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Wash Your Hands, Not Your Beans

I Ate Oklahoma is brought to you in part by:

(Apologies for the audio quality. I'll figure this out. Sorry.)

Passion makes a big difference.

Someone who cares about the job their doing generally does a better job than someone who doesn’t. At Leaf + Bean, owner Paul Zimmerman is passionate about coffee in every way.

The first time I met Paul he was working at Clarity Coffee and he shared a philosophy with me that he’s probably sick of hearing me talk about. But I’m a sociopath, so I’ll tell you all anyway and you can bring it up to him and he’ll kick me out of the shop and ohmygod this is a terrible idea but here we go:

A coffee shop needs to be welcoming to everyone, regardless of their order. So if someone comes in and orders a vanilla latte, he’s not going to be a snob. He’s going to make “the dopest ass vanilla latte” he can make. And if that person only ever orders that, it’s fine. But maybe his passion for creating excellent coffee will inspire them to order a pour-over or an espresso shot or just to learn a little more about the coffee he loves so much.

One day, when I was sitting in his lovely Deep Deuce shop, 321 N. Oklahoma Ave., typing away on my computer (as I am now), Paul brought over two tins of coffee and asked me to smell each one and describe what scents I could discern.

One smelled fruity, almost like strawberry milk. The other had a darker, nuttier, chocolate odor.

Then he went to the kitchen and brewed them both for me to taste side-by-side.

I hadn’t tasted coffees like these before. There was a ton of flavor — so much so that my usual addition of cream and sugar was completely unnecessary. 

(Yes, I’m a coffee heathen. I like sugar and half and half and I’m okay with that. So is the L+B staff, who are always cool with giving me a little milk and sugar for my cuppa.)

“What’s cool is that, even as the coffee gets colder, it’s not bitter,” Zimmerman said. “In fact, as it cools off, you can actually taste more.”

Piping hot coffee is usually served that way because it hides the off flavors and bitterness. These coffees stayed tasty and flavorful and interesting all the way from hot to cold.

By this point, most coffee lovers know the difference roasting makes in flavor. For what it’s worth, I’m still a fan of medium-dark roast coffees when I’m going to dump in cream and sugar. Others prefer a lighter, greener roast, which gives the coffee a brighter and more acidic profile.

But do you know what a coffee plant looks like? It actually called a coffea and it flowers and bears fruit. Inside each coffea cherry are a pair of seeds. We only call them coffee bean because they’re shaped like a bean.

So what happens to that fruit in between growing on a coffea and getting to your cup? A whole lot.

The way the fruit and the seeds are separated make a big difference in how your coffee tastes.

Washed coffees are picked and put in a giant vat of water (this is an extremely simplified example of a very complex process) where the ripe cherries fall to the bottom and the water breaks down the fruit, which is then removed.

What you’re getting there is the essence of the seed without much influence from the fruit.

On the other hand, natural coffees are laid out in the sun for days and weeks, allowing the fruit to rot off the seed. If that sounds gross, well, I get that. But in that process, the fruit imparts the terroir — the character of the landscape — into the seed.

This is one reason why many natural coffees are minimally roasted. Rather than using heat to impose flavors onto the end product, natural coffees give you a much smoother, fruitier flavor.

Washed coffees that are lightly roasted tend to have some sour, lemony flavors that don’t thrill some folks (me included). The natural coffees still have some acidity, but it complements the jammy, fruitier flavors for an experience that I’ve come to crave.

Will I still get a dark roast espresso latte? Absolutely. I love them. But natural coffees, which are the only kind served by Leaf + Bean, are my new favorite obsession. It may not be what I’ve traditionally thought of as coffee taste, but I’m always excited to parse out and enjoy the depth of flavor from the fruit.

This is not technically a sponsored post, but I should point out here that Leaf + Bean is my main haunt for coffee and where I spend a lot of time writing. As a way of supporting I Ate Oklahoma, Leaf + Bean gives me free coffee and everybody pretends I’m not creeping them out or bothering them.

About the Author

Founder and Eater-in-Chief of I Ate Oklahoma, Greg Elwell has been reviewing restaurants and writing about Oklahoma’s food culture for more than a decade. Where a normal person orders one meal, this guy gets three. He is almost certainly going to die young and those who love him most are fairly ambivalent about it. You can email Greg at greg@iateoklahoma.com.