Finding a fantastic local roaster can be a tough chore in the sea of specialty and non-specialty grade coffee roasters out there. But if you live in or around Boston you're in luck: The coffee community has been growing rapidly and two local roasters in particular seem to be spearheading the movement.
Like-minded yet extremely different in selections, George Howell's Terroir in Acton and Barismo out of Arlington offer intelligent and thoughtful coffees in the Northeast US. On top of roasting coffee, Terroir and Barismo have helped introduce new technologies aimed at making coffee better.
I had the pleasant opportunity of experiencing both roasters and was surprised by the coffees they're offering along with their continued pursuit of quality in the coffee industry.
George Howell's Terroir Coffee Company
I first ran into George Howell's Terroir Coffee Company while visiting a coffee conference in Atlanta, Georgia. George was displaying his ingenious invention, the ExtractMoJo, a digital coffee refractometer and software combo that defines extraction rates in coffee, essentially telling the barista what the percentage of total dissolved solubles are in each cup. Turns out that an extraction rate of 18 to 22 percent makes a good cup of coffee. Reading solubles may seem odd, but the ExtractMoJo creates a guideline for a barista to recreate delicious coffee over and over again (see coffee and espresso brewing control charts at Home-Barista.com). This little piece of equipment has quickly spread into an excellent observation tool when tasting coffees. Any company with the tenacity to engineer a new barista tool must offer some amazing coffees, and Terroir doesn't disappoint.
I jumped over to the home of my friend Nicholas Lungaard, a forums moderator for specialty website Home-Barista.com, after he called me and mentioned he got some of George Howell's coffee. We tried the Daterra Brazilian Northern Espresso, which included multiple cultivars (varietals) from the coffee growing Daterra region. Described by George as honey textured, exceptionally sweet, with the aroma of marzipan, this coffee claimed its description immediately. We brewed this coffee two different ways, as an espresso and as a siphon for the sake of the home barista who may not have a commercial espresso machine and grinder in their living room. The siphon brewed coffee was incredibly nutty and sweet, and the espresso had a well-rounded cocoa mouthfeel and tons of clean wood tones. This goes to show that even espressos can have a unique personality in other brewing methods.
One last thing about George Howell: He was one of the founding members of the incredibly inspiring Cup of Excellence programs in South and Central American countries, sometimes paying in upwards of $90 a pound directly to farmers for exceptional coffees.
Down Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington lies Barismo's small but efficient retail and wholesale coffee brewing roastery, open for business seven days a week. The young upstarts who run Barismo are genuinely passionate and enthusiastic about serving precisely made coffees and explaining why temperature control and water flow rate are so important. Their passion about this is so great that they've been lending a helping hand in the development of the Luminaire Bravo-1, a water distribution and temperature control device that will drastically increase the repeatability of your local cafe's pour-over coffee program by offering easily accessible, temperature-stable hot water.
I had the pleasure of trying a fully washed and sun dried coffee ("washed" refers to a processing technique that cleans all the pulp off of coffee berries in order to pick the highest quality beans from the farm) from El Salvador called Las Nubes. Fully washed coffees tend to have a very clean mouth feel and lively acidity, and this coffee showed notes of dried peach and cedar. The lingering flavors reminded me of slightly sweet lemon tones and brown sugar.
I received another coffee from Barismo called El Llano from the Tarrazu region of Costa Rica. Another washed coffee (these guys love their washed processed coffees, and I do too), this Costa Rican is made up of two different coffee varietals, Caturra and Catuai. These varietals can also be found in Brazilian coffees and tend to offer a hefty mouthfeel and very concentrated and even flavors. This coffee rang with lime zest acidity and carried through, juicy and dense. I made both of these coffees using a Hario V60 and water temperature of 196°F.
Barismo offers multiple brewing instructions on their website and are generally only a phone call or email away. Tea fans, take note: Barismo source all of their wonderful teas from friends and family in Taiwan, and they all are equally amazing.
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