Review: Third Coast Coffee Espresso Pacifico (Austin, Texas)

I generally know exactly how much coffee is in my house at all times, and I try and plan ahead to buy beans (from local coffee shops or through mail-order) when I know I’m running low. However, sometimes life gets in the way, and I end up needing an emergency fix from my local Whole Foods. Such was the case a few weeks ago, which is how I ended up with this bag from Third Coast (10 days post roast).

Third Coast Coffee is a small-batch Austin-area roaster, and it is also a founding member of Cooperative Coffees, which is a cooperative of coffee companies dedicated to importing coffee according to the principles of direct, fair, and transparent trade. All of the coffee offered by Third Coast is fair trade and organic, with the exception of one which is in the process of getting organic certification.

Whole bean: Upon opening, I noticed the beans were a bit oily, and the roast level looked rather uneven. However, upon looking at the description of the Espresso Pacifico on the roaster’s website, I found out this was by design:

“this is our take on a classic black-and-tan; once very popular, these fell out of favor during the “dark ages” of the 70s and 80s. We choose a pair of Latin American coffees, roast one medium and one dark, and blend them for a cup with exceptional depth and just a hint of smoke.” 

Espresso: I really didn’t get what I considered to be a “great” espresso out of this bag; there were some satisfactory shots, but I don’t think this blend had the flavor I was after – it was roasted too darkly overall. At its best, this blend had loads of crema and a hint of cinnamon and milk chocolate, and it made beautiful-looking lattes, but there was a mild flavor of charcoal throughout which I really didn’t like (even “just a hint of smoke” is too much for me, I guess!), and after just a couple of days at my house, the beans developed a fishy aroma, which I REALLY didn’t like. I find that oily, dark-roasted beans turn rancid quite quickly, and since the beans were already 10 days old when I bought them, they didn’t have much of a window before they became unusable to me.

AeroPress: Sorry, but I didn’t get a chance to use this in an AeroPress before the fishy aroma hit. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say though that this coffee probably tastes like a dark roast coffee!

Cold brew: I did, however, opt to experiment with this for a batch of cold-brew coffee, and the result was excellent: rich, chocolate flavor that was extremely smooth and sweet, even without sugar. I poured myself a shot glass of this stuff (undiluted) to taste it, and it went down very, very easily. If I was in the habit of making cold brew for myself on a regular basis, I think these beans + roast level would be a great choice.

Summary: For an emergency bag of espresso beans, I think I could have done worse… much worse, in fact. However, I don’t think I’ll buy this again unless I specifically am planning to make cold-brew coffee, as I think it is particularly suited to that purpose.

From the roaster: Woodsmoke, chocolate, caramel

Third Coast Coffee Espresso Pacifico

Review: Ascension Rwanda Cyimbili Gold (Dallas, Texas)

This bag was a sweet gift from my friends Julee and Brian. Thanks to one of my favorite couples! 🙂

Ascension has a pretty strong local presence here in Dallas, and their Peruvian Silk blend made it into my top 10 list for 2015. I’m always happy to review a bag of their beans.

Whole bean: Strong berry aroma. Very sweet fragrance that was an amalgam of red wine and honey.

French press: Awesome rich blackberry flavor with a thick body in the cup. Enjoyable. I wrote down “Pinot Noir” in my notes, but that isn’t a great descriptor since not all Pinot Noirs taste the same.

Chemex: This cup was quite fragrant. Deliciously sweet, fruity aroma. The blackberry flavor in the cup was both tart and sweet with a dry finish. It brought back memories of a summer I spent in Maine, and having the experience of picking and eating fresh blackberries straight off the bushes.

AeroPress: I wasn’t a fan of this cup. Initially, I thought this cup smelled like bug spray! Thankfully, the smell went away quickly but I didn’t find much about this cup to like. It was too strong and overwhelming to drink as a concentrate, but when I added water, it tasted bland.

V60: Ho-hum in the cup. Not sweet. This ended up a little bit metallic tasting, so I tried again with a slightly finer grind. The second time, I got a bit of toasted marshmallow and peach flavor in the coffee but it was a bit bitter as well, even at only a 2:45 extraction time.

Summary: A blackberry-heavy coffee that tasted best to me in a french press, but I think it would also be delicious brewed in a Chemex and served slightly sweetened over ice – sort of like blackberry iced tea but in coffee form.

From the roaster: Blackberry, peach, smooth body

This coffee is not currently available online.

Ascension Coffee Roasters Online Store

Review: Evocation Micro-Coffee Roasters Peru Cajamarca (Amarillo, Texas)

Shutterbug and I had the pleasure of checking out Evocation’s shop while visiting Amarillo for a wedding. It was hard to find; the shop is located in an industrial-looking area and there are no discernible signs from the road to indicate that there is a pretty special little coffee shop in the vicinity, but we found it anyway (thanks, Yelp and Google Maps!).

