Review: Bonavita Variable Temperature Electric Gooseneck Kettle

If you are interested in making pourover coffee at home using a Hario V60, Chemex, Kalita Wave, Bee House, etc., having a gooseneck kettle is a really nice tool – some would even say essential, for the increased control it gives you over the flow of the water. I’ve had this Bonavita kettle for 2.5 years now and I feel pretty qualified to talk about its pros and cons.

I did a lot of research prior to buying this kettle, and at the time, the gooseneck options were:

• Hario stovetop kettle
• Bonavita stovetop kettle
• Bonavita electric kettle (no temperature control)
• Bonavita variable temperature electric ketttle

I eliminated the Hario pretty quickly. It is made from a thin metal that is safe for stovetop use, but reviews indicated that the metal does not conduct heat very well. Instead, the recommendation was to heat up the water in a separate kettle or pot and transfer it to the Hario for pouring. I don’t think I’d mind if I worked in a coffee shop with one of those hot water towers that has hot water available at a moment’s notice. But for home use? It was an extra step I wasn’t keen on having to do every morning. Plus, call me shallow, but I didn’t care for the lumpy, bumpy appearance of this kettle. Sorry, Hario!!

The Bonavita stovetop kettle was, at the time, the cheapest of the gooseneck options. Boil the water on the stove, let sit, then pour. Simple enough, but I opted not to get it due to reviews indicating problems with scorching.

This left the electric Bonavita kettles. I read some reviews indicating issues with rust (which I’ll get into later), but overall I decided that one of these would be worth a try. The “regular” kettle (without temperature control) was cheaper and would be simple to use (boil the water, let sit for 30 seconds or so to let the water cool to 200 degrees F, then pour), but I decided to splurge and get the one with programmable temperature control. My thought was that I would be using the kettle first thing in the morning when not fully awake and I wanted it to be as easy and foolproof as possible to make my coffee (which was also why I didn’t want to get a stovetop model – less chance of me burning the house down). Plus, Shutterbug drinks tea on occasion, and this would easily allow him to program the kettle to the lower temperatures he needed to brew his tea.

The kettle is easy to use; pour in the water, set the kettle on the base, press the power button, and program the temperature you want (or choose from several presets). The kettle will automatically turn off when it reaches the programmed temperature or when you lift the kettle off from the base. If you want to hold the water at a certain temperature, you can press the “hold” button to keep the water hot (but the kettle will still shut off when you lift the kettle off the base).

When you lift the kettle off the base, the display changes from the temperature to a timer display. I had no idea what this was for a few months after I bought the Bonavita; I was using a separate timer to work with my pourover coffee so when I discovered that the 00 00 display was actually a built-in timer, I felt silly for not looking into it sooner. To activate the timer, you hit the + symbol and the timer will start in 1 second increments. It will automatically shut off after 7 minutes or when you put the kettle back on the base.

The kettle works great for my needs. I use it daily (sometimes multiple times a day). It heats water up quickly, and the temperature control is a great perk. The lid fits securely and does not fall out when pouring, and it’s easy to control the flow of water from the thin gooseneck spout.

Now, for the drawbacks:

I only heat water in this kettle, so I figured that it wouldn’t get dirty as long as I just let it air dry. True, it doesn’t get dirty, but I live in an area that has hard water, and though I filter it, the carbon filters do not reduce the hardness of the water much, so the kettle is prone to limescale buildup. This occurs even though I pour the water right away when it comes to temperature (I don’t let it sit on hold for ages) and I immediately empty the kettle and let it air-dry inverted in my drying rack. Luckily, limescale is easy to remove; I boil white vinegar in the kettle to remove deposits and the kettle is left sparkling clean. This would be a problem no matter what kettle I used, so I don’t fault Bonavita for this.

A different problem which I alluded to earlier is rust buildup. Some reviewers mentioned that rusting was a problem with their kettle. Apparently, there was a production run where the stainless steel wasn’t treated properly. Bonavita appears to have addressed the problem in the manufacturing and offered replacement kettles for those customers affected. I’ve had my kettle for 2.5 years and I can’t remember when I started noticing this, but I did start noticing a couple of rust spots in the interior of the kettle after a while. I’ve tried cleaning them off with a baking soda paste but they are pretty stubborn. I recently started noticing a few spots on the interior of the kettle’s spout, so I contacted the Bonavita customer service department and even though I am long past the 1-year warranty period, they offered to send me a replacement kettle free of charge. How’s that for amazing customer service? They also recommended that I use Full Circle or Dezcal descaling powder for future descaling, so I will definitely be giving that a try going forward.

