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Coffees from the Arabian Nights; a Spanish gourmet product.

I have at hand an intriguing new product. The cardboard presentation case is briefcase size, in a dusky purple color and trimmed in an antique gold. Trooping across the front is a very charismatic and elegant herd of camels. Superimposed on this is the emblem with the word |Mahogany'--against a mauve backdrop. The lid flips up to reveal an enlarged scene from Scheherazade, evocative of the golden age of Arabia, an art drawn in mauves and purples behind a text in gold that refers to worldwide adventures, a rich dreaminess, the lightness and balance of music by Vivaldi to jungles and tempting aromas. The presentation drawer slides easily forward revealing four packages, each in its own compartment, each vividly distinct from its fellows, yet mirroring the Scheherazade theme. These packages are actually sacks with a simple tuck-in tab closure. What lurks inside? One comes up with a 250 g valve pack, in deep shiny matching color of whole bean roasted coffee.

Coffee! Absolutely. The luxurious, beautifully detailed, self-consciously elegant packaging format veils coffee. In this writer's experience, the Mahogany presentation case is quite likely the most elaborate coffee packaging effort anywhere to be found. It is both clever marketing and a matter of good taste -in aesthetics and in coffee.

Ah yes, the coffees so presented, what of them? With this do we have body without soul, packaging without substance? Fortunately, the answer is quite the opposite. The four Mahogany coffees are probably not as outstanding or as refined as their presentation, although this is a matter of personal assessment most certainly, but they are not disappointing inthe context of the gourmet market for which they are obviously targeted. These are first class, Artisan blends (with emphasis on the blend) of choice 100%-Arabica origins, roasted to a quality to enthuse specialty retailers even in the most demanding of urban centers.

According to the presentation box menu, the "Mombasa" pack is a hearty morning coffee--with African Arabica basics, the "Rangsang" pack contains, as can be imagined, a far Pacific blend of lighter Arabicas, and lightest of all is the "Veneziano," a blended selection of naturally light-in-taste/low caffeine coffees. The Mahogany quartet of packages is completed with a decaf pack, again based on a careful blend of Arabicas.

What I think makes these handsomely packaged, fine coffees particularly unique is their origin of roasting. They are Spanish. Spain is a coffee market noted for its robust growth rate, and for its price consciousness. Spain has been one of Europe's leading thrift markets for coffee, and as can be guessed, the ideal is therefore to find a profit margin, not to produce and package a coffee of international gourmet standards. There are roasters in Spain who keep a pledge to cup quality, painful as it must be at times to the pocketbook, but in general Spain is a country still rapidly evolving in coffee consumption volumes and where the sins of the coffee cup can be too easily veiled by sugar. Personally, I think Spain will soon see the dawn of an industrial-scale quality-oriented coffee market--just as has been the case more recently in France. I think such efforts as exemplified by Mahogany, among others, shows this to be happening if still in a small way.

That "quality" can become a coffee market factor in Spain is hardly a surprizing consideration. The nation has all the necessary elements--economic expansion, political stability, a tradition of fine cuisine and wines, of luxury goods, and of an elite who continues to set high product and service standards. The existence of Mahogany as the proof of the hypothesis. The level it attains in cup standings and in packaging makes it a world class product. I discovered Mahogany recently at Alimentaria, the Barcelona food and beverage exhibition. The find was exciting not only because of the product itself, but also because it implies that coffee too is now part of Spain's grand and impressive revival.

Pere Cornella

Apparently there has almost always been a 'Pere Cornella.' In fact there are now two, father and son, who own and operate Cafes Cornella, the coffee roasting company behind Mahogany. The company hails back to 1920, always in the Girona region of northeastern Spain, always in the Cornella family. The home region includes the Costa Brava that has given the world such strong imagists as Salvador Dali. Perhaps it is the local tradition of bravery in expression that sets the stage for Mahogany, although bold design seems to be an essential element of Cafes Cornella. The product has a wide range in addition to Mahogany, and the classic |Cornella' line extends to a line of La Flor del Cafe coffees whose brand design won a first place in 1991 in Spain's national ratings for food packaging.

In green coffee, Cafes Cornella purchases about 90% in Arabicas, mostly from specialty coffee importers in Spain and throughout Europe--the main Spanish supplier is Intergrano. The company relies on long-established relationships with importers, its own direct contacts to origin, and in house cupping to maintain a large stock-on-hand of assured green coffees. The roast is 14-15 minutes, slow and to the dark. Although the factory has a capacity of 3 tons/per day, it is completely automated and needs only five workers, five employees well seasoned to coffee and to a manual, visual commitment to a uniform and highly refined result. Packaging is on state-of-the art valve and vacuum brick pack lines.

About 80% of production is whole bean; 60% sells to the regional Horeca market, 40% to supermarkets. The company remained regional in scope until recently positioning La Flor del Cafe for a national audience (La Flor del Cafe is, by the way, a remarkably rich and subtle blend that may not be as rare as the Mahogany coffees but is assured of good quality). In turn, while Mahogany is quite new, it carries international possibilities. Throughout the brand lines and range, the emphasis is on blend integrity and consistency, no single origins, on a variety of coffee tastes to suit different market niches, and on sophisticated and highly distinctive package designs.

The Mahogany line is distributed in Spain by the Inco Group to specialty outlets and fine restaurants, where it can be used as a self-contained coffee presentation menu. The company supports the product with ample documentation and with degustation. The four Mahogany coffees--Mombasa, Rangsang, Veneziano and the Decaf--show their distinct characters in the cup. If you visit Pere Cornella, be prepared to taste and taste and taste, and to feast the palate and the eye on Spanish coffees prepared in the grand style and offered with pride.
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Title Annotation:Mahogany brand Artesian blend coffees introduced
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:May 1, 1992
Words:1107
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