I enjoyed chemistry class while in high school, so I was pretty tickled that this was how their coffee was served:

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The in-house pourover coffee that day was Evocation’s Colombia Las Colinas. The barista told me of the tasting notes, but honestly I don’t remember what they were; I just remember tasting this incredibly sweet and fragrant brew that brought the JAMC’s “Just Like Honey” to mind. It was seriously THAT sweet. There were also notes of dark chocolate present in the cup.

Compounding this pleasurable experience was the scent wafting through the shop of sweetness and bread. I thought it was french toast or brioche, but Shutterbug informed me later that they were making waffles (somehow, I didn’t notice this!). The one bean they had available in bags was this Peruvian Cajamarca, and I had pretty high hopes for it based on how much I enjoyed the Colombian coffee I tried in the shop.

Whole bean: Bright aroma of green grapes, cocoa powder, and vanilla with a creaminess about it. Once ground, the aroma became an unimaginably rich and earthy chocolate truffle plus notes of plum and port wine.

V60: Given the promise of the ground beans, this cup was a disappointment. I tried this twice; the first attempt (3:15 extraction time) smelled like warm clean hair or clothes… it didn’t smell like soap or detergent, but it smelled like burying your face into warm laundry just taken from the dryer. The taste was slightly bitter. The second attempt (2:50 extraction time) was smoother but still had weirdly bitter notes plus a chemical smell that bothered me. I was pretty sad about this! It’s possible my technique or something else was off here but maybe this is just not a good brewing method for this particular coffee.

AeroPress: MUCH better. Dark chocolate flavor and smooth mouthfeel throughout. There was a hint of caramel and stone fruit (plum?) on the finish that was really nice. I didn’t add any water to this concentrate because it was lovely just as it was.

Chemex: Less chocolate flavor and more plum in this cup. Pretty good! Sweet and perky.

French press: This cup was the showstopper of the bunch. Both plum and chocolate flavors mingled in this cup along with the flavor of marshmallow fluff. This cup was ridiculously sweet; almost to the point of being too much for me to drink without laughing. Okay, I did giggle a little, but only because it was unbelievable how sweet this black coffee turned out! What a delight.

Summary: Try this in a french press if you’re ready to be bowled over with sweetness. The Colombia Las Colinas from this same roaster is also a winner. I’ve got my eye on you, Evocation! It’ll be sooner rather than later when we meet again.

From the roaster: Toffee, chocolate, plum

Evocation Peru Cajamarca

Review: Folgers 100% Colombian pre-ground coffee (Orrville, Ohio)

This review started out as a joke, because I woke up one morning and found a container of Folgers sitting in front of my espresso machine. The following text message conversation ensued between me and Shutterbug:

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I then figured, hell, why not? I was curious about how this coffee would fare in manual methods. I do not own an automatic drip coffeemaker, and this coffee is pre-ground for that purpose, so I knew the results would be less than ideal since I couldn’t control the grind size.

Notes from the packaging: The container proclaimed that it “makes up to 90 6 fl oz cups.” The container has 10.3 oz (292 grams) of ground coffee. Hold on a second. When I make coffee in the Hario V60, I use 25 grams of coffee for 400 grams of water (1:16 ratio) which results in 12 fl oz of coffee. By my math, using those proportions would result in just over 23 6 fl oz cups by my normal recipe. Somehow they are estimating 90 cups can be made from this container??? Oy.

Ground beans: Vaguely milk chocolaty aroma – it actually reminded me most of Hershey’s chocolate, plus something like overripe fruit. After the container was open for a while (around 10 minutes), the kitchen started smelling like the bread from the Subway sandwich chain. You know how when you walk into a Subway restaurant, the slightly sweet, yeasty aroma of the bread they bake hits you in the nose? That smell started permeating my kitchen. This was so confusing to my senses.

V60: I couldn’t adjust the grind size for any of these applications so the extraction time was, to put it lightly, less than ideal. Extraction time was only 1:35. There was NO bloom whatsoever (who knows how old this ground coffee is?). In the cup, this coffee tasted like nothing. It smelled like a cup of hot water. Actually, I would have preferred a cup of hot water over this because the filtered water at my house has just the slightest hint of sweetness about it. This just tasted like an empty void.

AeroPress: I typically will brew the standard way with an AeroPress, where the coffee conceivably could drip a bit through the filter as it sits due to gravity, but usually not much coffee will drip through the filter (just a few drops worth, really). Well, this time, half the cup flowed through the filter while it sat brewing. The resulting coffee tasted like cardboard with a bitter edge to it.

Chemex: These coffee grounds are STILL too coarse, even for this method! I would have expected that the grind size would have been at least close, but this resulted in only a 3:20 extraction time, far short of the 4:00 I aim for. The coffee tasted like chemicals from a nail salon. At this point I was getting really depressed.

