“Rarity” is a virtue. It is often a valuable virtue.
This is especially true with coffee. For better or for worse, coffee connoisseurs have always searched for that magical bean, that “umph,” that something extra that they’ve never tasted before in previous cups. “Commonality” is often ridiculed, deemed “low-quality,” or simply boring.
Praise of rarity, and placing additional value for the sake of rarity, with a lack of exceptional quality and expertise, is just snobbish, exactly what this video portrays in this Huffington Post article. However, when a marketing point for rarity is backed by impeccable attention to detail (in all stages of coffee growing and processing), and meshed with beautiful design, rarity is worth the price tag.
Intelligentsia’s Café Inmaculada is such an example.
The limited edition Café Inmaculada collection (sorry, it’s no longer available) featured three cultivars grown and harvested in the Santuario farm in Colombia. The rich soils and abundance of sun and rainfall, coupled with an elevation that ranges from 1,740 – 2,040 meters above sea level, presents perfect growing conditions. The picked beans are fermented in stainless steel tanks with agitation and temperature control, and are dried on-site on shaded beds with fans that moderate airflow.
Intelligentsia describes the three cultivars as follows:
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A legendary coffee variety that originated on the Boma Plateau, located in southeastern Sudan near to the Ethiopian border. This area belongs to a region considered to be the birthplace of the Arabica species. Sudan Rume has long been used by plant breeders as a source of “quality” genes, but is rarely planted because it doesn’t produce large yields.
Laurina, a.k.a. Bourbon Pointu, comes from Reunion Island just off the coast of Madagascar. It is the direct descendant of the trees responsible for seeding most of Latin America, and was all but forgotten for most of the 20th century. Laurina is thought to be an early mutation from the Typica variety and is now considered the “original” Bourbon. It has the distinction of being extremely low in caffeine.
This is a spontaneous wild cross of Maragogype and Geisha that occurred in the Santuario farm outside of Popayán, where trees of the two varieties were growing next to one another. It does not exist anywhere else, and this lot is the first to have ever been harvested.
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Here are some tasting notes for each. The Sudan Rume was smooth, with hints of caramel and maybe even butter. The Laurina had hints of cocoa and citrus. And the rare hybrid, Maragesha, was very nutty; I swear I tasted pistachios.
All three cultivars had great flavor. But the real question is whether that excellence in taste is from their rarity, from the expertise of Camilo Merizalde the farmer, or from the high quality of Colombian coffee as a whole. I prefer to place greater credit on the last two.
The rarity of the cultivars (come on, when one uses words like “birthplace,” “original,” and “does not exist elsewhere,” there’s a greater chance your wallet will open) certainly added to the experience. Perhaps it acted like a placebo effect of sorts. But that should not take anything away from Camilo’s work in growing, harvesting, and processing excellent beans, or from Intelligentsia’s roasting abilities.
An already immaculate set of three cultivars was only enhanced by the fact that I will probably never taste them again (or at least for a while).
Along with growing, harvesting, processing, and roasting excellence, the package design and branding efforts of this project are equally delicious. The geometric details were printed by Chicago’s Rohner Letterpress, and the stylish metal box is unlike anything I’ve seen before, a keeper in its own sake.
Once again, this reiterates the importance of design in coffee. We not only taste what’s in the cup, but also what we see. We drink with our eyes first. The rarity of the cultivars is exponentially highlighted by equally rare packaging and design. It screams “I AM THE ONE AND ONLY.” Intelligentsia didn’t have to hire Rohner to design the details, and its certainly didn’t have to come up with a shiny, metallic box. But it did, and for good reason.
Rarity in coffee is a beautiful thing. It’s a delicious thing.