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El Salvador SHG Santa Rita, Vienna Coffee Company style, performs well across the spectrum

Three small cups of Vienna Coffee's El Salvador SHG at three different brewing periods.
Three small cups of Vienna Coffee's El Salvador SHG at three different brewing periods.
Photo by the author

The Vienna Coffee Company, located in Maryville, TN, and currently serving as the greater Knoxville area's only commercial-scale coffee roaster, produces a number of very interesting and delicious coffees, and their layered-roast El Salvador SHG, from the Santa Rita origin in the mountainous rain forest of El Salvador is a solid cup in a variety of preparations.

The flavor of this coffee is characteristically modern Central American, meaning it represents the true potential of the region to produce good specialty coffees with nice acidity and interesting main-body flavors now that the wars that have been tearing at the region have allowed the coffee farms to bloom into successful producers once again. The "SHG" in this El Salvador SHG coffee means "strictly high grown," meaning that these beans from the Santa Rita origin are grown entirely at elevations above 5000 feet, which balances and mutes the acidity though contributing brightness to the flavor profile. It is also a coffee certified by the Rain Forest Alliance, which means that it is produced sustainably in a rain forest environment, yet another factor that contributes to this coffee producing consistently great cups.

The Vienna Coffee Company website describes this coffee as being bright, clean, and aromatic, and those features are prominent in every cup of this nice drinking coffee, which is equally pleasing morning, afternoon, or night. Despite the usual recommendations that this coffee should be light roasted, Vienna Coffee prefers to layer the roast of this coffee with some light- and some dark-roasted beans (from the same origin) to create a more complex flavor in the cup (addressing one of this origin's criticisms -- the coffees tend to be somewhat simple, lacking the high notes that would rank it an outstanding brew).

As a brewed cup, Vienna's El Salvador SHG performs well, as noted. The scent is lightly floral, though not perfumed; the body is medium; and the finish is smooth. Coffees perform differently when brewed for varying amounts of time (rule of thumb: darker roasts tend to be better with slightly shorter brew times while lighter roasts develop more complexity with slightly longer brew times, thought this isn't set in stone), and so this coffee was considered in three different ways from the French press, brewed with water just off the boil:

  1. After 3 minutes, the resulting cup was lightly fragrant, though a bit thin both in the nose and on the tongue, though it contributed nice fall flavor notes like dry grass and hay to a solid coffee profile. The finish was exceptionally light. When milk/cream was added to this brew, it was completely flattened, tasting almost like very weakly coffee-flavored milk with very little character, though it was pleasant and still interesting with sugar alone. This cup is very easy-drinking, but it lacks in character.
  2. After 4 minutes, the flavors really develop. The coffee comes off as fairly well balanced with a full, muted floral scent and nice flavor carrying hints of smoke and toasted wood. Nearly all of the dry grass notes are either overpowered or developed into something deeper by this point in the brew, and the coffee has considerably more body here. It's very nice with sugar, and with milk it turns into an extremely pleasant, smooth drink -- one of the best ways this coffee can be served, perhaps.
  3. After 5 minutes, the bitterness of the darker beans in the mix really starts to show. This coffee is dark, and though it doesn't feel heavy, the flavor notes are of bitter chocolate and lightly of charcoal. The overall impression that the 5-minute brew gives off is of being rustic, carrying almost the scent of an old house or just barely musty attic, particularly under the influence of milk or cream. If a rustic, slightly musty cup is your style, a longer brew time and a little cream are the way to go with this one, but many of the subtleties in the coffee are replaced by this time with the more raw, bitter flavors of overbrewed dark beans.

As espresso, El Salvador SHG is interesting and profound. The processing methods in Santa Rita supposedly have been refined lately to produce a more interesting espresso, though typically it comes out unbalanced. Since Vienna Coffee layers dark and light roasts of this origin, however, none of those problems seemed particularly prevalent. In fact, a rich and pleasant nose with hints of jet fuel (in a good way!) and rain seemed to roll heavily up out of the cup, while flavors of dark chocolate and grass came through on the tongue. With just a bit of sugar, El Salvador SHG makes a very interesting and nice espresso, bringing to mind tastes like toasted or lightly burned sugar and molasses.

As a latte or cappuccino, it is very nice. The espresso from El Salvador SHG stands up excellently to steamed and foamed milk and perhaps a bit of sugar, where the flavors of toasted sugar and molasses combine with the sweetness of the milk to hint nicely at creme brulee with a very nice, smooth finish. This preparation of El Salvador SHG as Vienna Coffee does it is exceptionally good and a welcome start, addition, or finish to any meal or almost anytime in between, i.e. it's simply a pleasant, all-day, enjoyable cup of coffee.

A note about this coffee that should be mentioned is that you should be careful to ensure that you're getting fresh beans by visiting the roastery directly or by communicating with the vendor to ensure it hasn't been sitting around for too long. While that's true for any coffee, reputedly, this particular origin tends to lose much of its floral character and hints at complexity rapidly, within the first week after roasting, and so to get the full effect, it's really important to get this one as fresh as possible. After it ages, it mellows out and "simmers down," and while still good, true coffee lovers (and snobs) might be disappointed by the simplicity of the cup.

Support Knoxville! Get your coffee locally, choosing a local roaster like Vienna Coffee Company. If you'd like to buy Vienna Coffee Company's coffees in or around Knoxville, either visit their roastery at 106 Everett Ave. in Maryville, or click here to see a complete list of local retailers that serve it by the cup or sell the beans.

You can read a lot more about coffees of interest to Knoxvillians here, if you like, or instead, here you can get a little more of the skinny on Vienna Coffee Company.

Also, if you've enjoyed this, consider reading more from the Knoxville Coffee Examiner by clicking for a complete list of articles.

Disclaimer: The Knoxville Coffee Examiner does not work for Vienna Coffee Company in any way whatsoever. He simply enjoys locally roasted coffee and sharing what he knows with you. None of these reviews are contracted or influenced by Vienna Coffee in any manner whatsoever and represent the views and experiences of the Knoxville Coffee Examiner (and occasionally his family) only.


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