Summary:

Pros:
Very easy to control the flow of water when pouring
Handle stays cool
Temperature control is a snap
Easy to read display
Built-in timer
Excellent customer service
Comes with an optional plastic cover for the base for protection

Cons:
Short power cord – can be problematic if you don’t have an easily available outlet
Expensive (MSRP $95, though you can typically find it online for cheaper)
Some users report rust issues (but the customer service department will take care of you if your kettle is among those affected)
The plastic cover for the base is pretty ugly (but you don’t have to use it)

Would I recommend this kettle? Yes. It’s not perfect, but even with its flaws, it’s still a terrific tool for the job and I am pleased that Bonavita’s customer service department went the extra mile to make me happy.

Review: Boxcar Coffee Roasters Burundi Rugoma Lot 5 (Boulder, Colorado)

This bag comes to me courtesy of my awesome friend Ebonee. Thanks, homeslice. 🙂

Boxcar was founded in Boulder, Colorado and now has a second cafe location in Denver. Since they are located at such high elevation, water has a lower boiling temperature, and Boxcar has developed an intriguing brewing technique they call the Boilermakr to brew coffee effectively and deliciously given the peculiar needs of their environment. There is more information and a picture of the Boilermakr contraption here (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Whole bean: A bit nutty, with an aroma of rich warm spice and raisins.

V60: Sour orange dominated this cup with a nice medium body. There was a hint of spearmint on the finish.

AeroPress: I drank this coffee as a concentrate, and it had a lovely mix of orange peel and cinnamon. Once I added a bit of water, the brew smoothed out and tasted more like a generic black tea.

Chemex: This coffee reminded me quite strongly of visiting England and having English breakfast tea + milk (though I added no milk at all). This cup also had just a hint of orange to it, which was a pleasant fruity note at the end of a rich, comforting cup.

French press: Everything was strong and outspoken. More sour orange!

Summary: I’m not sure why a coffee grown in Burundi and roasted in Colorado would make me think of the English countryside and the hustle and bustle of London, but there you go… coffee is one way to travel the world and visit unexpected places.

From the roaster: Orange, clove, black tea, brown sugar.

Boxcar Coffee Roasters Burundi Rugoma Lot 5

Review: Chromatic Coffee Gamut Espresso (San Jose, California)

I have a new favorite espresso blend!!!

With a name like Chromatic, this is clearly an espresso blend after my own heart. This coffee company has been on my list of must-try roasters for some time now. I was very much hoping to get my hands on a bag of Chromatic Coffee during my recent trip to San Jose, but when I found out that their flat rate shipping is only $2.00, I decided that I could wait since the shipping is so affordable. Props to Chromatic for getting the beans to me in just two days (roasted on a Tuesday, received on Thursday!).

A nice touch: My coffee came packaged with a piece of Werther’s Original butterscotch candy. Thus far, Chromatic and Red Bird are the only roasters that I’ve ordered from who send candy (Red Bird sends hard candy during the summer months and chocolate in the winter). Not necessary, but a welcome treat. 🙂

Typically, I start pulling espresso shots around 6-7 days post-roast, but I broke into this bag 4 days post-roast because I couldn’t wait. I actually hadn’t pulled any espresso shots at home for a few weeks prior to this, so I figured I would need some practice to dust off my skills.

Whole beans: Mmm. Creamy fragrance that was mild but full of promise.

The first pass choked the machine due to too fine of a grind, so I adjusted the settings on my Vario. The second pass was still a bit slow (ristretto territory) but I started making noises in the kitchen of shock and delight. This espresso had a luxurious texture and a complex but eminently comforting flavor of chocolate and caramel with just a hint of red cherry. I was astounded at how good it was! I continued adjusting the grind and extraction time/volume to play with getting more/less fruit and more/less chocolate in the shot. All were tasty.

After six shots (and yes, I drank them ALL) I made a latte for Shutterbug to test how well this espresso stood up in milk. He added about 1/2 tsp of sugar before I had a chance to taste the drink. When I did have a sip of his drink, my jaw dropped because it tasted like I had put the best butterscotch sauce in the world into the cup. I have never had a latte that tasted as much like dessert as this one.

The next day, I made myself a latte (no sugar). Blissful. Obviously not as sweet as the sweetened version from the previous day, but the same butterscotch flavor notes were there. Very, VERY easy to drink!

I continued to experiment with temperature and extraction rate. My personal favorite was a ristretto shot pulled at 18.5 g in a double basket, 201 degrees F, 15 gram output. This espresso was equally enjoyable straight and in milk. Straight, it was smooth yet complex with beautiful layers of caramel and nougat flavor that lingered for a long time on the palate. In milk, it simply screams butterscotch.

I kept putting off trying this in the AeroPress because I loved it pulled as espresso SO MUCH, but I felt I needed to see how it fared without the 9 bars of pressure. It had a sweet, rich, smooth chocolate flavor. No particular fruity or floral notes. There was an earthiness to the aroma while I was brewing the cup, but it dissipated pretty quickly. Overall, it was less interesting in the AeroPress vs. as an espresso shot (which is to be expected, really) but it makes a really enjoyable cup in the AeroPress, especially for someone that doesn’t like bright flavors in their coffee. This would be something I would be comfortable serving to a dark roast drinker; it had delicious toasty flavors with a nice depth.

