Review: Heart Coffee Roasters Stereo Blend (Portland, Oregon)

I will be taking a hiatus from tasting coffees for the next couple of weeks, so I wanted my last coffee (for now) to be a great one. Luckily for me, I was able to snag this bag of Heart Coffee from Oak Lawn Coffee in Dallas. Pro tip: They receive shipments from Heart on Fridays, so if you want a bag, you had best pick one up on the weekend. When I stopped in early Sunday afternoon, I got the penultimate bag in the store.

First impressions: The whole beans smelled creamy, with strawberry and milk chocolate notes. Once I ground them, the chocolate became fudgy, with a pinenut and red berry aroma.

V60: Bright, delicate, with white tea and raspberry flavors. This was a sweet cup with a light flavor. It spoke in a whisper, not a shout. If this coffee was a person, it would probably be a young woman wearing polka dots and holding a bunch of daisies. Sunny and optimistic, but not cloying.

AeroPress: Whoa. This cup shouted. There was more raspberry flavor and a more assertive personality overall. Thick and punchy, not too sweet. A bit of lime crept in and it reminded me most of a raspberry-lime gin rickey, oddly. Refreshing in its way, because it had a lot of tart/sweet on the finish.

Chemex: Compared to the V60, it was fruitier and more acidic. Brighter and drier – more treble notes. If the V60 was a moderately sweet Riesling, this was a dry Pinot Gris.

French Press: This brought out more bass notes – bittersweet cocoa dominated with a tartness throughout.

Summary: The V60 cup was really striking. It was demure and didn’t try too hard to capture your attention – you just wanted to be around its energy because it makes you feel good. Lovely balance of flavors! I didn’t taste caramel while drinking the coffee but once the coffee cooled, I definitely smelled caramel. I can’t wait to try some of Heart’s single-origin coffee if the blend is this interesting.

From the roaster: Raspberry, caramel, cocoa

Heart Stereo Blend

I will resume posting on June 11!

Review: Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters Rosemont Crest blend (Dallas, Texas)

Time to review another OCCR offering! I don’t typically drink a lot of coffee blends, but this was the freshest option I saw at my local Whole Foods, at 6 days post-roast. When I’m tasting a new coffee, I attempt to not look at the tasting notes ahead of time, so that I don’t get influenced by what I think I SHOULD be tasting. It’s sometimes funny to see how close (or far off) I am from the roaster’s perceptions. My guess on the blend was Brazilian/Ethiopian; I was only partially right, as this blend actually consisted of Panama, Papa New Guinea, and Ethiopian beans.

First impressions: The aroma was delicious. This bag had a much stronger and more prevalent scent than the OCCR El Salvador beans I had before; I immediately detected a hint of blueberries and thought that there must be natural-processed Ethiopian beans in this blend (Yup!). Ground, the beans had a cocoa powder and buttery scent along with the blueberries.

V60: I found the initial flavor just after brewing to be a bit plasticky (which didn’t surprise me as I often think this about Ethiopian coffees), so I let the cup cool a bit. Once that plastic smell dissipated, I smelled cocoa, orange, and blueberry. It is not too sweet – less sweet of a cup than a single-origin Ethiopian. The finish was a bit dry.

AeroPress: This cup had a bit more brightness – tart blueberry with depth from the cocoa. Great flavor and body to this cup. I ended up drinking the entire thing (about 8 oz)!

Chemex: Everything about this cup was nice, but more muted in flavor than the immersion methods. Light, clean, balanced cup.

French press: This was like the Chemex cup with all the elements turned up in volume. More cocoa. More berry. More body. More sweetness. More flavor overall, and more pleasure!

Summary: OCCR was aiming for a crowd-pleasing blend, and I think they nailed it. It has a nice balance in the cup, and it keeps your taste buds engaged thanks to the different layers of flavor. I liked this blend most in a french press because of its assertiveness. Thus far, this is my favorite of the OCCR beans I have sampled, either at home or in shops. I look forward to more research.

