get an appreciation for what makes a good cup of coffee better than a bad cup of coffee, to know when to go ahead and pour from the pot at the convenience store and when to skip the badly burned and over-warmed pot that’s sitting right next to it.

In this new series, called Stalking the Wild Bean, we’ll take a trip through the world of coffee together. I’ll show you some of my favorite coffee drinking implements, some ways to add flavor to your morning cup without buying coffee that’s been sitting in flavoring for weeks before it gets to the store, a few coffee preparation tips, and perhaps most prominently I’ll try out different flavored and unflavored coffees from roasters near and far. Some of them will be brilliant, some of them will be horrible, but I’ll share all of the results with you.

So let’s get started, shall we? This week we’ll take a look at a relatively new bean, the Papua New Guinea Estate Coffee, to make it onto the virtual shelves of one of my favorite semi-local coffee roasters, Whiff Roasters, based in Lilitz, Pennsylvania.

Whiff Roasters will likely be featured more than once – they have an exceptionally wide variety of coffees, and I order from them regularly for my own coffee supply at home. Even so, some of their blends maglie calcio poco prezzo are hits, and others are clear misses. Don’t worry – this won’t become a plug for them; there are plenty of other online and offline roasters in my area to try, along with grocery store varieties that anyone can get easily anywhere, so don’t worry too much that the coffees I review here will be out of your reach.

Unless otherwise noted, the beans I’m tasting have been on the shelf no longer than 5 days, roasted Vienna style, and sealed in an airtight or vacuum packed container, the way any consumer would get them. I prepare the beans by grinding them on-demand, just after boiling the water for coffee, and then prepare the coffee in a french press. I let the coffee steep a touch longer than advisable (most people will suggest you let coffee steep 3-5 minutes maximum, I like to over-extract my coffee, so keep that in mind when reading my reviews – I’ll try to point it out.) but otherwise consume it the way any normal consumer would. I will, at times, prepare the coffee differently for the sake of comparison, but I’ll note it in the review.

Finally, each blend will be reviewed on five factors: aroma (the smell of the cup as it’s brewed and poured), acidity (the sharpness and acidic notes of the coffee on your tongue), body (the richness and heaviness of the coffee), flavor (the flavor notes and depth of the coffee’s taste), and after-taste (how long the flavor stays with you after swallowing, and what type of flavor that is).

  • The Blend: Whiff Roasters Papua New Guinea Estate

    Now then, this is the way Whiff Roasters describes the Papua New Guinea Estate:

    This Estate coffee is located on the rich fertile banks of the Gumanch River in the Waghi Valley of the Western Highlands Province. This was once considered the largest coffee estates in Papua New Guinea. It is known as the Gumanch Estate, The altitude it is grown at is 5500 feet. You will recive a well balanced cup of coffee with fair acidity and good body.

    Whiff Roasters roasts and packages all of its coffee on-site. While I still regret that Whiff Roasters doesn’t put an explicit roast date on their bags, they’ve stated several times that their Maglia Roma coffee is vacuum sealed on the same day that the beans are roasted in order to preserve flavor, and they’re shipped so you can be certain that no bag you receive is more than five days old, and that includes shipping time.

    The Papua New Guinea is offered in any roast style you choose, from City to Double French, and you can purchase it ground as fine as you like, although I highly recommend you don’t and you grind as much as you need for a pot yourself immediately prior to use. One pound of Papua New Guinea from Whiff Roasters will run you $9.95 plus shipping, packed in two half-pound bags.

  • The Aroma

    The Papua New Guinea has a solid, rich air to it that’s pleasing to the nose without being overpowering. It’s not a “wake you up in the morning from the bedroom” kind of coffee, so don’t expect to be blown away, but when you get your nose into your cup or waft the aroma to you while you stir the french press, you’ll definitely smell it. The aroma is delicate but very present, and hangs in the air a bit while you’re enjoying or preparing your coffee.

    While the aroma is buttery and rich, and overall pleasing enough, it’s definitely not horribly notable. I did pick up a nutshell-like kind of half-citrus-half-cinnamon air off of the coffee immediately after grinding though, which you get fresh upon grinding and adding hot water, but vanishes fairly quickly after steeping. It’s not the kind of aroma that taunts you from your cup while cooling next to you on your desk, but it’s definitely the kind that you enjoy while you’re preparing your coffee. If you were to make this particular bean with drip, you may not notice it until you poured it – in which case you’d be in for a nice surprise when you did.

