Sub-Zero Top 50. 19-10
- 19) Bolivia, El Fuerte, Coco Natural, Gesha, Monogram Coffee, Calgary, Canada.
Espresso: Strawberry, Cherry Liquor, Orange Blossom.
This coffee was an absolute treat. If you have been following the Sub-Zero top 50 then you might wonder; does drinking and serving all of this coffee ever lose its appeal? The answer to that is a hard no.
Us serving all of this coffee is like Forest Gump cutting grass, he liked doing it so much he did it for free! We aren’t quite in a position financially to do that yet, but I honestly hope one day we are.
El Fuerte is a stand out farm that is owned by the Rodriguez family, who own Agricafe, who produce most of Bolivia’s specialty coffee. The Rodriguez family produce coffee in two locations; Caranavi and Samaipata.
El Fuerte is within the Samaipata location, which is close to one of Bolivia’s major cities Santa Cruz.
Coffee production wasn’t as popular here as it was in other regions until the Rodriguez family came along. They obviously saw huge potential because this coffee has some pretty overwhelming flavours.
Monogram have a unique style of roasting for espresso. Compared to most Australian roasters we have worked with; their espresso roasts are very light and require a different approach to achieve a necessary extraction. We don’t find ourselves dosing under twenty grams much for espresso recipes, however with this coffee we used a dose of eighteen grams with a yield of approximately 42 grams. What the coffee lacked in texture (not to be taken as a negative) it certainly blew you away with obvious, unmistakable and brilliant flavours.
We also have the pleasure of working with Slayer Espresso machines which allows us to go even further with their needle valve function (more to come on this). I hit this with a twenty second pre-infusion (at what equates to five bars of pressure) and then finished the remainder of the shot at nine bars which lasted an additional fifteen seconds.
The results were some explosive flavours that quite honestly you need a licence to handle.
- 18) Bolivia, Las Alasitas, Washed, Gesha, Monogram Coffee, Calgary, Canada. Espresso: Pineapple, Mandarin, Jasmine
While we’re on the subject of Bolivian coffee, this coffee was nothing short of incredible. I do have to disclose my bias here though, as this farm has a very special place in my heart.
In 2018 I travelled to Bolivia while working for ST Ali. It was more like a pilgrimage for me, I had developed an insatiable obsession for Bolivian coffee that started when I tried coffee from one of their neighbouring farms, Finca Don Carlos.
A lot of coffee professionals have an epiphany at some stage in their career and it usually starts with a coffee that blows their mind. That Don Carlos Geisha that I had at Market Lane changed me, I knew I had to go to Bolivia and that’s exactly what I did.
When I qualified for the Australian Barista Championship I asked my then boss Salvatore Malatesta if I could go to Bolivia over lunch and he agreed to send me (something I am very grateful for). I used coffee from Las Alasitas in that competition, my theme was to bring more awareness to Bolivia as an elite coffee producing nation.
Finca Las Alasitas is a farm that nears the township of Caranavi, which is a five-hour (very dangerous) drive from La Paz.
The farm is magical, and to be there brewing Geisha among the Geisha plants was something I will never forget.
Reminiscing on all of that reaffirms to me just how great this coffee was. We have covered the roasting and brewing style, this coffee I only just placed ahead of the El Fuerte as it was slightly cleaner (look at those flavours though).
If you see coffee from Las Alasitas ever, stop what you’re doing and buy it.
- 17) Panama, Hacienda Esmerelda, Washed, Gesha, ST Ali, South Melbourne, Australia. Filter: Jasmine, Mandarin, Earl Grey
This farm hardly needs introduction, it may be the most famous coffee farm in all of specialty coffee. It’s kind of like Wayne Gretzky to Ice Hockey, Michael Jordan to Basketball or Jeon Jooyeon to Barista competitors.
Esmerelda Geisha never loses its appeal, it gets better with each sip you take and this coffee is no exception.
One distinct characteristic about this coffee is the amazing aroma. I wrote Jasmine as one of the primary flavour notes, however on the nose one will detect a bouquet of flowers which is a very good sign in a washed Geisha.
This coffee also holds a special place in the heart as it is from the place I used to work. Being the Head Barista of ST Ali was one of the most wild jobs I will ever have had, so many crazy coffees to work with and so many (like a lot) of coffees made.
Miss you guys!
- 16) Panama, Ninety Plus Gesha Estate ‘Perci’, Natural, Gesha, Momos Coffee, Busan, South Korea. Filter: Orange Wine, Cacao Nibs, Mixed Berries.
