Brian Beyke

MADCAP - Elefante

Brian Beyke

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From very early in my specialty coffee drinking there were always two favorites: Kuma and Madcap.  I know you’ve heard it a dozen times but it’s true.  One thing I love about Madcap is the amount of detail they provide about the history of the coffees they select.  It’s a small detail, but I love a roaster who likes to provide the story behind the bean, and not just… the bean.  I feel like I get to read the diary of Madcap and their intention of their selections, and in part, I think that makes me feel closer to the coffees too.  This is why I like to have farm details when I do write-ups.  Aside from the fact that it helps me understand the terroir, the hardships, the varietal or processing, it just gives me a bit more of the history.  Today, we are in for a treat.  From the Rodriguez family of El Porvenir in El Salvador, Madcap brings us the rare Elefante varietal.

Elefante is the one variety in this series whose origin is unknown.  It was discovered by the Rodriguez family on their farm over 5 ago.  The tree has a lot of Bourbon similarities, yet some of the spacing and branches expected from a Typica, with a very low yield. The variety received it’s name Elefante because of the enormous size of the coffee fruit.  The density of the cherries are double the weight of bourbon, and generally quadruples the amount of juice that comes out of the cherry when squeezed.  Madcap is the first and only roaster in the US to have the Elefante.  The flavor is outstanding, offering intense sweetness, great body and floral notes throughout.

One of the first coffees ever purchased at Madcap was El Porvenir. In 2008 Gloria Mercedes Rodriguez Fontan produced a Cup of Excellence winning coffee. Madcap purchased this coffee as part of a buying group comprised of several North American roasters. We loved Gloria’s coffee, and made a trip to visit El Porvenir the following year to build a relationship.

On subsequent visits, while observing the washing and drying of the coffee, we noticed a significant amount of separation happening — they were picking and processing each variety separately. Coffee, much like many species, has a number of cultivars. While there are heirloom varieties growing in some regions of Africa, the majority of known cultivars are the results of random mutations or man-made hybrids. It’s common for several coffee varieties to grow on a farm, although they are typically picked & processed together. It was unusual in our experience to witness producers pick separately and then blend.

Our interest was piqued. We knew that varieties of coffee must have unique taste characteristics, yet the opportunity to compare these flavors is few and far between. Differences in the terroir of the plants could introduce different qualities into the coffee, meaning that unless the varieties grow in a similar place one can’t accurately compare and contrast the taste of different varieties. Here was the opportunity to do just that. For the 2012 harvest, we partnered with Gloria and her family to keep some varieties separate through drying and milling. That year we released Typica, Orange and Yellow Bourbon, Elefante, and Pacamara. In 2013, the Rodruiguez family delivered us 8 separate varieties.

This year we are very excited to continue to offer coffees from this amazing farm. Gloria is a third-generation coffee farmer who everyone loves, runs a very tight quality- and ethics-focused business with her daughter Majo and son-in-law Luis Rodriguez. Their innovation in growing, harvesting, processing and separating, paired with their commitment to partnering with like-minded roasters, gives opportunity to taste some of the most amazing coffees we’ve come across.

 

Details:

Roaster: Madcap Coffee

Region: Apaneca, El Salvador

Prodcuer: Gloria, Majo, Luis and Roberto Rodriguez

Process: Washed and dried in raised beds

Varietal: Elefante

Elevation: 1,400 meters

Harvested: January-February 2014

 

Brew Method:

V60 no stir | 14g © to 227g (w) | 1:55 total time | 201 degrees | 1.41 TDS | 21.15% Ext. (preferred method)

Perfumed nose.

Diving in is both crisp and spicy, with a really focused syrupy finish.

As it settles in it is both saturated with flavor and delicate, with a delicious sugary sweetness coming out.  Crisp apples come to mind amidst this herbal-tea spice one may call cider-esque, but the cup is just so unique.  It has a really juicy body, syrupy too like clover honey dripping off the tongue, yet even though I’ve said this about other offerings before - this cup feels different.

Great aroma in the cup still, floral, citrus, and butter cookies.

It has a bright front with sweet, sparkling citrus notes dancing on the front of each sip, juicy from the get-go, with a deep cream meets berry center that ultimately leads to these soft, delicate floral notes that stay incredibly juicy.