Obviously, my home is not a cafe and there’s really no such a thing as a “house” espresso around here, but if I was running a cafe, THIS would be my choice. For the first time in 6+ months and innumerable espressos and coffees, Shutterbug actually asked me to order more of a particular coffee. In fact, it was more like he implored me! I was quite happy to oblige.

Summary: Get your hands on this. Now. But leave some for me!

From the roaster: Chocolate, butterscotch, creamy

Chromatic Coffee Gamut Espresso

Review: Rook Coffee Roasters Costa Rica (Ocean, New Jersey)

I heard about Rook thanks to a tip from my friend Max. Founded in 2010, this relative newcomer to the specialty coffee world has gotten attention from sources ranging from The New York Times and PBS to BuzzFeed and Maxim. In addition to brewing their freshly roasted coffee in eight cafe locations and selling their beans online, Rook also operates a successful bottled cold-brew business, with both traditional and New Orleans style brews available.

Rook offers free shipping on their beans, which was a definite perk (the cost of shipping can really add up, especially if you order beans as often as I do!). What I wasn’t expecting was for the free shipping to be USPS Priority Mail. Very fast! I received the beans just two days after they were roasted. Excellent service.

I chose Rook’s Costa Rican beans because after my last experience with Costa Rican beans where I was a sobbing, emotional mess, I wanted to see if all Costa Rican beans affected me like that.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t cry this time. Phew!

Whole beans: The scent, especially when ground, was a whole lot of bing cherry. There was also a plasticky aroma to the beans that bothered me a little but I hoped it wouldn’t come across in the cup.

V60: Ooof. The whiff I got after brewing was a pretty strong plastic smell. Honestly, I was turned off but I made myself drink it. The coffee had a little bit of a bite on the aftertaste, like white pepper. Medium body with moderately low sweetness. I really wasn’t liking this much. At this point, I drank a little bit of seltzer water to cleanse my palate and I tried it again. This time, the coffee tasted a little creamier and sweeter but it was still not really a favorite. (For the record, I had not eaten anything prior to this tasting – I always eat breakfast after tastings, so I know the pepper I tasted was not due to food).

AeroPress: Big change. This brew was very smooth and pleasant to drink, even undiluted. I tasted marshmallows. I kind of wished there were some other flavors present to complement it, but it tasted good as it was.

Chemex: Overall, I felt like something was missing. The brew didn’t feel like it had much personality and it tasted hollow. You know how when you meet new people, that sometimes you just “click” with them and you feel at home right away, and sometimes it’s just awkward and uncomfortable, even after multiple meetings? If this coffee and I were having a conversation, it would have sounded like this:

Me: “Hi! It’s nice to meet you! My name is Margaret.”

Coffee: (mutters) “Hey.”

Me: “How is your day going?”

Coffee: (grunts, looks off into the distance)

Me: (trying to think of something to say that will establish some sort of common ground or connection) 
“Your wristwatch is pretty cool…”

Coffee: (stone-faced)

Agh! Get me out of here!!!

French press: Richest body of the four brews. It wasn’t unpleasant but it didn’t particularly win me over, either. One-dimensional and kind of dull, but inoffensive.

Summary: Man, I had a hard time getting to know this coffee. I am grateful that this one didn’t make me burst into tears, but this tasting made for a pretty awkward morning. I did actually like it in the AeroPress brewed as a concentrate, but I just felt like it had nothing to say to me brewed any other way. Maybe Costa Rican coffee and I are not meant to be BFFs.

From the roaster: Ripe cherry. Mild tangerine. Honey.

Rook Coffee Roasters Costa Rica

Advice: What should I order at a third-wave coffee shop?

Third-wave coffee shops are popping up everywhere. Walking into one is quite different from walking into a Starbucks; the menu is different, the equipment is different, and it can be a little intimidating if you don’t know what to expect.

A quick history lesson for anyone that isn’t familiar with the coffee “waves”:

First wave: “Let’s put coffee in every home!”

Pre-ground coffee is mass-marketed by companies like Folgers and Maxwell House. Mr. Coffee machines start making their way into homes.

Second wave: “Coffee is a SPECIALTY product, so let’s make the coffee experience special!”

Starbucks is the company most associated with the second wave. Espresso-based drinks and dark roasts reign supreme. The social aspect of coffee is emphasized, encouraging people to go to coffee shops rather than brew at home. Coffee is typically served in paper cups to facilitate the overwhelming demand of coffee “to go.”

Third wave: “I want to know everything about the journey of these coffee beans, farm to table!”