From the roaster: This is our signature blend and it is a crowd-pleaser. It has notes of citrus fruit and spice and a chocolate finish. This is our house blend and therefore draws its name from our own neighborhood in Oak Cliff. Blend origins: Panama, PNG, Ethiopia.

Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters Rosemont Crest Blend

(Note: the link lists their blend as Guatemala/Indonesia/Panama. My thought is that OCCR is going for a particular flavor profile, so they adjust their blend based on what’s in season and what’s available, which is why the blend is different now vs. whenever it was listed on their website.)

Experiment: Can I reheat coffee in the microwave?

Doing a Google search for “reheating coffee” seems to mostly yield the same advice: Don’t do it. At best, it ruins the flavor. At worst, it’s purported to cause cancer (which is a myth, but yikes!). I was curious about just HOW bad reheated coffee tastes, so when I had some leftover coffee, I thought I’d give it a try.

I made a batch of Coffee del Rey’s Guatemala Huehuetenango in my Chemex, and drank some hot. It was wonderfully inviting, with a milk chocolate and marshmallow aroma, and it was deliciously sweet (without any sugar or milk!). What a great start to the day… *happy sigh*

After about 45 minutes, there was still some coffee in the Chemex, so I poured it into my mug and nuked in the microwave for 1 minute on high. It was steaming when it came out so I let it cool for just a bit.

Reheated coffee: Well, the best I can say is that it still tastes like coffee… but there is a sour note to the cup that wasn’t there before, and a very slight metallic taste on the finish. The chocolate and marshmallow flavors were gone. It’s not the WORST cup of coffee I’ve ever had, but considering how beautiful the flavors were freshly brewed, it was quite disappointing to taste how much the flavors had deteriorated. Honestly, I was shocked at just how much the flavor changed! I can see how people may have gotten the idea that they’re drinking cancer-causing agents if their coffee tastes sour and metallic.

Summary: Yeah, I have to agree with Google. If you care about the way your coffee tastes, don’t nuke your coffee when it gets cold.

Instead, here are two suggestions to try:

1) Prevention. For keeping your coffee hot as long as possible: I hear that Zojirushi thermoses can keep hot (and cold) liquids at temperature for a LONG time… Amazon has reviews from people saying they will put hot coffee in their Zojirushi at 9 AM and the coffee can still burn their tongue if they are not careful at 3 PM. Brew your coffee normally and then transfer it to this thermos to enjoy piping hot for hours.

2) Transfiguration. Make coffee ice cubes for cooling down iced coffee: If you enjoy drinking iced coffee but dislike the way ice cubes water it down, try freezing your leftover coffee in ice cube trays. Two problems solved!

Review: Red Bird Espresso (Bozeman, Montana)

Here is a tasting that I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while. This is the espresso blend I mentioned previously that has a reputation for tasting like Snickers (peanut, chocolate, and caramel). I have ordered these beans several times previously and enjoyed them, but this will be my first time pulling the shots on a machine that will give me more control over variables like temperature, etc.

First impressions: The USPS Priority box that these beans came in was releasing maddening smells of peanuts and chocolate and caramel. Now, to be honest, I have never cared for peanuts, and after a bad experience with a rotten peanut inside a Snickers bar when I was about 12, I have sworn off Snickers for life, but I was very much looking forward to seeing how these beans would taste in the cup. The beans are smaller than I see usually, and they are roasted to a “Northern Italian roast,” which looks on the dark side of medium. It has not been roasted long enough to make oil come to the surface of the beans, though.

