The Best of 2015

This time of year, indie-music snobs the world over take great pleasure in making and criticizing each others’ year-end best-of lists. I didn’t make a list of my favorite albums because I really didn’t buy very many this year (though, I do have a favorite album – “Carrie and Lowell” by Sufjan Stevens. Devastating, beautiful, haunting, poetic, redemptive, intimate… I can’t say enough about how affecting it is!), but I thought it might be fun to revisit all the coffees I drank this year to make a “best of” list of all the java I drank in 2015.

“Everyday” in this context doesn’t really refer to price, as it seems like the vast majority of craft coffee ranges between $16-20/12 ounces anyway, so it’s all pretty comparably priced. It’s more about what I would be comfortable drinking on a regular basis and serving to other people that visit.

“Splurge” coffee is coffee that I may save for special occasions or to share with other coffee snobs. It’s coffee that I may not want to drink every day since it’s so distinctive, but is exceptional when I am inclined to drink it. It might be priced similarly to the “everyday” coffees.

Favorite “everyday” espresso: Chromatic Coffee Gamut Espresso ($16 for 12 ounces)

This should come as no shock to anyone that read this review back when I published it back in August. It’s delicious both as a straight shot and with milk, but if I had to choose, I would choose this with milk, as it becomes a rich butterscotch/caramel treat in the cup. It’s managed to hold the distinction of being the only espresso blend that Shutterbug (who is not a coffee snob at all) has requested I purchase a second time. I think at this point we’ve probably purchased 4-5 bags or so and we have no intention of stopping! It’s on regular rotation at our house and it’s definitely the closest thing we have to a “house” espresso.

Favorite “splurge” espresso: Klatch Coffee Golden Bean Espresso Blend ($19.95 for 12 ounces)

This espresso came with a fair bit of hype, so I went into this tasting cautiously, but the result in the cup shattered my expectations and then some! I was really pleased with how surprisingly forgiving the beans were – at no point did I get a bad shot, and some of the shots were among the most exceptional I’ve ever tasted. It is amazingly fragrant and complex, and in my opinion it’s a shame to add milk to this. But, if you do, it creates something akin to a lavender latte.

Favorite “everyday” coffee: Cultivar Coffee Colombia La Esperanza ($18 for 12 ounces)

This was a tough category, as there were a lot coffees vying for this spot. This roast from Cultivar edged out the competition though, because the flavor of this brewed both in a Hario V60 and in a french press is soul-restoring! It helped that I had been pining for a Colombia La Esperanza since having that Ritual cup in Los Angeles back in April. Dark chocolate, plum, spice… delicious and approachable yet interesting enough to make you really focus on the flavor.

Favorite “splurge” coffee: Square One Coffee Roasters Panama La Esmerelda Gesha Boquete ($19.95 for 12 ounces)

There are more expensive coffees I’ve had this year, but I don’t think I had anything that gave me more pleasure than this coffee. Was it that I bought it in New York City on the eve of finally seeing my favorite band of all time? Was it the experience of opening it at a coffee cupping with great friends and having all four of us blown away by the complexity? It could have been either or neither of these things… I do know though that this particular bean was remarkably sweet, fragrant, complex, and hard to really capture in words. It was astounding brewed in a french press.

And here is my top 10 list for most enjoyable cups I’ve had in 2015!

10. Ascension Peruvian Silk Blend (AeroPress)
9. Counter Culture Kenya Kamavindi (Chemex)
8. Cultivar Colombia La Esperanza (french press)
7. Klatch Panama Elida Honey (Hario V60)
6. Chromatic Gamut Espresso (flat white)
5. Counter Culture Ethiopia Kochere Birhanu Zerihun Organic (Chemex)
4. Heart Kenya Kiangoi (Chemex)
3. Sterling Kenya Nyeri Gachatha AA (Hario V60)
2. Klatch Golden Bean Espresso (straight shot)
1. Square One Panama La Esmerelda Gesha Boquete (french press)

As always, these are just my opinions… If I missed your favorite coffee this year, please don’t send me hate mail – send me suggestions for things to try! Cheers to even more deliciousness in 2016!

Review: Supersonic Colombia Alto de Topa (Berkeley, California)

Supersonic Coffee, based in northern California, currently does not have a storefront (they are working on opening their own coffee bar) but their beans are available wholesale, online, and at a number of coffee shops around the country. I’ve been wanting to pick up a bag of their coffee for some time now, since I saw Houndstooth Coffee in Dallas starting to carry their beans, and I finally got an opportunity this week. Bonus, the bag came with a free Britpop earworm!

The About page on Supersonic’s website is worth a read; it gets me pretty fired up to drink their coffee.

Whole bean: Wow, what a complex aroma! I noted tea leaves, marshmallows, rainier cherries, and lemon. This varietal smells quite sweet.

V60: I made this twice because the first batch I made (at a 3:08 extraction time) came out slightly bitter. I was oddly reminded of peanut skins (the papery stuff that surrounds peanuts in their shells). Once I adjusted my grinder setting a couple of notches coarser, I ended up with a 2:45 extraction time and this cup was much better; dark chocolate aroma and flavor with a hint of floral character on the finish. Gorgeous cup.

