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A Tanzania coffee side-by-side: Heroes vs. Intelligentsia

Recently I’ve been sampling the roasts from Heroes Coffee, a local coffee roaster based here in Springfield, Missouri.  Heroes Coffee also owns the Heroes Coffee Cafe located at the corner of National Avenue and Chestnut Expressway in Springfield, which is one of the shops taking part in our 417Coffee Disloyalty Card.   It’s the best location to sample all the coffee roasts of Heroes Coffee because they serve Heroes roasts exclusively.

Tim Ferguson, who owns Heroes, recently gave me a bag of Tanzania coffee to sample.  When I get beans from a local roaster to try, I usually swing by a local coffee shop and test them out with the owner of the shop for two reasons: 1) the shops have the best equipment on hand to brew up a couple cups to sample, and 2) I think it’s always good to keep the efforts of local roasters in front of our local coffee shop owners to help further the local coffee community. It’s always fun to evaluate a local roast with a coffee shop that works to brew excellent coffee every minute of every day.

Some of the local coffee shops use local roasts, such as the Mudhouse, which roasts its own coffee at the Mudhouse roasting facility downtown, Heroes Coffee Cafe, Big Momma’s Coffee, which uses coffee from a local roaster named Origins, and from what I’ve heard, Hot Shots over on East Sunshine in Springfield.  There may be other local shops that also use local roasters, but several of the local shops use national roasters, namely PT’s Coffee and Intelligentsia, both of which create a great coffee product on a national level with expeditious shipping to guarantee freshness.

On this particular day, I knew the The Hub Bikes and Beans, which carries Intelligentsia coffee beans, had just received a shipment of Tanzania beans.  So I felt it would be fun to do a side-by-side comparison of the Intelligentsia Tanzania with the Heroes Tanzania.  Jason Strother, who owns The Hub, can brew two cups side-by-side using a pourover drip brewer, using the same measurement of beans, the same grind and the same water.  By equalizing those variable as much as possible, we can see what comes out of these two roasts.

On physical inspection of the beans, we noted that the Heroes Tanzania beans appeared to be of the peaberry variety while the Intelligentsia beans appeared larger and may not have been a peaberry.  A peaberry is a special type of coffee bean.  Typically, two flat-sided coffee beans, called flat berries, develop inside each cherry of coffee fruit, but in the case of a peaberry, only one side of the coffee fruit gets fertilized and as such only one small oval, pea-shaped coffee bean develops inside.  According to Wikipedia, about 5% of the worldwide coffee crop comes in the peaberry form.  Tanzania has become known for sorting out the peaberries and selling them together as a coffee variety.  For more on peaberries and the specific peaberries of Tanzania, there’s an interesting, very detailed read over at the Virtual Coffee site on the matter.

Back to the side-by-side comparison, though, it was interesting to us that the Heroes appeared to be a peaberry variety while the Intelligentsia appeared to be more of a flat berry roast.  I was expecting both roasts to be of the peaberry variety simply because it was from Tanzania, but looking at the Intelligentsia site’s description page for this bean, I don’t see any reference to peaberry.  What was also noticeable in visual inspection was how similar the two roasts were.  The Heroes roast was barely darker than the Intelligentsia roast, but they were so close that you couldn’t really tell the difference until you put the beans side by side.

In grinding the beans, they smelled similar, and then in brewing, the only thing we noticed different between the two brew cycles was that the Intelligentsia roast had a more prominent “bloom” than the Heroes roast.

Fresh roasted and freshly ground coffee will typically “bloom” as it comes into contact with water, meaning the grounds will expand and almost foam together. From my experience, the bloom of a coffee brew is a good sign of freshness of the roast, but you can actually get too much bloom if you brew too soon after  a roast without letting the beans rest for a few days.  I once had a roast that wouldn’t stop blooming — the whole time the grinds were in the French press with the water, they were constantly effervescing and moving the grinds in almost a rolling boil style, and after a little research, I discovered that too much bloom means you’re brewing the coffee too early, and the beans haven’t had a chance to release enough gases post-roast, so all those gases are expelling out during the brew process.  Typically, a freshly roast coffee that has had ample time to rest will bloom for about a minute after coming into contact with water and then settle down.  Anecdotally, I’ve heard that you won’t get much bloom in a brew around 30 days post-roast, but I personally believe it’s shorter than that.  In this situation, though, the low bloom in the Heroes roast was somewhat odd, because I know it was freshly roast.  I’ve notified Tim about this odd behavior and he’s checking into it because the Heroes coffee should have bloomed more.

After the brew, Jason poured the coffees into cups, and we tasted them.  After a few slurps, Jason and I both agreed that the tastes of the coffees were almost identical.  The flavors were the same, the acidity and the same, but the only real distinction was the body.  The Intelligentsia brew was a little more syrupy in its mouth feel than the Heroes version.  We couldn’t really tag one as better than the other.  Instead, it came down to a preferential determination as to whether you wanted a more syrupy body to the coffee or a less syrupy body.

All in all, we considered this a success for Heroes Coffee.  Intelligentsia Coffee is a national roaster that produces some of the better coffee roasts in the coffee industry, so for Heroes Coffee to produce a roast of similar, almost identical qualities is a big deal.  Heroes is working hard to develop their roasts to the level of consistent quality that the national roasters, like Intelligentsia and PT’s Coffee, are putting out, and it’s exciting to see a local roaster producing a good Tanzania roast like the one we sampled.