Favorite brew parameters: 16g/double basket, 198 F, 25 sec pour

I experimented with this blend between 6-15 days post roast. Day 6, the above brew parameter yielded a lively shot that tasted like cola and brandy. Very sweet! By day 10, the same parameters yielded a shot that was much more muted and rounded. Amazingly, this bean kept getting better with age. On day 15, I got the Snickers flavor! This blend does not taste fruity or spiky to me at all – it’s definitely more on the “comfort food” side of espresso with a nice sweet finish. Even the less-than-ideal pours from my experimentation had lots of wonderful rich, flecked, reddish-brown crema. These beans stood up VERY well in milk. I actually found my lattes that I made with this to be a bit more intense in coffee flavor that I am used to!

AeroPress: Brewing this coffee in the AeroPress brought out the dark chocolate and roasted peanut flavors. I think this coffee is roasted dark enough that I more taste the flavor of the roasting process vs. the flavor of the bean origin. I do taste a little acidity on the finish, but I can’t say I taste fruit flavors – just a little brightness.

Summary: This is a very forgiving espresso blend which tastes delicious at a variety of parameters, and it’s got plenty of strength to stand up well in milk. Great for those looking for a more chocolaty/nutty flavor profile vs. fruity/acidic. The price is also very reasonable – less than $13/lb.!

From the roaster: Rich, balanced and aromatic, this espresso starts with a distinct hazelnut-chocolate aroma and progresses to sweet chocolate, toasted nut and caramel flavors in the cup, with subtle citric acidity. It finishes with a rich and lingering aftertaste. When used in other brewing methods, citrus and dried fruit notes add to the complexity and depth.

Red Bird Espresso

Online coffee tutorials

Whenever I want to learn a new skill (like how to clean a dishwasher, how to tie a fancy knot, etc.), I invariably consult Google and YouTube for help. Online tutorials can be extremely helpful, but they’re only as good as the people posting them. I have run into videos that range from being simply unhelpful to those that spread total misinformation.

ESPRESSO

Regarding espresso technique, ChefSteps have made what I consider to be the best online tutorials I’ve seen on the subject. In fact, they have a whole online course devoted to espresso which they currently offer for FREE. It gets extremely detailed so it’s not for people that just want a simple overview. I haven’t had time to go through the entire course yet, but I plan to on my next day off. ChefSteps Espresso Class

ChefSteps also has the best tutorial on how to create latte art that I’ve seen. The first time I saw it, I thought, “oh, that’s silly, I don’t need to practice pouring different speeds and going high to low, that’s easy to do.” And then I tried it (with water, as they do in the video). I was properly humbled. I’m still practicing. ChefSteps Latte Art video

POUROVER

A search for “hario V60 technique” on YouTube yields about 1,680 results. I watched the first five or so and while they had some things in common (rinse the paper filter, let the coffee “bloom”), they varied widely in pour technique. Some added all the water at once, some added it in many shifts, some poured counter-clockwise and some poured clockwise, some stirred the grounds with a spoon and some did not, etc. Ratios of coffee to water varied as well. Basically, there is no one “right” way to brew in a V60 so it’s kind of overwhelming. I started by following Intelligentsia’s V60 brew guide and I then experimented with some of the variations in Prima Coffee’s 8 Ways to Brew on a Hario V60.

For the Chemex, I believe I started with Intelligentsia’s Chemex brew guide and I have been really happy with it so I haven’t bothered to watch any videos. Stumptown and Blue Bottle also have helpful brew guides on their websites.

IMMERSION

For my french press, I started with the instructions that came with my Bodum presses, but you can find plenty of tutorials online. This one is pretty much exactly what I do, with one exception: I use a chopstick instead of a metal spoon, as the glass carafe of my Bodum presses is pretty thin and I don’t want to chip or crack it. I also don’t use Twitter or Instagram during the brewing process like the instructions suggest. Ha!