The current trend focuses on where the coffee beans come from and how they are grown. Terms like fair trade, organic, and seasonal are commonplace. There is a strong preference for manual vs. automatic brewing (of brewed coffee). Roasts are typically light to medium in level. Espresso may be made from blends or single-origin coffees, but the beans are typically roasted no darker than medium. You can still get your coffee to go, but it’s encouraged to drink it at the shop out of ceramic cups for a better flavor experience.

Read this excellent article for more information about first, second, and third wave coffee.

Let’s say that you’re a Starbucks drinker that wants to branch out and see what all the fuss is about regarding these third-wave shops. The first thing to know is that the menu at third-wave shops will be quite different vs. second-wave shops. No cutesy names for drinks. No Frappuccinos. Probably not much of a selection of flavored syrups. And certainly no tall/grande/venti sizing system!

Here is a typical menu at a third-wave coffee shop (I’m leaving out stuff like hot chocolate and tea for the purposes of this post):

Brewed coffee:
Automatic drip
V60
Chemex
French press
Cold-brew

Espresso-based drinks:
Espresso
Americano (Hot or Iced)
Cappuccino
Cortado/Gibraltar
Latté (Hot or Iced)
Macchiato
Mocha (Hot or Iced)

Let’s start with the brewed coffee. If you’re in a hurry, automatic drip will be the quickest way to get you on your way. But if you have some time to sit down and enjoy your cup of coffee in the shop, try one of the pourover options! On average they’ll take about 4 minutes to brew, but it’ll be freshly made for you and the flavor can be miles better than anything pre-made. I firmly believe that coffee tastes better out of a ceramic mug vs. a paper cup as well. Coffee made in something like the Hario V60 (or similar brethren like the Kalita Wave or Bee House dripper) tends to make a nice, clean cup thanks to the filter, but still has a lot of flavor. What kind of flavor? That’ll depend on what coffee you have them brew in it. My favorite coffees in a V60 tend to be ones from Colombia and Panama. I find it brings out chocolaty depth as well as rich citrus/fruit notes with a great balance of flavors.

Chemex coffee is great if you want more than a single mug of coffee, or if there are more than one of you drinking coffee. It has a thicker filter than the V60, so while it has a lot of the same attributes, I find that the flavors are brighter and more zingy in the Chemex than in other methods. Again, this will depend on what coffee you make in it, but I really like Guatemalan and washed Ethiopian coffees in a Chemex as it really brings out the fruit flavors with a nice light body and refreshing finish.

The French press makes a terrific cup of coffee. It does not have a paper filter at all; instead, you plunge a mesh screen through the coffee after it is done brewing and it separates the grounds from the brewed coffee which you can then pour into your waiting mug. This method maintains much of the natural oils in the coffee, which will result in a thicker, fuller-bodied cup than any other coffee method. You’ll have to pour the entire contents of the french press out of the carafe at once to prevent overextraction. Also, the last sip of a cup of french press coffee tends to have some “sludge” in it; it’s quite common for people to simply not take the last sip. I love french press coffee when I want intensity of flavors, as I find it tends to really emphasize the “bass” notes of coffee (namely, chocolate). Natural Ethiopian coffees taste awesome in a french press because you get intense dark chocolate flavor along with berry notes. Brazilian, Mexican and other chocolaty coffees similar to it are also terrific.

Cold-brew coffee is something that I’ve not talked about much on this blog, but if you like iced coffee, cold brew is worth a try! It’s ground coffee that has been brewed with cold water instead of hot, and extraction time will be anywhere between 12-24 hours. Many of the compounds that we perceive as bitter in coffee are extracted when coffee is hit with hot water, so brewing with cold water minimizes those flavors and creates a very smooth brew. Some shops are starting to offer nitro-cold brew, which is cold-brew coffee that has had nitrogen gas added. The result is reminiscent of craft beer (not in flavor, but in texture).

Your usual drink: Frappuccino

Some cafés may have frappés available. Otherwise, the closest you’ll probably get would be an iced latté, and you’ll need to sweeten it yourself. You could also order a cold-brew coffee with milk and sugar for a bit more intense (but smooth) coffee flavor.

Your usual drink: Latté, hot or iced

You can get both hot and iced lattés at third-wave shops.

Your usual drink: Starbucks’ caramel macchiato

A Starbucks version of a macchiato is not what you’ll find in a third-wave coffee shop. True macchiatos are rather small drinks – just espresso + foam (not even close to 12 oz). Try a cappuccino for something more akin to what Starbucks serves.

Your usual drink: Starbucks Doubleshot in a can

Try a cortado (also sometimes called a Gibraltar). It’s espresso cut with a small amount of milk and typically served in a large shot glass. Quick and easy to drink, and much better than coffee out of a can!

