Review: Klatch Golden Bean Espresso Blend (Upland, California)

TL;DR: If you love espresso, GET YOUR HANDS ON THIS ASAP!!!

I’m actually finding it a little hard to organize my thoughts on this espresso. How do you explain the beauty of a sunrise? How can you put into words what happens to you when you hear your musical soulmate? That’s what tasting this amazing roast from Klatch did to me.

This was the roast that prompted me to make my recent order from Klatch; I’ve already been a fan of their coffee for some time and I knew that anything worthy of the Klatch name would make me happy, but something that won top honors from the Compak Golden Bean was something I definitely had to try.

Whole bean: Fresh aroma! A little floral and creamy. Very inviting scent.

Espresso: I experimented with various grind settings and dosages, and I don’t think I pulled a single bad shot. This was a surprisingly forgiving blend to work with. The overall flavor of the straight shots to me was dark chocolate with lavender – absolutely alluring! Higher temperatures (203 F) brought out a little bitterness, and I found the best result to be at 201-202 F, 18.5 g in. This blend was delicious pulled both as a ristretto and as a normale shot – it had a gorgeous refreshing finish that just made me want to drink more. The rich chocolate notes combined with the lovely floral perfume really captured my attention right from the start, all the way until the last drop. I can only imagine what this would be like pulled with higher-end equipment.

With milk: I don’t drink milk drinks very often, but this blend did make a delicious latte. It had a subtle floral aroma that was so inviting. I did prefer this pulled as straight espresso, as I felt the milk muted some of the really special notes, but that could be just my personal preference speaking. I would be over the moon if I did order a milk drink and got this in the cup.

AeroPress: I was particularly curious about how this blend would fare in the AeroPress, and WOW. It was unimaginably complex. Brewing this revealed a wonderfully rich cup with layers and layers of flavors. I can’t even describe them all. I drank this as a concentrate. Don’t add water to this – it’s smooth as silk and it would be a crime to dilute this.

Summary: I don’t know how long this will be available, but I am definitely ordering more. This is a really special espresso and if your tastes run to the complex and layered, you will really like this. I looked at the blend information after finishing the tasting, and this is composed of coffee from Panama and Ethiopia – two of my favorite origins. I suppose it makes perfect sense why I love this so much. Thank you for sharing this amazing espresso with us, Klatch!

From the roaster: The judges comments were: Tons of sweetness, distinct but subdued stone fruit, plum, berry and honey notes, balanced acidity and a round, creamy body.

Klatch Golden Bean Espresso

Bags: Does size matter?

In my highly unscientific observations over the past couple of years, I have observed a trend of coffee companies packaging their coffee into smaller and smaller bag sizes. What gives? Well, I think there are probably a number of reasons why companies might choose to go for certain bag sizes over others. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each, as well as possible rationale.

16 oz (1 lb) bags: The standard (at least, at one point in time). As a Californian transplanted to Texas, when I first started mail-ordering coffee, it was through Peet’s, and their standard size when purchasing through their website is 1 lb. Based on a recommendation on the Coffee Geek forum, I tried Red Bird roasters and their standard size is also 1 lb. Granted, two roasters is a rather small sample size, but I got used to the idea that coffee would come in 1 lb bags. I would drink 1 lb in about 2 weeks, so my consumption rate was about right for drinking the coffee at its freshness peak.

12 oz bags: Most coffee at the grocery store is packaged in 12 oz bags, including companies like Peet’s, who sell by the pound on their website. Why?? Who knows. Perhaps it has to do with shelf space. Perhaps retailers think that people that buy coffee from the grocery store won’t want to spend above a certain price point, so they package the coffee into smaller bags to keep the cost under whatever this price point might be ($10?). Most importantly, coffee roasters started selling their mail-order coffee in 12 oz bags. This prompted a rather heated discussion I spotted online about if the change in bag sizing was a good thing, and more than a little speculation about if coffee companies were packaging their coffee into smaller bags but charging customers the same as the 1 lb bag price (or at least, not discounting proportionally). Some people really liked the smaller bags, because it better suited their own coffee consumption habits, whereas others complained because they had to purchase coffee more often, and shipping gets expensive.