Regarding the AeroPress, there are two main styles of brewing with this tool: standard and inverted. This page does a great job at explaining the differences between the two. Both make great cups of coffee. In fact, I have tried the AeroPress with all sorts of water temperatures and coffee/water ratios (including DOUBLE the recommended amount of grounds, accidentally… oops), and I’ve NEVER had a bad cup. It’s made mediocre coffee beans smooth and enjoyable, and it’s made great coffee stellar. It’s the most forgiving brew method out there. If I had someone ask me what my recommendation would be if they were looking to buy just ONE coffee brewer, this would be it (as long as they didn’t mind that it only makes a cup at a time). Someday I plan to invite all my friends that own AeroPresses over to my house for a grand AeroPress smackdown to find the best brewing parameters, once and for all. Until then, have fun experimenting!

Nowadays, I most often brew AeroPress according to Blue Bottle‘s brew parameters, in the inverted method. Delicious!!!

(By the way, did you know that there is a World AeroPress Championship?)

What are your favorite online coffee tutorials? Post them in the comments!

Review: Red Bird Sumatra Permata Gayo (Bozeman, Montana)

I used to drink a fair amount of Sumatran coffee, before I started branching out to explore other flavors and lighter roasts. I haven’t had a cup of Sumatra in at least a year (probably longer), so I thought it might be nice to revisit it with a new roaster.

Red Bird Coffee, based in Bozeman, Montana, is a small batch roaster that seems to be best known in coffee forums for its Red Bird Espresso blend, which reportedly tastes like Snickers bars. I ordered a pound of the espresso blend at the same time as this Sumatra Permata Gayo, and I can confirm that the USPS Priority Mail box definitely smelled like Snickers!! Heavy on the peanut and chocolate/caramel aromas.

First impressions: The Sumatra whole beans didn’t really smell like chocolate, but they had depth to them. Red Bird classifies this as a “Rich Medium” roast. “Medium” doesn’t really signify anything, as different roasters will define it different ways, but these beans are a bit darker than what I’m used to seeing vs. other “medium” roasts. The coffee was roasted long enough that oils were starting to come to the surface. The aroma strongly reminded me of the Sumatra from Peet’s Coffee, which also tends to be roasted darker than what is typical nowadays amongst craft roasters.

A “medium” bean on the left*; Red Bird’s “rich medium” on the right.

IMG_0971

 

(*I’m not sure what bean this is. It’s either from Coffee del Rey or Blue Bottle!)

French press: Dark but mild flavor. No fruit or flowers. Nutty taste, but in contrast to the Coffee del Rey Mexican Chiapas beans I had recently, no chocolate flavor… tastes more earthy but thankfully not gamey/off-putting.

Chemex: Thinner in texture but otherwise has the same flavor notes as the French press cup. This coffee is sort of moody and brooding. Is it going too far to call this “Eeyore in a cup”?

AeroPress: This method brought out a little spice in the finish – livened up the cup a small bit with toasty flavors.

V60: Tasted kind of plasticky right off the bat but it smoothed out and I tasted toasted almonds along with the earthiness.

Summary: I think this coffee is great for dark roast fans, who want to try something a bit lighter than what they are used to if they usually drink stuff like French Roast. Sumatran coffee has a reputation for being kind of funky, but I didn’t find that with these beans – they definitely had an earthiness to them but they didn’t taste or smell weird or anything.

From the roaster:  This coffee has a smooth deep body, a cleaner taste than most Sumatras, with mild spice, remarkable sweetness and a hint of almond and berries in the finish.

Red Bird Sumatra Permata Gayo

Espresso machines: the basics

I have always loved the smell and taste of coffee. Espresso, on the other hand, was an acquired taste. I didn’t hate it when it was accompanied with milk, but I had a hard time comprehending how anyone could enjoy such a bitter/sour brew on its own. It just didn’t taste good to me! I realize now that those early espressos may not, in fact, have been “good” espressos. The more I’ve learned about espresso, the more interested I was in trying to make it at home, but I was in for some surprises when I started researching.

