A bean to pick

Coffee picker in Panama with his fingers in a basket of Perci Red.

Coffee. Have we come too far in our consumption of it ever to know the truth—the link from which all things sold in the name of coffee went missing?
Last week, after my mom had eye surgery, I went to the grocery store to buy her, among other things, some coffee. The shelves there are filled with big, plastic cans of various and sundry “roasts,” some of which go darker than others, but none of which really matters after you let the brew rest in a glass bowl over a hot plate for half an hour. Dried and warehoused for longevity, it never had a chance. Between that and a caramel Venti, where’s coffee?
A lot of places, actually, many of them represented in the sacks of beans piled high in the roasting room at DoubleShot Coffee Company. Hills and slopes of hills and microlots across Africa, Central and South America, and Asia, all in bags stacked chest-high in places and creating a maze of coffee navigable by foot and, ultimately, by cup.
Not among them, yet, is a new one from Ninety Plus Coffees called Perci Red. Red because the beans, instead of having the usual green cast to them, emit a faintly rust-colored glow. The beans are picked from Gesha plants (an Ethiopian variety) rooted in Panamanian soil. All of which must matter, and does.
We sampled Perci Red in a pour-over for two, the first step of which is a measuring of beans (by gram). Second step: a grind and, in the filter, a sniff. Fruit is the perfume, reasonable enough since coffee is a cherry and a bean. But this fruit is intoxicating, a piercing aromatic bitchslap to the brain. Third: the bloom, wherein the water is poured over the grind, just enough to wet it. The ground coffee comes to life in the heated water, heaving caramel brown and finally settling. More water, poured around and down the filter, until something resembling coffee begins to appear and darken in the bottom of the beaker.
Saladin, the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria, drank a kind of coffee from fermented cherries, more a wine, really. He, and it, got the world’s attention. The Perci Red has a winey quality about it, though the prevailing flavor is citrus. Lemony, but not sour, lemony and long, drawn out, lasting. The drink is stripped of all the detritus that you might have come to associate with coffee. It is neither “strong” or bitter, though it is firm of body and bold enough to stand your freckles on end. It isn’t “black,” which is its most arresting quality after its lemon-cherry fruitiness. The Perci Red is nearly red, burnished-brown, actually, but with a ruby tone that clears as the cup diminishes. The finish is long, like sucking on a drop, with no undesirable trace. Clean, in a word.
A sweetness somehow survives in all this citrus, maybe even thrives. When you one day get the chance to sample Perci Red, try it with the house lemon bar. It’s one of those made in heaven—or Ethiopia.

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