One rationale I saw for 12 oz coffee from a mail-order standpoint is that shipping services charge by the pound, and they round up if you are over 1 pound. If you have 1 lb of coffee and you add the weight of the shipping box, the delivery service will charge you the shipping rate for 2 lbs, even though you’re only getting 1 lb worth of beans. So, by making the bags only 12 oz, companies can keep the shipped weight at or under 1 lb and thereby save the customer from paying extra for shipping on beans they aren’t receiving.

Another rationale I saw for 12 oz coffee bags comes from Hedgehog and Owl Coffee Roasters, where basically the roaster says 1 lb of unroasted coffee nets around 12 oz of roasted coffee, so it makes sense to package the coffee this way.

10 oz bags: This is something I’m seeing more often lately, notably from Huckleberry and Sterling Roasters. I have no real rationale on this.

8.8 oz bags: To date, the only roaster I’m seeing selling this size is Coava, and they package their coffee into 250 g bags (which is 8.8 oz) because they roast by the kilogram rather than the pound. By sticking with the metric system, they claim it reduces waste and promotes freshness as well as divides evenly with most brew methods.

8 oz bags: Blue Bottle sells their coffee in this size in their retail stores, though you can find it in 12 oz sizes online. I remember buying their Hayes Valley Espresso and thinking, “Wow, what a deal!” because it was only $9. Of course, $18/lb is not an uncommon price for specialty coffee, but somehow it seemed cheaper because I was buying it in an 8 oz bag. I will often see Geisha coffees packaged this way as well, presumably to make the high price tag more palatable. The Oak Cliff Geisha I bought recently would have been a hard sell at $72/lb, but I could talk myself into swinging $36/8 oz.

Because I was interested in the math behind all this, I decided to do some research to see on average what a pound of coffee costs. I decided to compare Guatemalan coffees from a variety of roasters, and to figure out what the actual price per pound of the coffee would come out to. This could not ever be a complete apples-to-apples comparison, as different roasters source their coffee from different farms, and some will charge more because their coffee is organic or fair trade, but I thought it would be the easiest way to compare by choosing one country. I chose roasters somewhat randomly, based on whoever came to mind. Most of the roasters are ones I’ve reviewed on this blog, but there were some others I have not experienced yet (like PT’s, Madcap, and Cafe Grumpy).

Least expensive: Coal Creek Guatemala Huehuetenango, $15.68/lb ($11.70/12 oz)
Most expensive: Case Guatemala Bella Carmona Antigua, $27.36/lb ($18/10.5 oz)

HOWEVER – Case offers free shipping.

When you take the cost of shipping into account, the most expensive roaster was a tie between:
Coava Guatemala Ramon Pablo, $27.20/lb ($15/8.8 oz)
Huckleberry Guatemala Don Manuel, $27.20/lb ($17/10 oz)

Average price of a pound of Guatemalan coffee from these specialty roasters:
(median) $22.72
(mean) $22.78

Does free shipping save you money? Maybe. The roasters that offered free shipping with no minimum purchase were all over the map in the price range for this particular coffee. Rook and Sterling were among the cheapest, Verve was right at the median, and Case was the most expensive.

If anyone is interested in seeing the full breakdown, I’ve linked the Excel spreadsheet I made of the 30 coffees I compared.

Slightly more scientific comparison of actual coffee costs

Review: Klatch Colombia Huila Agustino Forest (Upland, California)

Klatch ranks among my favorite coffee roasters, but I don’t order from them very often because there are just so many roasters I want to try. However, once news broke of their “Overall Champion” award in the Golden Bean Roaster Competition for their Golden Bean Espresso Competition Blend, I knew I had to at least order some of that (that review is forthcoming!), so I threw in this additional bag just because I could.

Whole bean: The aroma was a little creamy, like nougat. After I ground the beans, they opened up to reveal tangerine and cocoa. Ambrosial.

V60: Great depth to this cup. The predominant flavor was of cocoa powder, and it was a little buttery with a nice bit of citrus acidity on the finish to keep it interesting to the palate.

AeroPress: Thick and syrupy as a concentrate. I drank it straight because the dark chocolate + plum flavors in the cup were really gorgeous. It definitely leaned more to the plummy side vs. the chocolate side.

Chemex: Crowd-pleasing cup. I would be comfortable serving this to just about anyone. Notes of cocoa and toffee, not too thick or thin in body.