You can get a world-class brewed coffee at home for relatively little money. An AeroPress is $30. A manual pourover device (like the Hario V60 or the Chemex) is only $20-40. Even if you get a fancy gooseneck hot water kettle, your complete setup can still conceivably be under $100-150 for some of the best coffee you can get anywhere (assuming you have great beans and a good grinder). Espresso, on the other hand, is a much more expensive hobby. I had a budget of $300 when I initially started shopping for an espresso machine, thinking that would be enough to get a great quality machine. Four hours of research later, my budget had more than doubled and I was also dreaming of a new grinder. It’s the danger of looking up stuff on the internet!

I ended up buying a used Gaggia for a fraction of the cost, and I enjoyed using it until I decided I was serious enough about this to invest in better equipment. I still don’t have what would be considered a top-of-the-line machine; there are plenty of espresso elitists out there that would criticize my machine’s thermoblock and lack of E61 grouphead, but I think it was the best choice for me, and I plan to get many years of use out of it!

I’m not going to tell you what espresso machine is “best,” since there are many answers to that question depending on your needs and budget. I will, however, go over the main topics you will want to consider when purchasing an espresso machine.

Machine styles:

Single-serve

These are the most convenient option for those that don’t want to fuss with grinding, tamping, etc. Utilizes pods/capsules, which will inherently be a little (or a lot) stale in flavor compared to freshly ground beans.

Super-automatics

These will grind, tamp, and brew for you, so that all you need to do is push a button. What you gain in convenience, you will lack in quality of flavor and crema, compared to when you have more control over the variables like in a semi-auto.

Semi-automatics

These machines will require you to have a great quality grinder, a tamper, and knowledge of things like channeling and how temperature affects the brew. This is something that takes practice – it is MUCH more work vs. just pushing a button for your morning coffee. However, the flavor of the espresso can be much better than on a super-auto or single-serve.

Prosumer

These machines take semi-automatics to the next level by bringing in features typically found on professional espresso machines, like being able to plumb in directly into the water supply, larger boilers, E61 groupheads (which are more stable in temperature), and no-burn steam wands. These are typically easier to use than semi-auto machines because of the tools available to the user.

Try taking this QUIZ from Whole Latte Love to determine what style of machine suits you best. I left out talking about manual lever machines since I know nothing about them!

Oddly enough, these categories are not linear in terms of price. There are single-serve machines that cost more (and less) than semi-auto machines. There are super-automatics that cost more (and less) than prosumer machines. There are semi-automatics that cost more (and less!) than super-autos. It all depends on brand and features.

Semi-auto (and prosumer) machine categories:

Let’s say you’ve narrowed things down to a semi-auto machine. Your next choice will be to choose between an SBDU, HX, or DB.

SBDU (Single boiler, dual use)

These are the most affordable and most popular option for home espresso enthusiasts. There is one boiler to heat water, and that boiler will provide the water for both brewing the espresso (around 200 degrees F) and for the steam wand (around 255 degrees F). Because the temperature difference is so large, you will need to wait a couple of minutes between doing one act followed by the other to wait for the boiler to cool down or heat up, as it is not capable of brewing and steaming simultaneously. This is a little irritating when making one latte, but it’s REALLY annoying when making back-to-back lattes for you and a friend. In my experience, the procedure goes something like this:

Steam the milk. Wait 2 minutes for boiler to cool and hope the milk doesn’t separate.

Pull shot, then assemble the first latte.

Wait another minute or two for the boiler to come back up to espresso temperature, pull another shot.

Wait 2 minutes to get the boiler back to steam temperature. In the meantime, your crema is disintegrating and your friend is either letting her latte get cold to wait for yours to be done, or she’s halfway done already.

Steam the milk, assemble your 2nd drink, and finally sit down to enjoy… 10 minutes or so after beginning the process!

Now, if you don’t make milk drinks and only do espresso, a SBDU could be a decent option for you. Besides the steaming limitations, the main drawback I find with most SBDUs is the lack of temperature stability and control, which can result in bitter and sour shots. A SBDU machine that has a PID controller (which shows and helps regulate temperature) would be an improvement. You can add PIDs to some machines, but the additional cost of doing so can add up to the same as buying a machine with one already installed from the factory.

