Yirg: A Romance


Editor’s note: The words in italics are links, embedded to enhance your reading experience.

This is a story about a cup of coffee and an experience powerful enough to force an attempt at sharing it with you. This is not a “how to” brew guide or an opinion piece. I am not being paid or otherwise compensated by any coffee shop, roaster, or individual for this article. I am being very detailed in hopes that this will inspire a similar experiences for you, dear readers, and would hate to accidentally leave out a vital piece of the equation. A wise man once told me there are few things more profound than understanding and appreciating everything that goes into enjoying a simple cup of coffee and, after tonight, I’m starting to agree with him.

The coffee in question is Ethiopia Yirga Cheffe Koke from Victrola Coffee Roasters, gifted by Dan Baumfeld of Neptune Coffee. If you buy this coffee at Neptune, look for it in a plain brown bag with the coffee name letter pressed onto a tag hanging by a string. Pretty cute, Dan. On the bottom of the bag is stamped the roast date, in this case December 6th. I’m writing this on the 12th, which makes it 6 days off roast.

I had just walked into my apartment after a long day at work and grabbed this bag off the kitchen counter, ready to relax and wind down with a pour over – an exercise I find immensely calming and entirely separate from my enjoyment of the resulting brew. First, I filled my new Capresso electric water kettle with good old Seattle tap water and started it up. I absolutely love this kettle and have boiled a lot of water simply out of enthusiasm in these first days of ownership. Then I set my glass 14oz Kerr mason jar I was to brew into, dropped in a filter, and threw a few beans into my Hario Mini Mill to check the grind and purge the burrs. For V60-01, I generally use 8 “clicks” open from the locked position, depending on the coffee. Then, I set the mill on a gram scale and poured in 16g of coffee for the the 250g of water I planned to use (~6g coffee per 100g water). I’ve found that an extra gram or two for Ethiopians works out nicely so I went with that. Once the water boiled, I poured enough over the filter to fill the jar in order to rinse out any paper taste and preheat the vessel, then set the kettle back on the heating element while I ground the beans. I love the dry aroma of fairly fruity well-developed coffee. As I turned the crank, that familiar peanut butter and jelly sandwich smell wafted around me and I closed my eyes to enjoy it. I know you can probably get way more specific about that smell that “peanut butter and jelly” but, in moments like these, I try not to think too hard and just enjoy it. Once the coffee was ground, I clicked the kettle back on, emptied the jar of the preheat water, poured the grounds into the filter, settled them, and made entire surface generally concave, with my finger to funnel the preinfusion water into the grounds bed. At this point, the water had boiled again and I poured about a liter into my Hario Buono pouring kettle with Barismo flow restrictor. I use at least a liter of water in the kettle no matter how much coffee I’m brewing to keep the temperature as stable as possible for the duration of the brew. Then, I set the jar with the dripper, filter, and grounds on the scale and zeroed it out while waiting for the water in the pouring kettle to cool to ~203 degrees F. The entire process thus far has taken about 5 minutes.

At exactly 7:43pm (I know this because I took a picture of the bloom for a friend to brag), I started the stop watch on my phone, poured 25g of water into the divot in the grounds and let it bloom for 40 seconds. During those turbulent 40 seconds, it was my delight to enjoy the wet aroma. This is where it really broke away from the general “peanut butter and jelly” smell and hit me in the face with citrus and spice. Separately, I would say that the combination of smells were Clementine zest, lavender, and sage but taken together, it reminded me of the slightly fermented quality of an orange left in the sun – an extremely pleasant aroma if not image. Then – only having had 40 seconds to revel – pouring into the center at full tilt, I filled the dripper to 100g with tight circles, causing the bloom to unfold onto the side of the filter without spilling over. Once at 100g, I maintained that level with pulses, pouring in spirals from the center to about ½ inch away from the edge. At 230g, I poured steadily into the center to cause the bottom of the bed to drop and create an even cone of grounds rather than thin walls and flat, think bottom that would result from continuing to pour in wide spirals. At 250g, I stopped pouring and let it drain with a total brew time of 2:10 when the last drop joined its comrades in the jar. This is my general brewing technique and I’ve found that, whatever arguments I can think of for or against, it produced the most consistently enjoyable cup for me personally. Usually, I will make changes in grind or dose before I will change technique.