Your usual drink: Drip coffee

Try a pourover (V60, Chemex, etc.). Coffee in a french press is also delicious for those that enjoy more body to their brew.

Your usual drink: Doppio espresso

If you are used to getting espresso shots at Starbucks, having an espresso shot at a third-wave coffee shop is going to be a very different experience for you. First of all, it’s typical for Starbucks to serve espresso in their ubiquitous paper cups. I don’t consume coffee on-the-go very much anymore, and one reason is because I can’t stand drinking coffee out of paper cups — the smell and taste of paper ruins the coffee for me. Second, their beans and equipment do not create the best espresso experience. I had no idea how people could enjoy espresso when I first started trying it because I thought that Starbucks’ espresso was how espresso was supposed to taste. After all, they are the biggest coffee conglomerate out there, so they probably know what they’re doing, right? I know now that it is like saying that McDonald’s has the best burgers on the planet because they are the biggest company.

A typical shot of espresso from Starbucks will look like this:

FullSizeRender (2)

 

An espresso shot from a third-wave shop should look a lot more like THIS:

IMG_1154

 

The seltzer water is there as a palate cleanser; drink it before drinking your espresso. The spoon is there for those who like to stir the crema (the thick, flavorful layer on top of a properly-pulled espresso shot) into the shot before drinking; it’s an optional step. If you tend to quaff your espresso quickly (in one or two swallows), stirring in the crema is probably unnecessary, but if you are a sipper and want to incorporate that sweetness throughout the shot, it’s worth a try. Just don’t linger too long over the espresso; crema dissipates pretty quickly.

A standard serving size for espresso in most places is a doppio espresso (double shot, 2 oz). When you order, you can simply order an espresso. If you order a “double espresso,” the barista might not know if you want one serving or two. If you actually want two servings of espresso, I would order two espressos to make that clear.

Don’t be afraid to try some new things! When in doubt, ask the barista what they would recommend based on what you usually drink. And remember, it’s just coffee. There is no java police, and the best coffee is the coffee you like best. Life is way too short to drink something you don’t like!

Review: Golden Malabar Kopi Luwak (Indonesia)

Note from Margaret: I’m thrilled to feature my dear friend Victor Rupert on the blog today! Keep reading to get his take on a coffee that few people will ever have the chance (or the stomach) to try…  
 
I received this coffee as a gift from my niece in Taiwan. It’s labeled “Golden Malabar Kopi Luwak.” These are coffee cherries grown in Indonesia that have been swallowed and passed through the digestive tract of an Asian palm civet. While I have had “crappy” coffee before, I have never had anything like this, so I was curious to try it. At the end of this review, I’ll include a link to the company’s website so that you can actually see the coffee cherries and their appearance as a waste product.
 
Normally, I despise prepared coffees like Starbucks’s powdered instant coffee, or pre-ground, or basically anything other than whole bean. This as you can see came ground and in little single-serve pour over pouches. Quite clever and cute!
 
2015-08-13 16.08.39 2015-08-13 16.12.05 2015-08-13 16.12.43 2015-08-13 16.12.54
 
The process worked well as we have a hot water pot that keeps water at 208 degrees F all the time. I had to add water, wait, add more water, wait, add a little more water…  you get the idea. The contraption did work, however.

The pouch upon opening had a wonderful berry and cherry smell. Very aromatic indeed. When I added water, the coffee foamed well and released a stronger smell still in the berry family but with hints of citrus.

 
After I let the coffee cool a little, I tried a sip. It was not as oily as my daily driver French press. It was light and happy, however. It immediately put a smile on my face. The berries and cherries were still there at the finish. Overall it’s the best “prepared” coffee that I’ve tried. At $32+ per ounce it’s not for everyone, and is probably the most expensive coffee I’ve yet tried. At $512 a pound it’s just a wee bit pricey.
 
–Victor C. Rupert
 
http://www.goldenmalabar.com/kopi-luwak.html

 
In his early years, Mr. Rupert wanted to be a pilot like his father. It was a difficult life, so he decided to be a musician instead. (you may laugh here). All in all, he made it pretty well! He recently retired from being Concertmaster with the Las Colinas Symphony Orchestra and still maintains a large studio of fantastic students in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He gets to fly for fun, as he is a private pilot.
 
Always interested in learning new things, Mr. Rupert recently started the new business Stallion and Mare ReHair after studying and training with several master bow makers. He is now a master bow rehairer and artisan in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Mr. Rupert provides a high-level specialty service that has been needed in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for a long time. As a performer, Mr. Rupert knows what is important in having a rehair done properly and is unequaled in quality and dedication to his craft.
 
Nearly a decade ago, Mr. Rupert made a friend that opened a Dunn Bros. coffee shop in Addison, Texas. Together, they learned how to roast beans. It was absolutely fascinating; he loved this activity and really grew to appreciate coffee and all of its intricacies.