HX (Heat Exchanger)

Despite having read many many pages regarding how heat exchangers work, I admit I really can’t explain it. However, I can say that they have one boiler, but still have the ability to steam and brew at the same time, often with REALLY powerful steam capability. The main thing to remember with HX machines is that once the machine is pre-heated, you will need to do a cooling flush to get the temperature down from steam temperature to brew temperature. If the machine sits idle for a while, you will need to do a cooling flush again to pull another shot, as the water in the boiler will creep back up to steam temperature over time. I’ve heard this referred to as the “water dance,” and while it sounds fussy, HX fans insist it’s not a big deal once you get used to the routine.

DB (Double boiler)

As the name implies, these machines have two boilers, one for brewing and one for steaming. Since each boiler will heat the water to the required temperature for its task, there is no need to wait between brewing and steaming; you can pull shots and steam milk at the same time if you like. These tend to be the most expensive option, as well as the easiest to use.

Thermoblock

Machines with thermoblocks aren’t technically double boiler machines, but they function similarly since the thermoblock takes care of the steaming part. You have the ability to brew and steam at the same time with these machines. The steaming power, compared to DB and HX machines, is weaker and slower, but is still good enough to steam milk into a decent microfoam. However, if you have latte-art competition dreams, you really will need a more powerful steamer.

Head swimming yet? If you STILL want an espresso machine after reading all of this, you are serious indeed! 😉 For most people, all of this fussy business with semi-automatic espresso machines is way too much effort, especially on weekday mornings before work. I was one of those people for a long time, and I was content with my pourover coffee setups. But, I enjoy a challenge, and I eventually decided that my desire to learn more about the world of espresso was too strong to ignore. I’m still learning, and despite all the time and effort (or perhaps BECAUSE of all the time and effort?), it is a delicious journey!

Review: Tweed Colombia Los Naranjos (Dallas, Texas)

Tweed Coffee is a Dallas-based roaster associated with Houndstooth Coffee (locations in Austin and Dallas). I admit, I picked up this bag solely due to the name “Los Naranjos,” hoping that I would get some orange notes in the coffee (since the name was so close to “naranjas” – oranges).

Spoiler alert: I was wrong about the oranges, but the coffee made up for it!

First impressions: the whole beans had a nice light aroma of caramelized sugar. After the extreme funk of the Victrola Kenyan beans, this was a refreshing change.

French press: My first thought when I sniffed the aroma coming out of the cup was “sticks!” It smelled a little wooden. It also carried over that caramelized sugar scent, and it was a bit tart on the finish. This was not a fruity or super juicy cup; the dominant flavor seemed to be sugary wood.

Chemex: A very faint scent of lilies greeted me as I went to take my first sip. It didn’t taste like flowers, though. Very clean cup, and I underlined the word SUGARY in my notes… quite sweet. Delicate and balanced. Again, not very fruity, but this didn’t bother me at all — I didn’t want to stop drinking this!

AeroPress: What a change. This was an extremely juicy tasting cup with a rich body. The flavor was like black tea + pineapple juice.

V60: Honestly, I didn’t taste much at all with this cup. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it wasn’t memorable… seemed pretty generic.

Summary: I think this coffee shines most in the Chemex (for the sugary notes), but it was good in the AeroPress too (for the fruity notes).

From the roaster: Juicy, tropical fruit, brown sugar

Tweed Coffee Roasters

Gift ideas for coffee lovers

Looking for that perfect gift for the coffee addict in your life? Trying to impress that cute barista? Here are some ideas bound to please coffee lovers on your gift list, at a variety of price points! I can’t promise you a date with the barista, though.