Once the brew was finished, I studied the cone of grounds to my satisfaction, cleaned up, gave the jar a swirl, and stuck my nose in it. Now, to be honest, I wasn’t all that excited about the aroma of the brewed coffee. I tend to lean toward extremely one-sided coffees that immediately leap out and punch me in the face with exactly what they’re trying to communicate. BAM! Oranges, or roses, or strawberries, or herbs! This was much more subtle and complex with hints of floral tones and dark, processed chocolate but nothing really standing out to my woefully unrefined olfactories. So, I shrugged, set it down to cool a bit, and grabbed a book. I drank this coffee over the course of an hour and a half while reading House of Leaves. This is a really intense book and I would frequently forget about the coffee which allowed me to experience the full range of flavor profiles as it cooled. Every time I picked up my jar to sip, however, I would have to stop reading because the coffee was all I could think about. Then, I would set the jar down and begin the cycle all over again.

At first it was quite floral with citrus playing a backing role and cacao nib in the finish, like rose petals on the tongue, and orange zest on the sides, and cacao in the back when I exhaled. As it cooled, the florals mellowed out into more tulip, the orange remained but the cacao became more like dark chocolate. Generally, it got more round, creamy and sweet. So far, I was really enjoying it and was congratulating myself on my brewing skill but nothing really jumped out to make this an experience worth writing home/the internet about. This is when the book got really crazy and I lost track of my mason jar of tasty for a while (spoiler alert: Navidson re-enters the house for the final exploration and Johnny Truant finally goes off the reservation). When I came back around to it, the coffee had cooled as much as it was going to and when I absentmindedly brought it to my lips, I had to put the book down entirely and glare at the brown nectar accusingly as if it had pulled a dirty trick on me when I looked away. Nectar is actually a fitting description of what I couldn’t bring myself to swallow immediately, given that I only had 3 or so ounces left, its thin amber translucence taunting me in the bottom of the glass. Roses and tulips were completely gone, as was any hint of citrus or chocolate. Sitting at room temperature, it was like simple syrup infused with honeysuckle and clover blossoms with huge, creamy, syrupy body and I never wanted it to end. I feel like I understand why hummingbirds act the way they do. Reclining there with my eyes closed, savoring every miniscule sip and trying to rationalize a diet consisting entirely of this sweet caffeinated ambrosia, it’s not difficult to imagine the incessant humming, buzzing, darting effect it would have on my person.

In fact, I don’t have to use my imagination at all because, as I sit here in my apartment next to the book that remains where I dropped it hours earlier, I’m typing this at 1 in the morning with shaky fingers after my third mason jar of Ethiopia Yerga Cheffe Koke and wondering how on earth I’m going to achieve sleep before work in the morning – and not caring. I wonder if the calming exercise of the pour over process would help…

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6 Comments on “Yirg: A Romance”

  1. Tom Baker
    12/17/2010 at 1:38 pm #

    2 things: first, this post really makes me want to pick up a good book.

    Second, this makes me think of how all of the negative things I hear about poor brewing techniques or bad brews or what people don’t like about coffees encourage me to be a better barista. But all of the wonderful things I hear about what people love about a coffee encourage me to be a seek out what I love in coffees. It’s rather transcendental.

    Good post.

    • 12/17/2010 at 2:20 pm #

      Thanks, man. I’ve been trying to keep my appreciation of coffee from becoming all about the exercise. On a scoring sheet, I’m sure I’ve had better coffees brewed more accurately but rarely do I get to enjoy those coffees like I enjoyed this one, curled up at home with a book and the planets aligned just so.

  2. 12/18/2010 at 8:56 am #

    I needed to read this. Lately I’ve just been drinking coffee and thinking “tartaric acid, malic acid”. I have spent so much time trying to understand it and pick it apart, that I’ve basically destroyed any romance. Thanks for injecting a little bit of love back into my daily grind (nyuck nyuck nyuck).

  3. Jared
    01/17/2011 at 12:35 pm #

    Not to be nitpicky, but isn’t ‘yerg’ spelled ‘yirg,’ as an abbreviation of Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia?

    Cheers to good coffee.

  4. Wayne Mercer
    03/17/2011 at 11:28 am #

    You’re killing me, just drink it ok

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