French press: Slightly syrupy, with a nice medium body. Dark chocolate with a tangerine finish. A slightly more intense version of the V60 cup, which was good in this case.

Summary: There’s something so subtle but lovely about a great cup of Colombian coffee. It isn’t as flashy and colorful as a natural-processed Ethiopian, but it’s not as brooding and dark in character as some Papua New Guinea coffees… it strikes a terrific balance. The french press cup was my personal favorite, but I wouldn’t turn down any of these cups.

From the roaster: This coffee offers a consistent tangerine and lemon-lime acidity. It also provides a well balanced combination of bright red apples with sweet amaretto body, giving a memorable and refreshing finish.

Klatch Colombia Huila Agustino Forest

Review: Kuma Coffee Ethiopia Reko (Seattle, Washington)

I’ve reviewed Kuma Coffee before, back when I received a bag through my former subscription with Craft Coffee. That time around, I sampled their Guatemala Finca La Folie, which unlike some Guatemalans I’ve tried in the past, was less about chocolate and more about a pleasant acidity (Riesling wine, grapes, citrus). On a recent visit to Shift Coffee in Denton, the barista pointed me toward this bag after I told him that I was looking for something that wasn’t chocolaty.

Whole bean: Red cherries, citrus, brightly floral notes.

V60: This cup smells sweet and smooth. It wakes up your mouth with the flavor of grapefruit.

AeroPress: Very bright flavors of papaya and grapefruit as a concentrate. Once I added water, it was smoother and less distinctive so I might not be inclined to add too much if I planned to brew it this way again; I like its personality.

Chemex: Sweet and tart cup which puzzled me for a few minutes because it made me think of something I couldn’t put my finger on from childhood. After a bit, I realized it tasted like flat 7-UP soda, with a bit of grapefruit. You see, I used to add fruit juice to lemon-lime soda when I was a kid, and this was very reminiscent of that (without the carbonation, of course).

French press: Not as sweet as the other cups. The thicker body with the bright flavors is really confusing to my palate. I don’t like this. Coffees that have a fairly high acidity level need filtered methods in order to bring out the bright flavors, in my opinion. This would be like having a light, crisp Vino Verde wine but with an oaky Chardonnay body – it just doesn’t match. Love the French press, but not for this particular coffee.

Summary: A nice, lightly roasted coffee that will really capture your interest brewed in a Chemex if you dig these sort of flavors.

From the roaster: Grapefruit, lavender, lemon-lime soda

This coffee is not currently available on Kuma’s online store. Here is a link to their current selections: Kuma Coffee Online Store

A letter to the band Ride.

(If you come here for the coffee, please come back tomorrow. This post is for Ride and Ride fans. It started with me trying to compose a Tweet, then a Facebook post, and then I realized it was really too long for even that so here we are.)

Dear Andy, Laurence, Mark, and Steve:

It has truly been a privilege and an honor to be a Ride fan for the past 23 years. I discovered your music in 1992 when I was 12, and many times over the years, I’ve lamented that I wasn’t a bit older and that I hadn’t discovered Ride’s music sooner so that I could have experienced your music live. However, I do think that your music came into my life at exactly the right time for me, and it’s been a source of wonder and inspiration for me for over two decades.

Fast forward to 2015, and I am in disbelief that I hold in my hand a ticket to see the four of you at Terminal 5 in New York City. I was excited, but also nervous about how I would feel to see one of my dreams come into fruition. How could mere mortals live up to the pedestal I had built up in my head? The moment right before the four of you launched into Leave Them All Behind will always be burned into my brain – the anticipation, the energy crackling in the room, the moment between nothing and SOMETHING – art being created right before my eyes and ears; beauty coming into the world out of thin air. The first phrase knocked me absolutely breathless, and you all just kept on coming at us. Song after song, I was struck not only by your legendary sonic assault on our ears, but the fact that it wasn’t simply loud for loudness’ sake – there was a majesty and a gravity to it that just can’t be experienced any other way. I was torn between closing my eyes to give myself over to the rapture of the sound, and opening them to really see this moment that I had been dreaming of for so long. I alternated between both. Loz’s drumbeats became my heartbeats. You all wrestled my soul from my body and took me on an unforgettable musical journey that night.

