Inside a Medford warehouse, in a comfy room with several tables and mismatched chairs, Len Brault leads coffee tastings. The place doubles as a mini-store, where customers, who have stumbled on his company, Heirloom Coffee, through word of mouth or the Internet, come to buy obscure brands from Southeast Asia. You have to call ahead and ring the bell. “We’re like a coffee speakeasy,’’ says Brault. Some coffees are reasonably priced, others rare, like Kopi Luwak from the Philippines ($60 for 1/4 pound) and Legendee from Vietnam ($18.95 for 9 ounces).
On a recent Saturday, participants in a 90-minute tasting ($75) are getting a lesson in coffee history and how to use a French press and a Vietnamese phin, a single-cup brewer. “These are brewing methods where the water fully contacts the coffee grinds and produces a richer cup,’’ says the coffeemeister. Students sample four selections, including Kopi Luwak; they analyze flavors, detecting smoky and caramel notes in several; and they go home with a phin and two bags of coffee. Many participants linger to chat. “They go away happily buzzed,’’ says Brault. Heirloom Coffee, 9 Jerome St., Medford, 781-391-2255, www.heirloom-coffee.com