Summer Solstice

Posted: June 21, 2013 - 2:19pm

I can confidently say that one of the best espressos I have ever had was a shot of last year’s Summer Solstice, and I will never get to have it again. But that’s the point with our seasonal blends. They don’t stay. And no two years are ever the same. To expect differently is to miss the whole reason why they’re great.

Our seasonals are timed throughout the year to herald the major changes in things like daylight, the feel of the air around us, and our general relationship to the earth. So, it’s easy to see them as a kind of punctuation, because they mark the biggest shifts in nature’s syntax as time goes on. Making a seasonal blend is like getting to put an exclamation point on these periods of renewal through our chosen medium of life--coffee. We take stock of the freshest coffee arrivals in our possession, consider the changing earth, and harmonize them in a snapshot. This is a powerful exercise because it obviates the uniqueness of every year’s harvest--they are no more similar to one another than this summer will be to last. So, the greatness is that no matter what blend we wind up with, it works, because the coffees are of that time and no other. You drink it for a while, and then let it go.

If you ask me, I’ll tell you that this year’s Summer Solstice blend is more ambitious than it’s ever been. Solstices of the past have been unified and clear, bright, and intensely fruity. 2013’s has more texture and flavor variety but still manages to be utterly drinkable (and, I suspect, will make a superb iced Chemex).

The blend is built around a single coffee from Yirgacheffe, in southern Ethiopia, which on its own is confoundingly complex and delicate, rivaled only by our Geisha in tropical acidity and floral aromatics. The remaining 40% is split between a coffee from Finca La Soledad in Guatemala--soft red fruit, melon--and another from Finca Matalapa in El Salvador--Pino, the lot is called, with buoyant acidity and a straightforward smoothness. The coffees aren’t complimentary on paper, nor do they taste like themselves in the blend--it all becomes something new. Cups tend to start rich and sugary right away, and then move into kaleidoscopic flavors of tropical fruits and caramel malt. It’s easy to get so into the complexity that you almost don’t notice how balanced it all is. Throughout the sip, however, the body is really Solstice’s foundation--juicy and deep to the finish.

In our shops we audit brewed coffee by measuring its strength in TDS%, or total dissolved solids (literally, what percentage of the brew is dissolved coffee solids), and I’ve found that I most prefer this year’s blend at a finished strength around 1.3%, or, lighter than usual. As with many strong, complex beverages--whiskey, fortified wine, and good apple cider--a slightly lower concentration can do wonders for nuance. In this case it seems to bring the components into perfect harmony and still holds on to its richness. So, try coarsening your grinder just a touch or shaving a few grams off your dose, and see what it does for you. Because, you know, this coffee will never happen again.

- Charlie Habegger, Broadway Educator