Macerated cherries, baked apple pie, strawberry and raspberry coulis- it’s like a confectionary dream of sweet sugary flavors in the end, a condensed reduction of syrupy fruit flavors, a voluptuous body dripping with sweetness and a lingering floral finish, with reminiscent tea-leaf notes in the aftertaste.

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Brew Method:

Kalita Wave | 34g © to 552g (w) | 3:45 total time | 200 degrees | 1.32 TDS | 19.85% Ext.

It is similar to the previous make in it’s clean and a bit spicy intro, but gets into the juicier body more than the syrupy.  It still feels nicely weighted as the fruit notes really saturate the palate.  Notes of apple skin and berry, finishing with honey and herbal tea.

This make just doesn’t carry a lot more to talk about from the previous make.  It grows creamy, sweet, a little more delicate in it’s fruit notes, and stays insanely transparent. Just densely delicate, sweet and transparent coffee with great balance and sparkling berry brightness.

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Brew Method:

Chemex | 31g © to 482g (w) | 3:30 total time | 200 degrees | 1.40 TDS | 20.05% Ext.

Clean, light maple syrup sweetness, juicy sugary coated berry fruits presented in a delicate manner.

Green apple, praline, cherry, grape, date.  

The aroma opens up to sweet caramel, indicative if how the cup begins to open into honey and caramel like sweetness.  The cup is light, airy, bright with a faint sparkle to it.  Really pleasing and easy drinking.  The are moments that even remind me of a light strawberry lemonade.

Really transparent, sweet, pleasing.

I think this cup grows more syrupy as it cools, with more florals and lightly whipped chocolate emerging in the later stages, delicate, more sparkling and refreshing citrus notes on the front, still with a sugary sweet lingering finish.

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Brew Method:

Aeropress (Inverted) | 17g © to 240g (w) | 2:00 then plunge by 2:30 total time | 199 degrees | 1.42 TDS | 21.20% Ext. (Immersion mode)

Soft floral aromas in the cup.

Immediately diving in is a clean, crisp, rich and lightly syrupy body.

You have notes of cherry and apricot seeming to just soak into every spot it can, with a bit of a tea-spice in the rear.  

Diving further the cup continues to clean up, really sweet and refreshingly crisp, with a more sparkling acidity on the front.  Sweet lemon and orange soda notes are subtle, but there.  

There are times when we have different packs of those fruit enhancers around the house (Mio or otherwise). Most recently we had two: pineapple-coconut, strawberry-watermelon.  I would put them in lemonade, usually both together, for this cocktail of fruit notes.  That’s what this cup reminds me of in it’s coolest stages, this strawberry, raspberry, melon and pineapple lemonade flavor that is really interesting, with a sugary sweet lingering.  

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Was this a good coffee?  Yes, but to be fair I do think I built it up a bit too much in my mind as the following makes didn’t quite present themselves like the V60 did, which was my preferred cup.  If every cup turned out like the first, it would be a top contender for offerings I’ve had this year.  That being said, I did really enjoy the cleanliness the coffee offered while at the same time having a comfortable sweetness and bit of delicacy to its notes.  Keep in mind, I really don’t know how this stands up to the other varietals, so putting that in perspective could change a lot of things.

This cup really is best when cooled.  It took a bit away from my opinion of the cup when I started to dig in too quickly, and Colin Whitcomb from Madcap (head of training and quality control) also said to let it cool a bit before diving in.  If you do, you’ll find a really sweet and clean profile, not unfamiliar to an Ethiopian profile.  The bags of this are sold out already, but for a cool experience you can try this and even explore the rest of the varietals the Rodriguez farm offers in the Varietal Series, eight varietals in close proximity and terroir.  What people get out of the experience?  The variety series is a chance to taste single variety coffees from the same terroir and compare and contrast their flavors.  Even for professionals in the coffee field this opportunity is exceedingly rare.  

 

I wanted to go ahead and post this review before I dive into my thoughts on the varietal series, so the experience didn’t adjust my findings on Elefante based on the cupping.  Look for the full notes on the whole variety series to follow behind in coming reviews.

 

Co-host of the I Brew My Own Coffee Podcast and always has all the chocolate. I also love to play board games. Yea, let's go do that right now.