San Diego Joe

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Coffee, Wine & Doing Lines

You may have seen their logo around town; the initials “CM” golden-winged against tar black. But do you really know the extent of the operation behind the logo? Cafe Moto’s roots go way back. It began in 1990 as a division of its parent Company, Pannikin Coffee & Tea, which has been roasting coffee in San Diego since 1968. Second generation owners, Torrey and Kim Lee incorporated in 1998, and have continued to be dedicated to their craft of producing quality coffee and teas.

Besides roasting sustainable or organic coffee, they’ve gone green in other ways using solar power to decrease their carbon footprint. Talking about the impact of buying organic and fairly traded beans was clearly important to the owner, Torrey, who showed us around the roasting room before our scheduled tasting. It was a delight to meet Torrey, and such a pleasure to get a chance to hear him talk about his family legacy surrounded by many of the relics from roasting generations past on display in their storeroom.

After our tour of the storeroom, Torrey guided our small group of 10 or so into their in-store kitchen leaving us in the hands of our tasting host, Juan Gutierrez. They use the kitchen to train clients ranging from chefs  to newbie Baristas on the fundamentals of quality coffee brewing.

We all gathered around a table neatly prepared complete with tasting notes. I stood next to Danielle and Shawn of Global Grind Coffee (located at the Encinitas Library), clients of Cafe Moto’s, and a big fan of Moto’s commitment to sustainable practices and fair wages for the farmer’s they work with. Also a part of the group, were a few newbies to tasting such as myself and a couple business partners opening a coffee cafe in Seattle. A nice dynamic with lots of perspectives.

Gutierrez, our host for the tasting or what is technically termed a “cupping”, explained that the more you know about the process of getting the bean from farm to cup the more you realize that coffee should command a price closer to that of wine. Ignorance is truly bliss. I find myself agreeing with him as I’ve traversed deeper and deeper into what getting one great tasting shot entails, but that is a discussion that deserves its own platform and dedicated post.

I thought most inspring to note that by the time the green seed of the coffee cherry reaches Cafe Moto or other Roasters in the States, over 80 different hands have likely touched it in some way, from cultivation and processing to storage and shipping, and even if all those points of contact get everything right and Cafe Moto manages to roast the bean ( or “seed”) perfectly; one improper grind, tamp, or poor pull on an improperly calibrated espresso machine could render the coffee undrinkable. It’s enough to bring a tear to your eye when you think of all that goes into the shot that the Barista just burned. So much blood, sweat and tears…wasted. 

We began the tasting talking about how, like wine tasting, no two palates are alike. I’ve touched on this in previous posts. This is very true. One reason whilst tasting and scoring coffees (also scored similarly to wine with the highest score being a perfect 100), more than one palate is useful. Usually, palates are in agreement if within a few points of each other.

Gutierrez also touched on the four steps of tasting coffee and tea:  Smell, slurp, locate the experience on your tongue, write a description. Before dipping our noses into the first cup of grinds, Gutierrez pointed out the five categories we’d be scoring: Aroma, flavor, acidity, body, and aftertaste or finish. And then it was time to begin…

The first coffee we inhaled, slurped, and discussed was the Organic Gayo Mountain from the Island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Chocolate to the nose, and earthy to the taste I agreed.

The second coffee, was the biggest hitter in the line-up, the Organic Guatemala ASOBAGRI. ASOBAGRI is the name of the cooperative that grows the coffee and trains its farmers in organic, bird-friendly practices. Strong bakers chocolate and floral notes lit up my senses, and the taste was equally pleasing. Gutierrez admitted once we’d all chimed in on what we were experiencing that the Guatemala was his favorite.

Lastly, from the cradle of civilization and it is believed the origin of coffee itself, we tasted the Organic Ethiopian Yrgacheffe. Sun dried, not washed, given that Ethiopia is a dry country and water is scarce. This process of sun drying the cherry allows the fruit to bake into the seed, or coffee bean. A noted difference in the appearance of the bean was the visible parchment in the crease of the seed also indicative of sun dried or naturally processed coffees. Cupping the fresh grinds and inhaling their aroma, I caught the scent of fruit, berry possibly and wood…it was smokey like a nice tabacco.

I actually commented at this point that I’d like to do lines of the stuff it smelled so good. Thank gawd the group was easy going! Instead of side-glances and looks of disapproval for my comparing coffee to cocaine, the suggestion was met with laughter and nods of agreement. I caught myself thinking I’d like to party with a few of these characters, no doubt the feeling was mutual. The taste of the Yrgacheffe was pleasing, but not as promising as the nose had suggested. In the end, I had to agree that the Guatemala was my favorite of the three as well even if my initial response didn’t involve visions of neatly lining it up with a razor blade on a smooth reflective surface…

Thanks Juan, Torrey and the rest of the gang at Cafe Moto for taking my coffee knowledge to the next level whilst having a few laughs along the way! I’m enjoying the Guatemala (even shared it with my neighbors). I look forward to doing another tasting in the not too distant future. 

Cafe Moto holds tastings regularly, so please call or email ahead your interest in attending so they can get you in. Enjoy!

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