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Coffee Tasting Through Kakheti Wine Country

Coffee Tasting Through Kakheti Wine Country

As I sipped my coffee brewed with beans from Georgia's Kakheti region, I felt instantly transported through Kakheti's verdant valleys and vineyards. The coffee's subtle notes of dark chocolate and cherry complemented the landscape's natural bounty that has sustained this eastern province for centuries.

Nestled between the Greater Caucasus mountains and Alexander's Wall, Kakheti is renowned as Georgia's premier wine-growing area, supplying over 80% of the nation's vine-based beverages. However, what many visitors may not realize is that coffee from this picturesque wine country rivals even its celebrated wines in quality and flavor complexity. Through partnering local coffee growers with specialty roasters throughout Tbilisi, organizations like Geocuisine have elevated Kakheti's coffee to new heights, revealing untapped potential through meticulous harvesting and processing techniques.

Layered Legacy of Coffee and Wine

Kakheti's historical reputation as the source of Georgia's finest wines is grounded in the region's ideal growing climate—warm days tempered by cool evenings allow grapes to develop intense flavors while retaining balanced acidity. These same conditions have proven equally conducive for cultivating high-quality coffee cherries. Local legend holds that Armenian merchants first introduced coffee to the Caucasus in the 17th century, planting early crops alongside Kakheti's vineyards. Over subsequent generations, coffee farming integrated organically with the area's wine traditions.

Farmers noticed that planting coffee trees between rows of grapevines created a synergistic microclimate, with the shade-loving coffee bushes benefiting from the grapes' proliferation while returning moisture and nutrients to the soil. Gradually coffee became an important secondary crop throughout Kakheti, sustaining farm families and rural communities. Roasting methods developed within Kakheti's historic qvevri - underground clay pots traditionally used for aging wine - imparting the region's coffee beans with nuanced flavors reminiscent of oak barrels.

Distinctive Terroir Shaped by Place

Much like Kakheti's famous wine appellations of Saperavi and Rkatsiteli that express a sense of place, the area's coffee varietals possess distinctive traits shaped by terroir. Grown at moderate elevations between 500-1000 meters, Kakheti coffee plants flourish on nutrient-rich volcanic soils with good drainage. During harvest season from September through November, ripe coffee cherries burst with deep red and purple hues, foreshadowing the beans' complex taste profiles to come.

Processing involves removing the outer fruit by washing while still on the plant, then sun-drying the pulped beans on raised beds. This preserves vibrant acidity and fruity overtones unique to Kakheti's microclimate. Two dominant varietals stand out amongst the region's crops - the medium-bodied Bornukha with notes of ripe berries, and the fuller-flavored Tsinskali reminiscent of bittersweet dark chocolate. When cupped side-by-side, the nuanced differences between these strains mirror wine tasting, celebrating Kakheti's expressions of terroir through differing soil types and elevations.

Roasting Reveals each Bean's Hidden Depths

To fully unlock the potential latent within each Kakheti coffee bean, specialty roasting plays a pivotal role. Leading Tbilisi roasters such as Suliko partner directly with small-scale farmers throughout the region, helping to finance improvements in processing equipment, drying facilities, and quality control. Through meticulous monitoring with instruments like probe thermometers, roasters coax out maximum complexity by extending roast times to slow development stages.

Compared to most commercial roasting which typically tops out around 400°F, specialty roasters patiently carry Kakheti coffees to higher temperatures between 415-425°F. This gradual, lower-heat approach activates each bean's myriad flavor compounds without scorching delicate notes. The results are immediately evident in cupping, where Kakheti lots exhibit syrupy sweetness intermingled with intense acidity, cocoa, and ripe berry undertones.

Roasting profiles can be further fine-tuned to enhance certain traits. A marginally longer roast brings out more tobacco and plum in the Tsinskali while preserving its signature chocolate richness. Lighter roasting accentuates the Bornukha's mouthwatering juiciness with tropical undertones of papaya and mango. In this way, specialty roasters play a interpretive role analogous to winemakers, allowing each farm and varietal's nuances to shine through with minimalprocessing intervention.

Craft Brews and Coffee Pairing

For those wishing to fully submerge in Kakheti's bounty, craft breweries and coffee shops offer experiential pairing sessions. Alaverdi Brewery, established in 2010, spearheaded the new wave of microbrewing throughout Georgia and produces European-style beers from indigenous varietals. Their refreshing lagers and deeper amber ales provide the perfect complementary backdrops for coffee tastings.

Working directly with Kakheti's best specialty growers and roasters, cafes like Java Kakheti offer immersive sensory journeys. Expert baristas guide visitors through cupping flights spotlighting different processing methods, soil types or varietal traits. Accompanied by small-batch chocolates highlighting Kakheti's cacao potential, these sessions reveal new layers within each bean with each aroma-filled sip. The synergies between Kakheti's coffees and companion industries become abundantly clear - together they uplift this verdant region's bounty, traditions and people for the world to discover.

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