Blind taste test of single-origin beans from Mt Whitney Coffee Roasters

Our latest shipment from Mt Whitney Coffee Roasters (via iHerb Singapore online store) arrived, and this time I ordered a selection of beans from four different countries: Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Peru and Guatemala.

Ever since I assembled a decent set of equipment for my daily V60 pour over brew, I’ve been able to achieve better consistency and quality in the cups that I make every morning for The Wife and myself.

Over the past few months, as I was experimenting with new equipment and different brewing variables, I’ve been asking her to score the coffee on a scale of 1 to 10. But now that the scores have been consistently 8 or more, it was time to run a new experiment on her — a blind taste test to see if she could differentiate coffee brewed from beans grown in different countries. It’s always useful to have a captive willing audience.

Before that, since our Hario filter paper had run out and I had opened a new bag of Cafec Abaca ones, I needed to dial-in the grind for each of the beans again. The Cafec Abaca filters are known to run a bit faster than the Hario tabbed filters, so I started with a slightly finer grind (1Zpresso JX-Pro 3-5-0) and adjusted from there based on taste.

If it was bitter and astringent, I’d grind coarser, and if it was sour and flat tasting, I’d grind finer until I got a flavourful and well-balanced cup; repeating what I did when I first got my new grinder.

Dialing in the beans from Ethiopia was fairly straight-forward, and even though it still retained a faint note of blueberry, it wasn’t as fruity and sweet as the amazing cups I’ve made from the more expensive beans that were locally and freshly roasted by Tiong Hoe Specialty Coffee. In this particular example, price really does make a difference.

The Peruvian beans required a coarser grind, and while it also had a fruity aftertaste, it was less pronounced that the Ethiopian. I remember buying the Peruvian beans in the past, but I don’t remember them tasting this way. It seems that better equipment really does help in bringing out good flavour from the beans.

Mt Whitney Costa Rica has been my baseline for the longest time and, like chicken rice, it’s something that I choose when I don’t have a particular choice in mind. While it doesn’t produce a terribly exciting cup, I find that it has a good balance between fruity and chocolatey notes and is pleasant when slowly sipped.

I had a bit of difficulty with the Guatemalan beans this time, and the 3-5-0 starting point was too bitter, even to the point of tasting slightly burnt. Grinding coarser to 3-6-0 and 3-7-0 didn’t help, and by the time I got to 3-7-0, the cup was starting to lose its body.

Looking at the beans, they did seem to be roasted darker than usual and while they didn’t have the oily sheen typical of dark roasts, it didn’t look like grinding any coarser would improve the situation much.

I decided to change tack and dropped the water temperature drastically from 94°C to 80°C and the burnt taste completely disappeared, leaving a pleasant chocolatey flavour. This was something I could not have done without a thermometer or temperature-controlled kettle, and justified my recent purchase of the Timemore Fish Smart. Yes, the name is a bit awkward, but it does its job well.

With all four bags dialed-in, I started to compare their different taste characteristics. Obviously, they all tasted like coffee, but there was noticeable a difference in the underlying flavour profiles.

I’m not a coffee connoisseur (even had to Google it to get the correct spelling!) and didn’t catch all the tasting notes that were described on each bag, but by using a simple spectrum of chocolatey vs fruity, I could discern a clear progression between the different origins.

The fruitiest was definitely the Ethiopian, followed by the Peruvian and then the Costa Rican, where chocolate notes started creeping in. Finally, the Guatemalan was full-on chocolatey, with The Wife describing it as “biting into a chocolate-coated espresso bean”.

Once she had tried enough cups of each during the training phase, it was time to conduct the blind taste test over the next 10 days — one cup each morning, and she had to guess the country of origin. I even threw in a cup of *gasp* instant coffee to keep her honest.

So, how did she fare?

AttemptActualGuessResult
#01PeruPeru
#02GuatemalaPeru
#03EthiopiaEthiopia
#04Costa RicaCosta Rica
#05Costa RicaPeru
#06PeruCosta Rica
#07UCC 114Guatemala
#08Ethiopia😠
#09Guatemala😠
#10Costa Rica😠

Unfortunately, the blind taste test had to be aborted after attempt #07. Why? Because The Wife got angry that I snuck in the UCC 114 instant coffee, and refused to continue with the exercise.

To be fair to her, I was quite sneaky and actually ground and brewed my usual V60 but hid the cup so that the Hario dripper/server and used filter could be seen in the kitchen sink. I then quietly made a separate cup of instant coffee when she was not within visual range.

As she was tasting the UCC 114, she felt that it tasted too bitter but since she saw the used grounds, she went with Guatemala as her guess. When I revealed that it was actually instant coffee and laughed at her, she blew her top, accused me of malicious deception and chased me around the apartment as I tried my best to escape her wrath and stay alive.

I eventually swapped her cup with the proper V60 brew (Costa Rica, by the way) and finished the rest of the UCC 114 myself. To be honest, it did taste quite close to the Guatemala and was actually a decent cup of coffee. If I had given her a heads-up that instant coffee was one of the possible choices, she probably would have guessed correctly.

In case you’re worried, she eventually forgave me and the marriage is still intact. But that marked the end of my first, and unfortunately, last, coffee blind taste test.

If you’re thinking about doing this with your spouse/significant other, my only advice is to *not* pull the instant coffee trick. Because life is short, and that would be living life a little too dangerously.

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