AeroPress: The concentrate made a lemony, floral, bright brew with a thick body. Once I added just a touch of water, the coffee smoothed out to reveal a milk chocolate + marshmallow flavor. Very sweet.

Chemex: Amazingly complex in the cup. This tastes like a symphony. All the flavors (minus the peanut skins) that I noted previously were in here, and they blended into a beautiful harmonious brew. The aftertaste spun and lingered for a long time on the palate (I didn’t time it but it was definitely over 30 seconds).

French press: Chocolate, marshmallow, and a hint of lemon. Rich and satisfying.

Summary: A deliciously complex and satisfying coffee that had a great result in all brew methods I tried, but my personal vote would be in the Chemex for the amazing depth of flavor. It was also particularly lovely in the V60 (just be sure not to over-extract the coffee).

From the roaster: Green apple, rose hip, elegant

Supersonic Coffee Colombia Alto de Topa

Review: Heart Coffee Roasters Kenya Muranga (Portland, Oregon)

It’s nearly Monday afternoon where I live, but I hope you’re all having a bunch of happy mondays wherever you are! Another week beginning, another Heart coffee to review.

Whole bean: This has a light and slightly tannic aroma that smells like sliced apples – not as tart as something like a Granny Smith; maybe more like a Gala or Pink Lady.

French press: Full-bodied, thick brew which tasted a bit tart and strongly of apples. The flavor was not as sweet as its aroma.

Chemex: Compared to the french press cup, this cup was more tart and light in character. The finish was like lemonade – it made me pucker a little but it wasn’t unpleasantly tart. The flavor overall was pretty subtle.

AeroPress: The concentrate carried the flavor of apples along with a slightly dry but rich finish.

V60: Light body, eerily reminiscent of oolong tea with a hint of apple flavor.

Summary: Okay, clearly this coffee has the apple flavor printed on the bag, though I wasn’t able to identify it as honeycrisp in particular. This seems like a great coffee for the colder months of the year; December and its falling temperatures makes me think of apple cider, and this coffee fits the bill. No one brew method stood out to me as “the best,” but I would probably stick to making this in either the press pot or the AeroPress; I like the heavier body for this coffee.

From the roaster: Butterscotch, blackcurrant, honeycrisp

Heart Kenya Muranga

Review: Spella Caffe India Chikmagalur Peaberry (Portland, Oregon)

On my previous trip to Portland in September, Spella Caffe was on my shortlist of roasters/cafes to visit, but I ran out of time (and I had to cut myself off after acquiring six other bags of coffee!). Thankfully, I had another chance over the Thanksgiving holiday. Spella is a bit of an anomaly in the crowded PDX-coffee scene, in that it definitely leans more toward a traditional Italian-style espresso vs. the brighter, fruitier shots served in many third-wave coffee shops. Spella even pulls their shots on a lever-style manual espresso machine, rather than the semi-automatics common to most upscale cafes. The proprietor, Andrea Spella, roasts in small batches (eleven pounds at a time) for optimum quality control. Basically, all of these factors combined to make me very interested in trying their espresso beans.

Fate, however, had other plans for me, as when I visited the shop, they were out of espresso beans. My sister was outside the shop, and apparently she could tell exactly what was wrong when she saw the interaction between me and the woman behind the register as she watched through their plate-glass window.

“SPELLA!!!!!”

However, all was not lost, as they had a fresh batch of this India Peaberry on hand. The barista told me that this particular bean lent itself well to pourover methods, so I was intrigued enough to purchase it. I suppose I should have had an espresso shot in the shop, but I was in a bit of a rush, so I didn’t. Perhaps another time!

Whole bean: Earthy, buttery, and rich aroma. This isn’t a dark roast (the beans are medium at most, with no oily sheen), but it has a depth to it that I haven’t experienced in a while.

V60: If I was given a cup of this while blindfolded, I would have sworn it was a Sumatran coffee. It actually reminded me quite a lot of the “Eeyore coffee” I reviewed earlier in the year: a bit spicy like cloves, with a medium body.

AeroPress: The concentrate was full in body and tasted a bit like toasted marshmallow. However, the finish was brighter, like cranberry and star anise.

Chemex: This was a pleasant cup to drink; it was delicate and nutty, with a little bit of a buttery and spicy finish.

French press: Thick, satisfying, full-bodied and buttery cup. Smooth.

Summary: I haven’t explored a lot of coffees from this area of the world, but with winter coming, it almost seems like the right time to expand my horizons again. I used to drink a lot of Sumatran coffee before I got bored of it and decided to explore other regions, but this coffee (while not a Sumatran) reminded me of how good coffee from this general part of the world could be – it had very clean flavors and was meticulously roasted. I would recommend this either in a Chemex or a French press, depending on how you like your coffee (light/medium-bodied or full-bodied).

From the roaster: No tasting notes

Spella does not currently sell coffees online, but they are available in multiple retail outlets in Oregon.

Guide to Spella from Portland Food and Drink

Spella Caffe Home