$25-30 and under:

1) Coffee mugs: If your java-junkie is anything like me, he or she likes to collect coffee mugs in varying styles and colors. I like looking in my cupboard and remembering where I’ve acquired each cup, whether it was from my travels or it was a gift. My favorite mugs are all gifts from other people, but of the ones I’ve purchased personally, I am fond of double-walled glass mugs (Bodum makes some) because they keep the coffee hot for longer than porcelain. They are on the fragile side, though!

2) For AeroPress owners: Consider a metal filter, at $13 or less! Amazon has versions of these in stainless steel, mesh, and gold-tone.

3) The AeroPress itself is another great gift idea at $30. Suitable for just about everyone: it makes a stellar cup of black coffee, and you can make excellent fancy milk drinks at home with them too as outlined in this post! These are best for making single cups.

4) Freshly roasted beans, shipped to their door. Yum. There are so many roasters to choose from, but if the person you are shopping for doesn’t have a favorite or you don’t know his or her coffee preferences, I would stick to a medium-roast blend (or, you could ask him/her!). Note: You can usually order your coffee from the roaster ground or in whole bean format; if your gift recipient does not own a grinder, it’ll be most thoughtful to get the beans pre-ground… and if he or she is interested in getting a grinder, point them to this post.

5) Clever Dripper, an immersion method that is sort of a combination of French press and Hario V60. I don’t own one (yet…), but they are reportedly quite easy to use and make a great cup of coffee. Don’t forget filters!

6) A kitchen timer, if your gift recipient does manual methods of brewing. Most people I know will use their microwave, their smartphone, or whatever cheap kitchen timer they may have around, but it’s nice to have a good timer with easy-to-push buttons and a nice-sized display, just for coffee. There is NO WAY I would use my iPhone around hot water!

$50 and under:

1) A small scale is an essential tool for anyone that does pourover coffee at home. I could have listed this in the “under $30” section as well, as my home scale costs a mere $17 on Amazon, but there are plenty to choose from at various price points. When looking for a scale, you want several things:

– For coffee purposes, you’ll want a scale that reads in grams. If your gift recipient bakes, ounces are also useful. If possible, get a scale that leaves the measurement setting wherever you had it last (on grams, ounces, etc.). I used to use my old scale mostly for baking, where I used ounces, and every time the scale shut off automatically, it would start up again in grams. I had to keep changing it and it was a little frustrating.

– Choose a scale that as an auto-shut off feature, but preferably not one that shuts off too soon. Mine shuts off after 2 minutes of no activity; I’ve seen scales for sale that shut off in as quickly as 45 seconds, which might be problematic in manual brewing.

– I like the backlit display on my scale, but it’s not strictly necessary if your kitchen is well-lit.

– All scales should already have this, but you definitely will need a “tare” button to zero out the weight.

– Since I use my scale for weighing out beans for espresso, I chose one that reads to 0.1 grams. If your lucky recipient doesn’t make espresso at home, accuracy to 1 gram is fine.

At around $45, the Hario Coffee Drip Scale/Timer is designed specifically for manual coffee brewing and it includes a built-in timer. Super convenient!

At less than $20, the Smart Weigh Digital Pro Pocket Scale does everything you need. Its only flaw is that it is a little small and it can be hard to read the display when my 8-cup Chemex is on the scale, but it’s not that hard.

2) Speaking of the Chemex, it is a elegant and timeless way to brew coffee for around $40. Pro tip: Amazon often is NOT the cheapest source for these. I would look at places like World Market and Crate and Barrel. World Market often has 10% coupons as well that you can find online or in your coupon ads. Don’t forget filters!

3) Travel mugs! Great for those that do coffee on the go. The two brands I hear most about are the Contigo (good for drinking while driving) and the Zojirushi (keeps coffee hot for many, MANY hours).

4) Espresso cups. I’ve seen some really gorgeous espresso cup and saucer sets at this price point. Drinking edible art out of a beautifully crafted and decorated piece of porcelain? What a luxury! Whole Latte Love has some beautiful sets.