Review: Quasar Coffee Rwanda Kibuye Valley (Chicago, Illinois)

I kind of take for granted these days that pretty much all companies will have websites. It was a surprise when in the process of writing this review, I could barely find any hint of an online presence for Quasar Coffee Roasters, outside of a sparse Instagram feed and a Twitter account (both of which link to the company website, the fascinating 404 Not Found). However, I did glean that whoever runs the Twitter account (which I assume is the founder of Quasar) is a hip-hop fan.

What I do know of Quasar Coffee is that it’s a small operation based out of Chicago. They may not be big, but they are apparently good enough to get on Craft Coffee’s radar!

Whole bean: A little bit earthy and nutty. I couldn’t really put my finger on what I was smelling, but it wasn’t very strong in any case.

French press: Sweet flavors reminiscent of toffee and peach. As it cooled, I was reminded of hazelnuts and fresh cream. It almost was like I added some sort of non-dairy flavored creamer to my coffee, but without all the artificial flavors and weird chemicals.

Chemex: I did not dig this. It smells a bit like cough syrup. Tart on the finish with a medicinal taste.

AeroPress: Toasty and a little sweet with minimal fruit. This was pleasant but less interesting to me than the french press cup.

V60: The ground coffee had a vegetal scent to it that I found odd. Once it was brewed, it tasted like celery. No thank you!

Summary: I only really liked this coffee prepared one way (in the French press). It isn’t something I’d probably take the trouble to seek out again though, and it’s just as well, since I don’t think I could order any more of this coffee even if I wanted to (except perhaps through Craft Coffee).

Notes from Craft Coffee: A body resembling Darjeeling tea evokes flavors of juicy white peach and crisp Gala apple.

From the roaster: None

Quasar’s website currently goes nowhere but I’ll link to its Twitter page: Quasar Coffee Twitter

Review: Kickapoo Coffee Roasters Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Idido Cooperative (Viroqua, Wisconsin)

Kickapoo Coffee is another award-winning roaster featured in my most recent shipment from Craft Coffee. Like many roasters, their standard size is 12 oz, but instead of using bags, Kickapoo ships in cans. I did not receive a can since I got the sampler bag from Craft, but it looks like it would be a nice reusable vessel.

Kickapoo

In a way, I think it’s good I didn’t get a can, because my mind immediately drifted to this can in my fridge. I know they don’t really look alike, but I couldn’t stop thinking about hummus when I saw the Kickapoo can.

tahini

Sorry for drifting off topic! Back to coffee…

This particular Ethiopian bean is an heirloom variety, and the beans are smaller than typically seen. In addition, I think that the beans are possibly denser, because my usual grind settings are much too fine for these beans in a pourover setup – I only had 4 oz of beans to play with and I didn’t quite dial in the setting properly for either the V60 or Chemex methods, so I don’t think I achieved the full flavor potential of these beans.

Whole bean: A little nutty, with a bright berry scent – strawberry?

V60: I needed a slightly coarser grind because my (already coarser than usual) setting led to a 3:40 extraction time. The result was slightly bitter, but also had a buttery, juicy flavor with honey notes. The aroma was slightly like burnt toast or matches. Wish I could have tried again.

AeroPress: The concentrate was much too tangy and bright (and thick!) to drink straight. After I added some water, the dominant flavor was of strawberry-rhubarb pie. This particular cup seemed to flatten out in flavor as it cooled and the interesting flavors sort of faded so that it resulted in just a “nice” cup of coffee without much discernible personality.

Chemex: I guessed wrong here too on the grind, and I only got 530 grams of water in at the 4:00 minute mark (instead of my usual 700 grams of water), so I halted the brewing at that point rather than letting the coffee get overextracted. This cup was a bit sour, but there was a marshmallow scent and flavor to this cup along with bright strawberry.

French press: Best of the lot, with a great balance of butter, berry, and toast. I would definitely drink this again.

After I finished this tasting and sat down to start this review, I found that this particular varietal scored a whopping 94 points on Coffee Review in 2013. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know that in advance, but now I’m extra mad that I didn’t get the grind settings right! I find it interesting that Craft Coffee’s tasting notes didn’t really match up with Kickapoo’s, but we all taste different things! Craft says: “Nutty cashew flavor complements the subtle acidity of dried apricot and rhubarb,” while Kickapoo talks about flowers, cherry, and lemon. I got toast, butter, and strawberry. Are we drinking the same coffee?

Summary: I liked this best in the french press, but I would need another go at brewing this to see what the full potential is like in the pourover methods. You may need to coarsen up your grind a bit when brewing African heirloom varietals as pourover coffees.

From the roaster: Classic aromatics of spring flowers and tart cherry give way to a round, honeyed body and a clean, sparkling finish. Notes of spring flowers, red cherry, and lemon zest.