That first Ride concert of mine was magic and an incredible gift that I never expected to receive, and I knew that I had to experience it again if I could, so I was thrilled to make plans to see you in Birmingham, AL and in Austin, TX. When I found out there was a possibility of meeting you all through the VIP tickets, I jumped at the opportunity but had some misgivings about it… I am not great at meeting new people, much less my musical heroes, and the last thing I wanted was for you to feel put-upon or uncomfortable. It was refreshing to get to talk a bit to Loz and Steve and to find out that you’re all just four normal guys, who happen to make some of the most extraordinary music I’ve ever heard. Though I didn’t get to chat with Mark or Andy, I could see them interacting with other fans with genuine smiles and it warmed my heart.

As a classical musician, I feel the societal pressure at times to justify my existence and my value to the world at large. The conception is that music isn’t a “real job,” or is somehow not essential for life. Yet how many people out there can imagine their lives without music? It plays an essential part in our joy at celebrations, and says what words cannot in moments of deep sorrow. It lets us experience empathy by allowing us to get inside the soul of another. It expresses that which cannot be said any other way. It is both deeply rooted in its time, and transcends time to touch people far removed from when and where it was written. The best music not only touches our souls and reminds us what it is to feel, it captivates and inspires the mind to see how much beauty there is in the world. Music and art may not be essential ingredients for life, but they are keys to truly living.

There might be a finite amount of energy in the world (“energy converted, never gone…”), but I think there is the possibility of an infinite, unlimited amount of beauty. There are those that destroy beautiful things and injure the psyche of humanity, and there are those that make creating beauty their life’s work – challenging, thought-provoking, soul-touching, life-altering beauty. You gentlemen have done and are doing something so noble with every note that you play and every breath that you breathe. I may have felt I was born a little too late, but I also feel so incredibly lucky to get to share this space and time with the art that you create.

2015 has been a dream come true. I may never get the chance to meet you again (and I do regret not being able to thank and talk to all four of you), but what I did get to experience has been more than I ever could have asked for. I think one reason that I respond so strongly to your music is because you are expressing what you know and feel to be true, which is why I must thank you again for sharing your truth with the world.

Hope to see you all at a future show. I will be a Ride fan until my dying day, and probably even after that.

Love,
Margaret

Review: Flat Track Coffee Roasters Guatemala La Libertad (Austin, Texas)

When I travel, I make a special effort to seek out microroasters. On my recent trip to Austin to see Ride perform at the Fun Fun Fun Festival, I didn’t think that I would have time to visit any Austin-area coffee shops, but to my delight, I spotted this sign on the festival grounds:

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As I stated on my Instagram account, if anyone wants to lure me someplace, this is an effective way to do it.

The coffee tent at the festival was serving up coffee from Heart Roasters and Flat Track, a Austin-area operation. I initially was going to have a cup of coffee from Heart, but it turned out they were only pulling espresso-based drinks with Heart, and I really didn’t feel like a straight shot or a milk drink, so I went with drip from Flat Track (I believe it was an Ethiopian). I also bought a bag of this Guatemalan and they happily told me that I was the first person to buy a bag. Score!

Whole bean: Light scent, a little bit like vanilla wafers and nougat.

French press: Pleasantly tangy. Smells like graham crackers and has a bit of mango and orange flavor. I said out loud, “oh, that’s GOOD.” Yes, I was talking to myself in my kitchen.

Chemex: The scent was like roses and cream. Stunning! There was a bit of lemon on the finish. Less tangy/thick than the press pot version with a drier finish. Nice for those that prefer lighter-bodied cups of coffee.

AeroPress: The concentrate had a lemony bite that was perky but not bitter, and it had a great chocolaty finish. Adding just a bit of water made the finish more powdery.

V60: Clean cocoa flavors in this rather light-bodied cup.

Summary: Having now looked at Flat Track’s tasting notes, I really didn’t pick up on the same things, did I? Nevertheless, this is a very pleasant coffee to drink. My vote would be for brewing it either in a Chemex or a french press.

From the roaster: Sugary lemon, lime, and raisin flavors with a smooth mouthfeel.