French press: Well, of the four methods, this was the best of the lot, but the best I can say is that it was not awful. It actually tasted like coffee, though I felt it was slightly bitter after 4 minutes in the press pot. This coffee had a decent amount of body but there was very little aroma. It’s comparable to what I might expect from coffee from a gas station.

Summary: If I had an absolute coffee emergency and this was the only option, it makes passable coffee in a french press. Not great, but it’s drinkable if I was desperate… though I’d probably rather get a Coke if it was just the caffeine I was after!

From the roaster: Distinctively rich. 100% pure coffee.

Folgers website

Review: Commonwealth Coffee Panama Carmen Estate (Denver, Colorado)

I’ve had my eye on trying Commonwealth Coffee for a while, since I saw that Oak Lawn Coffee in Dallas carries their beans along with Heart Coffee (one of my favorite roasters). Commonwealth is a young company (it’s only been around for a little over two years), and when I read the “About Us” section on the company’s website, the word that kept coming into my head was “inclusive” (though it was not a word used). These guys do NOT sound like snobs, that’s for sure!

Whole bean: These smell awesome. Creamy and complex aroma.

V60: I admit, my very first impression immediately after brewing this cup was off-putting because it smelled to me like cherry cough syrup. However, that scent dissipated very quickly and there was no trace of that flavor in the cup (thank goodness)! This was a bright, deceptively smooth cup that was reminiscent of cherry limeade (but definitely weighted more toward lime than cherry). Rich, creamy finish.

AeroPress: Butterscotch sweetness and richness, plus bright lemon flavor. This was a satisfying cup that needed no additional water to dilute the concentrate – I was quite happy to drink this straight.

Chemex: This was a complex cup that had a dry finish reminiscent of a Bordeaux. Very nice!

French press: Of the four cups, I had the hardest time pinning down the flavors here. Delicious syrupy body with rich flavors of toffee, cherry, and rose. This cup really made me slow down and have to think about what it was I was drinking. Great if you’re already awake, but I don’t know that I would be able to handle this at 6:00 am on a weekday — it might be too complicated for my fuzzy, sleep-deprived brain to fully enjoy! I feel like this coffee would be a combination of the overtly chipper voice of morning-show radio DJs plus the thought-provoking content of NPR/public radio. Nothing wrong with either of these things, but I would have to be in the right mood to not be overwhelmed and/or irritated by the combination. 😉

Summary: A pleasantly complex bean that will please people that like bright flavors. I wasn’t able to pick out most of the flavors in the roaster’s notes, but I did enjoy this brewed in a French press. I’m looking forward to trying other offerings from Commonwealth in the future.

From the roaster: Peach jam, cinnamon, kaffir lime, vanilla ice cream

This coffee is not currently sold online.

Commonwealth Coffee Online Store

Review: Avoca Coffee Roasters Mogwai Blend (Fort Worth, Texas)

When I visit Fort Worth (usually for work), I make an effort to stop by Avoca Coffee when I get the chance. I’ve tried a couple of their single-origin coffees before and have been very pleased both times. They also pull a fantastic shot of espresso in their shop! This is the first blend I’ve tried from Avoca, and I picked this particular bag up at RE:defined Coffee House in Grapevine, TX.

(I will admit, 95% of the reason I chose this bag was the fact that it shares its name with the band Mogwai. The other 5% was that it was very freshly roasted!)

Whole bean: When I opened the bag and took a whiff, all I could initially smell was plastic. I’m guessing it had something to do with the bag itself, because once I took the beans out and ground them, they smelled like cocoa and cinnamon.

V60: This was not a very sweet cup of coffee; it tasted rather savory and spicy. Nutty and a little grassy, like green bell pepper.

AeroPress: Oof, this smelled like a nail salon. Thankfully, this tasted a lot better than it smelled. The coffee was smooth and dark with a bit of kick on the finish, like someone put a touch of cayenne pepper in the cup.

Chemex: This cup was dominated by dark chocolate flavor. It had a pretty thin texture (no surprise in this application) and overall was a pretty simple, crowd-pleasing cup.

French press: Smooth, chocolaty, and easily approachable. Slightly more enjoyable to me than the Chemex version because I liked the thicker body.

Summary: The Chemex and French press cups lacked the complexity of the other cups, but I think that was a good thing in this case. The French press would be my vote for how best to prepare this coffee, unless you prefer a more savory cup – then the V60 might float your boat. I also have it on good authority that this coffee is quite helpful when recovering from a hangover!

From the roaster: Pecan, cacao nibs, and serrano pepper flavors with a medium acidity and a dry lingering finish. A consistent everyday coffee with soft flavors and silky body.

Avoca Coffee Roasters Online Store