June’s Roaster’s Pick

KASAMA ESTATE: Zambia Coffee

My longtime friend Lex Alexander has one of the best palates and finest food sensibilities I’ve known. A bit less than 10 years ago, Lex suffered a bad stroke. To his great credit, and to all those around him who supported him through the process, he’s come a long, long way in his recovery. His sense of food and his palate remain excellent. He remains a great friend, driven to learn, to connect, to play golf (his other passion), and he writes some, now and again, about his views. He cares deeply for his family, his friends, his community, and the world of wine and food. I hope that one day you’ll be able to read his work in properly published, print form. But for the moment, I figured I’d share a snippet of it here:

I think that rituals, if richly textured, can add a rhythm and a marker to your life. I have this coffee-making ritual I’ve had for 25 years. And I’ve evolved it as I’ve learned more about coffee. And the thing I love about it is, if you have a ritual of going to work out in the afternoon, oft-times something can come up and get in the way. But nothing ever gets in the way of something that happens at 5:30 in the morning. So I know that no matter what’s going to happen the rest of the day, I can do something really nice for myself and make something just for me.

Something I love about the coffee ritual is thinking ‘What went in?’—the farmers, the pickers, the shippers, the roasters—everything that goes into that cup of coffee. I have a German gram scale where I weigh out the grams of coffee, and then I have a nice grinder where I grind the beans right before I make it. I’ve gone through periods where I use a French press, but currently, I like a pour-over drip. I’ve got a really beautiful Japanese kettle that has a long spout where you can aim the water to saturate the grounds. You can sort of agitate the grounds because the spout is so precise.

If Lex were here in town (he lives in Durham), I think he might join me in appreciating the current crop of coffee we’ve got in from Zambia right now. I’m loving it. We found this lot from Kasama Estate to be rich, full-bodied, and complex, and loved its earthy, herbal, and bittersweet cocoa notes.

Zambia used to be known in the US, for the history buffs amongst you, by its colonial name of Rhodesia. Named now more appropriately for the Zambezi river that runs through it. Coffee came later to Africa than it did to most—in the 1950s. Kasama estate is in the northeast section of the country, about 400 or so miles to the west of the Mababu co-op with which our very good friend Shawn Askinosie works to get the great cacao beans for his terrific Tanzania chocolate.

To my taste, the cup is creative, caring, very cocoa-y, elegant. Easy going, but not in a bland way. More like mellow, but marvelous, Ry Cooder guitar-playing than any kind of uninteresting elevator music. Something with style, elegance, purpose, and subtle power, but all delivered in an unobtrusive, thought-provoking, emotionally supportive way. Elle Koski from Zingerman’s Coffee Company told me that she loves its savory, almost meaty (maybe bacon-y!) richness. I’m gonna send a bag down to Lex this week so he can try it as part of his morning ritual. If you happen to be up early, around 5:30 EDT, think about him and his meticulous grinding of the beans, his very exact weighing and the spot of his pot gently dispensing a soft but steady stream of hot water onto the grounds. If you can wait til 6 am, you can get it at the Roadshow drive-up trailer (9 on the weekends), or at 7 at the Deli and of course, the Coffee Company. Enjoy. As Lex often closed out his blog and our conversations: “And a beauty to you.”

Excerpt from Ari’s weekly Top 5 E-Newsletter. To stay in-the-know about things that Ari is excited about in the Zingerman’s family, sign up here