What I am about to say might attract some negative feedback. When brewing this coffee it smelt like vegemite (anyone not from Australia who has tried vegemite might be barfing onto their screen right now), which is shocking given how damn good it tastes.
I believe there is a certain cohort of people in specialty coffee that despise coffees like this, to me they are known as “coffee conservatives.” I don’t have a problem with coffee onservatives, you like what you like. This coffee I feel is a bit of a room splitter and most coffee conservatives probably wouldn’t like it. I live in Melbourne where I feel there are many coffee conservatives, some roasters pretty much exclusively use washed coffees as they are a bit more tame.
I can handle funky coffees and this one certainly had plenty of funk. To rebut my own points though, it is also extremely complex. Anyone who cares not about specialty coffee and happened to try this coffee would appreciate it is something pretty special.
Ninety Plus is another farm that hardly needs introduction, if you want to know more about it here’s the link. Led by Joseph Brodsky, Ninety Plus are producing some of the worlds best coffees, and to this day hold the record of most expensive coffee of all time (Bean Scene, 2019).
We charged $26 AUD a cup for this coffee, which is enough to make the news if you mean something to the Australian media. The most memorable experience I have serving this coffee was a gentleman who asked me: “$26 dollars for a coffee? Mate are you kidding?” I told him I wasn’t kidding and was expecting a spray until he responded: “Righto, I’ll have two of those.” He liked the coffee so much he came and got another two for he and his friends the next day.
Momos Coffee I consider among the best in the business. Their filter roasting is elite and their roasting for espresso was so good it won Jeon Jooyeon the World Barista Championship, a title she still holds.
- 15) Ethiopia, Gesha Village 2017 Harvest, Gesha, Passenger, Coffee,Lancaster (Pennsylvania), USA. Filter, White Peach, Lavender, Honeysuckle
Allow me to introduce you all to Passenger Coffee. They’re situated in everyone’s favourite swing state Pennsylvania and their coffee is ridiculous.
In other instalments of this top fifty I have mentioned how Passenger are freezing green coffee and releasing them at later dates. Different harvests present different flavours in coffee. This can be because of changing weather, different processing and myriad other reasons. One day coffee professionals and drinkers will be able to reflect on and celebrate certain harvests from certain farms, as is the case in the wine industry. Passenger Coffee are among the leaders in our industry driving true change, for that Sub-Zero Coffee must congratulate them.
- 14) Colombia, La Palma El Tucan, Lactic Process, Gesha, Axil Coffee Roasters, Melbourne, Australia. Espresso: Green Apple, Yellow Plum, Sherbert.
You just knew that somewhere on this list, coffee from the famous La Palma El Tucan would feature right? Right!
La Palma El Tucan is another farm that we all hear so much about and for good reason, their coffee is unbelievable!
This coffee roasted by another of my former employers (Axil Coffee Roasters) lit a fire in my mouth in a very good way.
La Palma are building a strong brand and their coffee is very distinct. My favourite element of this coffee was the bright malic acidity. For those of you who read the word ‘acidity’ and shudder, fear not, when balanced it is the best element of a coffee.
A combination of unique terroir, years experimenting with fermentations and flavour profiles, have led to La Palma becoming the beast it is today.
It was good enough to win the World Barista Championship last year and it probably won’t be too long before that happens again.
La Palma is also far more than just a coffee farm, it also has a resort on site as well for eager coffee tourists. Sounds to me like a true coffee wonderland!
To conclude though, this coffee was outrageous. Most of this I attribute to the remarkable work La Palma are doing, but I have to give a shout out to Axil’s Head Roaster Matt Crowley who is a master of the dark arts and did a great job with this coffee.
- 13) Blend, Violet & Blueberries, CM Natural & Washed, Mixed Varieties, Ona Coffee, Canberra, Australia. Milk Based: Blueberries, Vanilla Bean, Baileys.
Well here we go again with the Ona seasonal releases, in my opinion this one is the greatest of them all.
I’m going to ruffle a few more feathers here: Ona Coffee are the best roasters for milk based coffee in the industry (that we have tried from).
I refer you back to what I said about the existence of a coffee conservative. In my experience most coffee roasters in Australia are reluctant to roast elite coffee for the purpose of it being paired with milk (outside of a competition that is). Ona are one of the few roasters that profile their milk-based coffees separately from espresso, because it is a completely different style of beverage.
