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Admittedly, it is not normal for one to enjoy a cup of hot, drip coffee at nine p.m. But a life of sole individual norms does not add to much, and for no particular reason, I have a personal tradition of ordering black coffee before late night movies. It is as addictive, and comforting, as extra-buttered popcorn or warm kettlecorn. As others munch through their bags of corn, I sip incessantly, sometimes consciously, but mostly at a pace of utter ignorance and lack of thought. I just drink.

Coffee at the movies does not usually generate much conversation. Not only is it less popular than the standard popcorn, nachos, and soda, but the quality is (understandably) below what I would consider drinkable. Somewhere between law school coffee and the three p.m. leftover pot at work. For coffee, that is kin to the eighth ring of hell, in Dante’s terms. Soda and popcorn, that is the staple. Soda and nachos, soda and hotdogs. I find incredible, heartfelt joy when I find another being sipping coffee at the movies, as if I’d found a long lost kin.

Angelika Film Center and Cafe is like none other. When it first opened its theater in the Mosaic District in Northern Virginia, people flocked to it for the balanced showings of independent and blockbuster films, the occasional foreign features, and believe it or not, the kimchi hotdog – which I’ve tried, and to my disappointment, is nothing special. Bollywood or no Bollywood, kimchi-dog or no kimchi-dog, what drew my attention was the shiny La Marzocco espresso machine on the first floor. I could not believe my eyes. Where was the Denny’s coffee pot, and Bunn brewing thing?

Along with beer on tap and an impressive assortment of baked goods, the tiny cafe in the corner brews Intelligentsia coffee, even at the utmost late hours, for addicts like me shaking to take that fresh cup into the showing. The baristas knew what they were doing, and let’s just say that sipping quality coffee at the movies was something I did not expect to see in this decade.

After opening its flagship theater in New York’s Soho district in 1989, Angelika has expanded into Dallas and Plano, Texas, and Northern Virginia. This is not the AMC you’re accustomed to. The interior design, the layout, and the lighting is more like an exhibition, patrons lounging and chatting with a glass of wine, pint of beer, and yes, coffee. Gourmet snacks, gourmet-level independent films, and a gourmet atmosphere is very fitting for gourmet coffee.

Angelika’s iconic logo, resembling the likes of a mixed breed between a Greek god, Roman soldier, and rugby stud, hangs prominently on one wall, as if to watch over the patrons as they ascend or descend the glass stairs to and from the theaters. I wish, however, that Angelika would make more use of the logo. Simple prints or stamps of it on the coffee cups or sleeves would be a nice touch, and would enhance its branding.

Tapping the Fandango app on my phone, finding a new movie I’ve barely heard of, realizing that it starts in thirteen minutes, rushing to the theater, barely making it to my seat to catch the final seconds of previews – with a cup of Intelligentsia coffee in hand. Fewer things in life could be more satisfying.

“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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Sudan Rume

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

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.

Maragesha

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.

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