$100 and under:

1) Gooseneck kettle for manual brewing. This is definitely a splurge item, especially if you get the Bonavita with variable temperature control. I used a gift card from a student and treated myself to one of these babies, and I have never regretted it for a second. I use it every day and it makes brewing in the Chemex and V60 so much easier. It’s less necessary for the french press and AeroPress, but I do like the control that the thin gooseneck spout gives me over the water.

2) Coffee club subscriptions: If your person loves a specific roaster, you can often buy a coffee subscription where the roaster will automatically ship fresh coffee on a schedule of your choosing.

3) Reg Barber tamper, for espresso enthusiasts. These are the Rolls-Royce of tampers.

4) For Hario V60 fans: There is a copper version of the Hario V60 that is just gorgeous!! Don’t forget filters.

You wanna spend more? 

See me at the end of class. 😉

He/she has everything on this list… but I still want to get him/her something.

Consider taking your guy/gal to a coffee cupping! Many coffee shops will host cuppings (which are like wine tastings, but with coffee), and some will also host classes focusing on a specific topic: how to use a Chemex, how to make espresso, etc. Costs will vary, but if someone really does have everything I’ve listed (wow, even I don’t have EVERYTHING on this list!), getting someone an experience is a nice idea.

Lastly, if you are in a city with a training center run by Klatch, Intelligentsia, Counter Culture, or other similar company, and have $$$, you can buy some SERIOUS barista training.

Have fun shopping! If there are other items you think belong on this list that I didn’t mention, please list them in the comments. And if you want more specific advice, please feel free to contact me directly!

Review: Victrola Kenya Nyeri Tambaya Peaberry (Seattle, Washington)

I recently found out that a local coffee shop (Weekend Coffee in Dallas) carries Seattle-based Victrola Coffee Roasters so I popped over to check them out. On the day of my visit, they had two Victrola coffees available to take home: an Ethiopia Yirgacheffe and this Kenya. Since I haven’t reviewed any Kenyan coffees yet, I decided to go that route.

First off: what is a peaberry? When coffee grows, the coffee beans usually grow in pairs inside the coffee “cherry.” Imagine two halves of a peanut, both with a rounded side and a flat side. That’s how coffee beans normally grow. However, about 5% of the time, instead of finding two coffee beans in the cherry, there is only one. This is a peaberry. It is typically rounder and a little smaller than a normal coffee bean. Peaberries and normal beans cannot be roasted together, since the difference in size and shape will cause each to roast differently (much like two differently sized steaks will cook at different rates). Fans claim that the flavor is more concentrated in a peaberry vs. normal beans, and because the peaberries must be hand-harvested to separate them from the normal beans, they can command a premium in price.

Peaberries on the left, regular coffee beans on the right.

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First impressions: The whole beans smelled like raisins, but also had a whiff of seaweed to them. To me they smelled most like nori sheets that people use to make sushi. I love roasted seaweed, but in a coffee, I found this off-putting.

V60: This cup was a little gamey. It was sweet, but the dominant flavor was quite earthy and weird. I didn’t really taste the raisins that I smelled earlier.

AeroPress: Very thick and robust cup. The coffee smelled like mushrooms and steak. There is a bottle of wine that I have at home which is a rather funky Zinfandel, with notes of mushroom. This coffee reminded me of that. That Zinfandel pairs quite well with steak. Perhaps this coffee would be better paired with red meat? However, consuming this coffee without food first thing in the morning was pretty difficult for me.

Chemex: Brighter and cleaner flavor and texture. There was a little bit more raisin and less earth in this cup, but it was still pretty swampy tasting.

French press: Same flavor as in the AeroPress + more grit.

Summary: This coffee is like a really full-bodied, earthy, thick, funky Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon. It definitely wasn’t lacking in personality! I will try other offerings from Victrola in the future – just not this one again.

From the roaster: Raisins, red currants, spice

Victrola Kenya Nyeri Tambaya Peaberry