Flat Track Coffee Roasters Online Store

Review: Octane Coffee Costa Rica El Higueron (Atlanta, Georgia)

A recent interview I heard on the Sound Opinions podcast was discussing the music listening habits of Spotify users, and the featured guest stated that their internal research indicated that most people who use the Spotify streaming service stopped listening to popular/current music at an average age of 33, and that people maintain a lifetime affection for music of their teens and early 20s. This made me think about my own music listening habits (at age 36), and while I still do seek out new releases, I don’t do it at nearly the frequency that I used to (it takes a lot of time and effort to stay current!). Do I maintain a love for music of my youth? Absolutely. In fact, I discovered my favorite band of all time, Ride, at the age of 12, and I just spent this past weekend crossing state lines to see them play two amazing shows. Would I love them as much as I do now if I had discovered them when I was 32 instead of 12? It’s an intriguing question.

One of the main reasons that I started this blog is so that I could have a record of my thoughts about particular coffees as I do these tastings. I wanted to learn everything I could about what’s out there and figure out which coffees I do like and which I don’t. As I’ve been doing this, my tastes have been evolving and I have learned to appreciate new things. For this reason, I’m reluctant to rule out drinking anything entirely, but I think I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on my preferences for now. There’s music I appreciate on an intellectual level (but which doesn’t touch my soul), music I like, music I love, and music that makes me marvel that I exist in a world where that kind of beauty is even possible. I’m learning I am starting to feel this way about coffees as well.

Thus far, I’ve been less than thrilled with Costa Rican coffees. They haven’t necessarily been terrible coffees, but they have made me feel like I was on an awkward blind date, made me sob uncontrollably, and smelled like gasoline several days after opening the bag. On the one hand, I want to educate myself and learn everything I can about something before dismissing it as just “not my thing”… after all, not everything is love at first sight. It took me a while to get into cilantro but I love it now! On the other hand, life is short, and I question how much time I want to spend drinking coffee I’m not in love with, you know? Maybe that’s why people tend to just stick with the music they know they love as they get older.

Octane Coffee is an Atlanta-based company that has been in operation for 12 years, but has expanded into roasting and wholesale coffee in the last 4 years. They have cafes in three states: Georgia, Alabama, and West Virginia. Their website doesn’t feature their single-origin coffees, probably since they don’t even offer the option of online purchasing, but it does list coffees that are available wholesale. I only mention it since the names are amusing to me: Super Regular, White Lightning, and Gravy. I picked up this bag at their Homewood location in Birmingham, Alabama, and decided on this bag of Costa Rican coffee because it was in the optimal freshness window and the tasting notes sounded intriguing. Keeping an open mind as best as I can!

Whole bean: Smells like black tea leaves and bing cherry. Not a very sweet aroma. There is a slight hint of some sort of stone fruit (I wrote in my notes: plum??? Maybe??). Confounding.

V60: This is like tea + a splash of milk in texture and in flavor. It rings hollow in my mouth, like I’m getting just the outer edges of a sound and not the center. There is some bitterness on the finish, even with just a 2:47 extraction time.

AeroPress: The concentrate tasted like lemon pith. Adding water brought out a flavor like peanut shells. Not the peanut itself, but the sort of cardboard-esque flavor of the shells. I was suddenly taken to Texas Roadhouse in my head (and for those of you unfamiliar with this establishment, it’s the sort of place where people eat peanuts while waiting to be seated and they throw the shells all over the floor).

Chemex: Initial impression was that it had a chemical smell to it, but I think it was just that the top end was so strong. I can’t say it smelled like fruit or flowers or nuts or anything concrete, though – it just smelled astringent. It did seem to get better as I drank it. There was a slight tang to the aftertaste, like banana. Unfortunately for me, I hate bananas.

French press: This had the richest body of the four cups, and while the flavor was similar to the Chemex rendition, the thicker body seemed to make everything a little less objectionable by bringing more depth into the mix. If I had to pick a favorite preparation method for this coffee, it would be this one.

Summary: I’m close to dropping Costa Rican coffees from my playlist altogether, as I never really seem to be able to get into them. To me, they’re like a coffee version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (incidentally, a band quite popular in my teens, but one I never could get into!). I can’t fault Octane, as the beans do look beautifully roasted, and I can appreciate the work that went into this bag, but if I encounter another chance to buy Octane beans, I’m getting something else.