Kickapoo Coffee Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Idido

Review: Kuma Coffee Guatemala Finca La Folie (Seattle, Washington)

Whenever I come across a roaster whom I’m not familiar with, I like looking at the “About” section of their website to get an idea of what makes them tick. Kuma Coffee’s story is interesting to me, as the founder is the son of American missionaries that moved to Kenya when he was a child. During that time in Kenya, he got to know and love African coffee. After moving back to the United States and working as a barista in Seattle for a number of years, he decided to start roasting as a hobby, which morphed into the business it is today.

I suppose it’s too bad I couldn’t try a Kenyan coffee from this roaster, since it sounds like that’s where the journey all started. Maybe next time!

Whole bean: Light tea-like fragrance with orange peel. Once ground, it smelled like cocoa powder with some citrus notes.

French press: This had a delicate aroma that was very inviting – it gently cajoles you into taking a sip! Cream/butter texture with a nice sweetness. It had a bit of orange flavor that wasn’t tart at all. The aftertaste was much like a refreshing white wine.

Chemex: The coffee mostly smelled like tea and the paper filter it passed through. I first wrote down “cardboard,” but realized after a few seconds that it was more “paper bag.” This was even considering I had rinsed the filter thoroughly. I have heard that bleached filters impart less of a papery taste than unbleached filters (which is what I currently use), so the next time I need to get filters, I’ll buy a pack of bleached ones to see if this claim is true. I haven’t been bothered by a “papery” taste in the past but in the last week or so, I’ve started noticing this more, so perhaps I’m getting sensitive to the odor/taste.

Back to the coffee! The brew made my mouth pucker, like I was eating tart grapes. The sweetness was definitely less pronounced in this cup vs. the french press cup.

AeroPress: I brewed this as a concentrate and then added water to cut the tart intensity a bit. Once I did that, sweet citrus flavors emerged. This cup rivals the french press cup in body, even through the AeroPress filter. It was slightly less flavorful though, probably due to the lower extraction time. The bags of Craft Coffee that I get come in 4 oz sizes, which leaves me JUST enough to do one round of tastings. If I had more of these beans, I would try this in the inverted method to let the beans steep longer.

V60: Light body with a dry finish. Less fruit and sweetness in this cup vs. the other methods.

Summary: Like other Guatemalan coffees I’ve had in the past, this was a light and citrusy cup. The French press method imparted the most flavor and body to this coffee, which I liked. I would also be curious about how this coffee would do in the inverted method in the AeroPress, as I think it would result in the best of both worlds – a nice clean, sludge-free cup with bright, interesting flavors.

From the roaster: Blood orange, pomelo, chocolate, green grape

Kuma Coffee Guatemala Finca La Folie

Advice: Choosing a manual coffee brewer

In the not-so-distant past, making coffee at home was simple – you used an automatic drip coffee machine and pre-ground beans. Simple, but not always the best-tasting result. Nowadays, there are a myriad of choices available for making coffee at home so it can be a little overwhelming when trying to make a decision.

One question I get fairly often is, “I want to get something better than my Mr. Coffee drip machine, but I don’t know what to get! Help me pick something!”

There ARE good quality automatic drip machines on the market, if you’re willing to pay for them. Models by Brazen, Bonavita and Technivorm come to mind, starting around $150-250. If that’s out of your price range, a manual coffee maker (between $20-40 in most cases) is a lot more budget-friendly and makes stellar coffee. But, which to choose?

Before we go any further in this conversation, I must stress the following: if you don’t have a grinder, I highly recommend that you get one; a burr grinder would be ideal. Check out my post on grinder suggestions for ideas in your budget. The most expensive coffee machines and gadgets won’t make great-tasting coffee if the beans are pre-ground and stale.

Got fresh beans and a grinder at home? Good. Now let’s discuss options!

How many cups of coffee do you want to brew at a time?

Keep in mind that we are talking about coffee cups, which for most manufacturers means a 4-6 oz cup of coffee (so in this world, a cup does not equal 8 oz!). If you want two full 12-oz mugs of coffee, that will really translate to 4-6 cups.

1-3 cups: AeroPress, Hario V60 (various sizes), Clever Dripper (various sizes), Kalita Wave, Bee House

3-12 cups: French press (various sizes),  Chemex (various sizes)

Do you have a preference regarding material?

Plastic: AeroPress, Clever Dripper, Hario V60, Kalita Wave

Plastic manual coffee makers are cheap to purchase and are virtually indestructible with normal use. However, some people have concerns about using plastic to hold liquids, especially hot liquids. In addition, some people notice “off” flavors when brewing in plastic brewers.

Glass: Hario V60, French press, Chemex, Kalita Wave

Glass manual coffee makers are relatively expensive but are typically aesthetically pleasing and easy to keep clean. They do have a tendency to break if you aren’t careful, as the glass can be rather thin, and the thinness of the glass may cool your coffee off more quickly than other methods. Glass does not impart any “off” flavors.