The world’s best coffees I suspect are roasted for filter. I’m not suggesting in any way that this is wrong, but when I drink some coffees now that are roasted for filter, I often wish that I could try it appropriately roasted for milk. Surely, I’m not alone? More than 80% of our customers drink milk-based coffees as their regular coffee of choice, so why not roast for those people. Of course, lots coffees don’t suit being paired with milk, but many do.
Back to the coffee though, it was outrageous. The best experience I had with it was in Ona’s Sydney store when the ever-humble Tim Song made one for me. We had the coffee for our first pop ups, but I don’t think we came close to making it as well as Tim did that day. Thick blueberry flavours with a super pleasant baileys/vanilla after taste. The blend was an absolute masterpiece. I actually feel a bit mean not placing it in the top ten, but you will know why soon enough…
- 12) Panama, Finca Deborah ‘Symmetry’, CM Natural ‘Indigo,’ Ona Coffee, Canberra, Australia. Espresso/Filter: Purple Grape, Pineapple, Violets, Velvety.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that coffee from Finca Deborah made it to the top fifty, or that it placed this high.
Finca Deborah is owned by the legendary Jamison Savage. As the name would suggest, the guy is a damn savage. On appearance alone Jamison Savage reminds me a bit of Bear Grylls, he looks like he could last a lifetime stuck in the Amazon and equally capable of going full Liam Neeson on your ass if you so deserved it.
His physical stature aside though, his coffee has been used to win the World Barista Championship by Berg Wu in 2017, Sam Corra also came second in the World Brewers Cup in 2018 using another lot from Finca Deborah.
My first encounter with the ‘Symmetry’ lot was at the World Brewers Cup competition in Belo Horizonte, Brazil back in 2018. Heath Dalziel was the Australian representative and was using Symmetry. I managed to say hello to the Ona guys back stage and try the brew, the other coffees in the competition must have been ridiculous because this coffee made me feel pretty insignificant as a brewer.
I really like a CM natural roasted for espresso when it isn’t too overpowering and this one certainly fit the bill. I was actually pretty gobsmacked with the intensity of the violet flavour note in this coffee, but when I remember it is from the promised land that is Finca Deborah it really isn’t hard to comprehend. We also had this coffee roasted for filter and it was equally delicious, though as a filter it tasted more of blood orange and yellow peach with an amazing floral finish.
To me the espresso was more memorable as it was just so unique compared to some of the others we have had on our menu. I cannot wait to try more harvests from this lot and see what Jamison and the team at Project Origin do with the fermentations year on year, its only up from here right?
- 11) Guatemala, Kalibus La Sierra (COE#2), Washed, Gesha, Momos Coffee, Busan, South Korea. Filter: Apricot, Yellow Plum, Floral.
I have to be honest, I have been sleeping on Guatemala as a coffee producing nation for years now, and this coffee changed my perception of Guatemalan coffee entirely. I never denied that Guatemalan coffee was great, but this coffee showed me that it can be elite and I should have really known better.
This farm obviously has some silverware having placed second in the Cup of Excellence, and it doesn’t hurt that it was roasted by Momos Coffee who we have already touched on.
Drinking this coffee was like biting into a fresh apricot. It was juicy and probably had the best texture I have ever experienced from a Washed Gesha filter in my life.
We brewed the coffee using Tetsu Kasuya’s 4:6 method and ground it on a Commandante at 32 clicks. I have to give a shout out to my man Hany Ezzat on this one, at one of our pop ups he brewed it for me and I never quite made it as good.
I’ll be looking forward to trying more coffee from this farm in the future. Given the experience I had with it as a filter, I would be fascinated to actually have it roasted for me as an espresso. Until that day I will remember this coffee ever so fondly.
- 10) Panama, Hacienda Esmerelda Noria Carnaval, Natural, Gesha, Momos Coffee, Busan, South Korea. Filter: Green Apple, Raspberry, Lillies
In a world where we are spoilt with Anaerobic ferments and experimental processing that augments coffee flavours to new heights, sometimes its just good to just enjoy a classic natural. What better country to have a classic natural coffee from than Panama? And what better farm than Esmerelda?
It was genuinely painful to arrange the top ten of this list, this coffee could very easily be number one.
The malic acidity that you are greeted with on the first sip of this coffee is divine and the floral finish was as good as any filter I have had.
I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t like this coffee. Coffee conservatives cannot deny its greatness, no one can.
I won’t reveal what we paid for this coffee, but it was the most expensive coffee we have ever had on the menu. It was also one of the most delicious.