From the roaster: Floral, toffee, orange blossom, banana, lemon

This company does not appear to currently sell beans online, but you can purchase Octane Coffee at one of its retail locations in Alabama, Georgia, and West Virginia.

Octane Coffee Website

Review: Counter Culture Ethiopia Kochere Birhanu Zerihun Organic (Durham, North Carolina)

This coffee’s name sure is a mouthful! It thankfully is a lot easier to drink than it is to pronounce. I picked this box up in a mad rush at Houndstooth Coffee in Dallas, which has become one of my go-to places when I want to grab something great to review. I had about 3 minutes to get in and get out, so I scanned the selections, checked the date on this box, paid, and ran out of there to get to my gig. The barista was helpful, but didn’t try and engage me in a ton of small talk or anything – I think he could sense that I was a woman on a mission!

Whole bean: This definitely smelled like a blueberry-flavored baked good… Blueberry scone, perhaps. Once ground, there was also a cherry note to the beans.

French press: Sweet blueberry scent. Plenty of fruit flavor with a thick body and a lot of depth. Not a lot of acid – pretty smooth. I brewed this for my usual 4 minutes and felt that a little longer steeping time might bring out a bit more flavor.

Chemex: The aroma coming from the carafe was sooo beautiful – it smelled like blueberry syrup and vanilla ice cream. It was actually very reminiscent of the Heart Kenya Kiangoi I reviewed earlier this fall, except with blueberry instead of cranberry/pineapple. This cup was quite creamy and smooth, and the blueberry flavor got a little stronger as the cup cooled, but overall the dominant flavor was of cream. Delicious.

AeroPress: As a concentrate, this tasted like berries and leaves – there was a grassy note to this cup. I added just a little bit of water and the grass note was muted to create a nice cup, but this wasn’t my favorite preparation.

V60: Brightest cup in flavor – the most blueberry and the least body, surprisingly (I would have expected that to be the Chemex, but once again, coffee has surprises in store for me).

Summary: This is one of the best natural-processed Ethiopian coffees I’ve ever had. It doesn’t have any of the plasticky flavor/aroma that I find common among this type of coffee, and the creamy, sweet brew that resulted from the Chemex was just magical. I can’t wait to brew more. In fact, why the heck am I waiting?!

From the roaster: Juicy, raspberry, strawberry

Counter Culture Ethiopia Kochere Birhanu Zerihun Organic

Review: Case Coffee Roasters Ethiopia Mogeyes (Ashland, Oregon)

This review covers my other bag that I received from Case Coffee Roasters in my recent shipment. I like a lot of different kinds of coffees, but I really do enjoy Ethiopian coffee so I was pretty excited to see what would come of this bag.

One detail I neglected to mention before is that Case’s bags are 10.5 ounces. Most coffee companies offer bags in either 12 ounce or 16 ounce sizes, but we are seeing more specialty roasters offering bags in smaller sizes. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of these smaller bags are being carried by companies that offer free shipping.

Whole bean: Fruity scent that is reminiscent of mango. Ground, it smelled like pie crust.

V60: Sweet, moutherwatering aroma. Light to medium bodied. Mango. Floral aroma and flavor on the finish that reminded me of lilies.

AeroPress: Too strong to drink straight. This tasted like I had taken a mixed bouquet of flowers and spun it in a Vitamix. Once I added water, the flavor was much more subtle and delicate; nothing stood out in particular but it tasted like a sunny spring day. Delicate and pleasant. As it cooled, the coffee revealed a scent like grapefruit.

Chemex: Light brew with a little lemon flavor. Bright, lovely, and demure coffee. This drink curtesyed in my mouth!

French press: The heavier body to this cup made for a vanilla-esque flavor and character in addition to the other flavors I noted in the previous cups. Beautiful.

Summary: All of these cups were very nice (just make sure you add water to the AeroPress brew!) and would be a lovely choice for anyone that enjoys washed Ethiopian coffees or prefers subtle, delicate coffee. Not a good choice for anyone that likes dark, assertive coffee or adds cream to their cup – I think that milk + flowers and grapefruit and mango would be weird…

From the roaster: Mango, peach, fresh

Case Coffee Roasters Ethiopia Mogeyes