  • The Acidity

    While Whiff Roasters goes out of its way to note the fact that this particular coffee has mild acidity, I found it a little higher than what I would refer to as “mild.” Keep in mind I over-extracted it a bit, and would likely diminish the amount of acid by steeping it for less time – thus coming away with a smoother cup. Even so, the acid was actually pleasant when compared to the body of the coffee, and worked well through the entire taste of the cup, from the moment it touched the tongue all the way to the back-palate and after-taste.

    This coffee isn’t the most acidic I’ve ever tasted, but it’s up there, and the acid is very prominent in its flavor profile. Admittedly though, the body of the coffee would be pretty hollow without it, so I think the acid is only slightly unbalanced for the body of the coffee and it doesn’t come off as bitter in any way, just very acidic. It’s not mouth-puckering acidic, but it’s definitely the first thing you notice when you sip it.

  • The Body

    The fact that the acidity is such a large part of the flavor profile sets off the body a little bit. While there are definitely coffees with less body and stronger acidity, or more complex bodies and less acidity, the Papua New Guinea comes off a little one-note in comparison but that note still stands as delicious. It’s a good, strong Maglia Inter Milan bodied coffee that stands up to the prominent acidity, but I worry that if I did something to cut the acidity that I might miss out on the balance and get too much of the strong, dark notes of the body over lingering acidity.

    The coffee’s mouthfeel is similar; a little watery, even with a pretty hefty brew, and the body isn’t so deep or heavy that it lingers on the tongue, making it a great morning cup – something you can drink a couple of cups of and not feel like you shouldn’t have eaten so much for breakfast. At the same time, the body is smooth and deep but without really dark thickness that I’ve associated with some darker blends like my old standby, the Kenya AA (which I’ll have to review later for comparison.)

  • The Flavor

    The nutshell-like flavor I picked up on the aroma fresh after grinding came back out after the coffee’s been steeped for a bit. You don’t pick it up on the aroma again after water has been added, but it’s definitely there in the flavor profile. You get some of the dryness and spice of a cinnamon-like complexity, and some light high citrus-like notes that you might expect from a walnut or hazelnut shell (if you were to lick one, for some reason.)

    As I’ve noted already, the acidity is a strong part of the flavor profile – even if you brew your coffee as strong as I do, you’ll notice is over the depth of the body, and you have to peek through that acidity to get to some of those notes. The acidity is a touch overwhelming, which is unfortunate because I could tell that there’s a little more complexity that I’m just not getting to in the flavor notes.

  • The After-Taste

    The downside of having a flavor profile that’s almost 60/40 acidity to body is that the after-taste is pretty astringent and lasts long on the palate. That’s partially what I mean when I say it’s smooth – as long as you’re drinking it, or if you have the Papua New Guinea paired with food, you won’t notice exactly how astringent the after-taste is, but if you finish your meal before your cup, or you stop drinking and move on to something else, you’ll notice that astringency on your palate for a while.

    It’s not horribly unpleasant for someone like me; I don’t mind that acid, but at the same time, a lot of people – most notable the Dunkin Donuts crowd who insists on the best coffee being the smoothest, even-bodied, and unfortunately forgettable, would hate the lingering after-taste of a coffee like this, and knowing it may overwhelm the acidity with milk, cream, or worse.

    Part of what makes the lingering astringency nice though is the fact that you get some of the most base notes of the coffee along with it – when the high citrius and nutty notes are gone, you do get an earthiness that sticks around, along with a little butter-rum-like undertone, which for my palate is rather pleasant.

  • The Verdict

    The Papua New Guinea Estate from Whiff Roasters is probably a foodie’s coffee although it might be too sharp for someone with a more refined palate than mine. It adapts well to being brewed short or long. There’s a variety of techniques you can employ to cut the acidity if you really don’t want it, and while I acknowledge it’s a bit overwhelming and a little unbalanced, I think there would be something fundamental missing from it if you cut it too far.

    At the same time, for the uninitiated, it likely comes off as harsh and thin, and lacking the body that so many other coffees push on our palate. It’s not a deep, dark, black coffee, even though it pours like one. It’s a great breakfast coffee and goes very well with food, especially thick or rich foods that can compliment the natural acidity in the blend.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments whether you’d like more detail on the specific flavors of the coffees I review, or if it would be helpful to assign numeric scores to each blend – I’m willing to do so, but I don’t want anyone to focus too strongly on the actual score and miss some of the complexities.

Also, as always, let me know what I can do to make this series of reviews even better! If you have a favorite roaster or blend, either gourmet or off-the-shelf, let me know in the comments, or send me an e-mail at alanhenry [at] theclassygeek [dot] com.

header image in this post courtesy of Flickr user Jeff Kubina. (Coffee Beans)

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Alan Henry

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