Ceramic: Hario V60, Bee House, Kalita Wave, Bonmac

Ceramic drippers are durable, and may come in multiple colors. Compared to the other options, ceramic drippers can be heavy, and can have a tendency to stain over time. They do require pre-heating with hot water as the ceramic can leach heat from the water faster than with the glass and metal drippers. Ceramic does not impart any “off” flavors.

Metal: French press, Kalita Wave, Hario V60 (stainless steel, copper)

Metal manual coffee makers are great for those who want an unbreakable option but don’t want plastic. They retain heat well. Prices range from affordable to not-so-affordable (the Espro press comes to mind, as well as the solid-copper V60).

Do you want to use paper filters?

Paper filters catch a lot of the oils present in brewed coffee, which will make for a “cleaner” cup and can bring out different flavors in a coffee vs. the unfiltered methods. There is some research indicating that unfiltered coffee can raise LDL so those with high cholesterol are advised to use filtered methods. The mouthfeel of coffee made with paper filters will be more akin to skim or low-fat milk; coffee made with metal filters will retain more oils and be closer in feel to whole milk. They may also contain silt/grit that doesn’t get caught by the mesh filter.

Devices that use paper filters: AeroPress, Chemex, Hario V60, Bee House, Bonmac, Kalita Wave, Clever Dripper

(I note alternatives to paper filters in parentheses)

Devices that do not use paper filters: French press, AeroPress (Able Brewing Disk), Chemex (KONE), Hario V60 (cloth CoffeeSock)

Regular or gooseneck kettle?

While a gooseneck-style kettle may not be strictly necessary, it creates a much better result for certain brew methods due to the increased level of control over the water. It’s more important for pourover methods and less important for immersion methods.

Gooseneck highly suggested: Hario V60, Chemex, Kalita Wave, Bee House

Regular kettle is fine: French press, AeroPress, Clever Dripper, Bonmac

How much attention to you want to give to your coffee?

I get it – you can’t focus in the morning before coffee, but you can’t make coffee without focusing with a lot of these manual methods. Generally speaking, methods that benefit from the gooseneck kettle require more attention than those that do not.

My opinion – easiest to hardest:

French press: pour the grounds in, bloom, add the rest of the water and stir, steep, plunge.

Clever Dripper: Wet the filter, discard water, pour the grounds in, fill with water and stir, steep, place dripper on mug to RELEASE THE KRAKEN (uh, I mean release the coffee).

AeroPress: Wet the filter, discard any excess water, pour the grounds in, bloom, stir, throw more water in, steep, plunge. The plunging does take some effort; the AeroPress isn’t a great choice if you have arthritis or limited mobility in your hands.

Hario V60/Chemex/Kalita Wave/Bee House/Bonmac: These all operate similarly. Preheat and wet the filter, discard water, pour the grounds in, bloom, add the rest of the water in the center of the coffee bed slowly and periodically.

The drippers with wedge and flat-bottoms (Bee House, Bonmac, Kalita Wave) will have a slower and easier-to-manage extraction rate than the drippers with larger holes and cone-shaped bottoms (Hario V60, Chemex); the larger the hole at the bottom, the less room there is for error in things like grind size, water distribution, pour rate, etc. Basically, with the Hario V60 and Chemex, you really have to pay attention during the whole process… which can be hard to do first thing in the morning!

Do you have a kitchen scale (or are you willing to buy one)?

A small kitchen scale that weighs in grams is a pretty reasonably-priced tool (around $20) that has uses beyond coffee. Using a scale will make your coffee more consistent from cup to cup; I can’t live without my scale! However, I understand that not everyone wants to bother with this step and would prefer to brew by volume.

A scale will make your life so much easier: Hario V60, Chemex, Kalita Wave, Bee House, Bonmac

Scale not necessary: French press, AeroPress, Clever Dripper

Ease of cleaning?

Dishwasher safe: Anything ceramic, glass (top rack of dishwasher only), dishwasher-safe plastic, or stainless steel. This includes the Hario V60 (ceramic, stainless steel, and glass models; on the glass model, remove plastic base before placing in dishwasher), Kalita Wave, Bee House, Bonmac, AeroPress, French press (glass carafe).

Note: The only part of the AeroPress I am not comfortable putting in the dishwasher is the filter cap, because one time it fell against the heating element and came out like this:

tn_aeropress

NOT dishwasher safe: Clever Dripper, Hario V60 (plastic and copper), Chemex, French press plunger (this isn’t necessarily unsafe, but I just don’t find it gets fully clean without taking it apart).

I hope this helps you narrow down your manual brewing options! And remember, if you can’t choose between several methods, these manual brewers are typically pretty small. You can make room for more than one. 😉