Review: Trader Joe’s Colombia Geisha (Monrovia, California)

Despite me listing Monrovia, California as the home base, the Trader Joe’s chain of markets can be found all over the United States, in 41 states and in the District of Columbia. It’s a place I enjoy shopping for groceries, as they have products available no place else, and I’ve appreciated their range of items and their quality, especially in the cheese, wine, and gluten-free categories. I used to buy coffee in their signature store brand canisters, because the price was low compared to other stores, but eventually started buying directly from roasters since there’s no real way to tell exactly how fresh Trader Joe’s coffee is (no roast dates are printed on the packaging). I’ve also heard anecdotal evidence of rocks being found in the beans and ruining grinders, so keep an eye on your coffee beans, kids!

Anyway, when I recently popped into a Trader Joe’s in Dallas, I had no intention of buying coffee, but I happened to catch sight of the display that held these canisters of Geisha coffee. Geisha coffee? At a TJ’s? I was skeptical about the quality. Past purchases of Geisha coffee for me have run anywhere from $30-40 per 8 oz, and Trader Joe’s was selling theirs for $20 per 8 oz. Much cheaper, but there was no roast date (just a “best by” date of March 22, 2018)… Ordinarily I would have walked away, but I was curious enough to try it (call it professional curiosity), to see if it was worth the chance. Plus, the “limited edition” packaging was a little hard to resist, as they numbered their cans and made it feel like an accomplishment to get one of the 48 cans allotted to this particular store location. Naturally, I searched until I got can #1. Felt almost as good as getting copy #1 of a piece of limited edition vinyl!

Geisha coffee, while originating in the village of Gesha in Ethiopia, can now be sourced from various places around the world. It produces a comparatively small amount of crop relative to other coffee plants, and the flavors are remarkably complex and floral. I’ve reviewed several varieties of Geisha coffees (three from Panama, one from Ethiopia) and all have been different but all have been markedly more layered than a standard coffee.

Trader Joe’s packaging didn’t make it clear what country this Geisha originated from, and it was only after reading the small print down the side of the can that I found out it came from Colombia. With the lack of roast date (just a “best by” date), I was seriously concerned that any complex/floral notes might be completely absent from the coffee… these things are best experienced when the coffee is extremely fresh (less than 3 weeks old at the max!). Was this a case of a money grab just off the back of the Geisha name?

Whole bean: hint of rainier cherry, but not much else. Mild. Not a bad start but not much character yet.

French press: Oh, this was a disappointment. My notes read:
“So bland. WTF?”
This tasted like a really weak cold brew. The flavor was that of marshmallow fluff, but without the sugar. Rich texture to this cup but no real flavor.

Chemex: Minimal bloom in the brewing, which just confirmed to me that this coffee was way past its peak of freshness. The extraction was quite fast and unbelievably, there was even less flavor in this cup vs. the French press cup. There was a bit of acidity on the finish but overall this coffee just made me mad because of its wasted potential.

AeroPress: Best of the lot. Fudgy texture and a flavor that had a hint of rose and nuts. This is only tolerable as a concentrate; as soon as you add even a little bit of water, it becomes bland.

V60: I purposely ground this quite fine to give the coffee as much extraction time as I dared. After 3:40, I tasted the brew. Nothing. It tasted like water!

Summary: If you want to splurge on a Geisha coffee, get a Geisha from a roaster that does it right, in small batches roasted to order. Cut-rate, stale Geisha is a waste of time and money. I love many things about you, Trader Joe’s, but this to me is a clear attempt to jump on the specialty coffee bandwagon and get people to part with their hard-earned cash on a product that is not worthy. Given the large reach of TJ locations around the country, there’s no real way to source enough of one crop of Geisha for all of your stores (even with limited cans) or to do proper quality control on a product that has such a short shelf life. Perhaps these beans were more delicious when fresh, but that time passed long ago, and I can’t recommend that anyone interested in coffee purchase these.

From the roaster: Full body with citrus notes

Trader Joe’s homepage

Review conducted at ????? days post-roast (who the hell knows?)

 

Review: Roseline Coffee Colombia El Ventilador (Portland, Oregon)

I ordered this bag at the same time I ordered the Roseline Ecuador Rosa Encarnacion, and I knew that as bright and divisive as the Rosa Encarnacion was, this Colombian coffee was likely to be completely different. I tend to gravitate toward Colombian coffees when I want something tasty and interesting but not too outside the box. I am used to tasting citrus and honey flavors in my Colombians, so I hoped this roast would fit the bill.

Whole bean: Sugar. Butter cookie. Marzipan. Delicious tangy scent like clover honey. Wow!

French press: This was sweet and rich with an undeniable note of citrus (tangelo).

Chemex: All I wrote in my notes here was the word “bright.” I had a little difficulty with the grind size and had to make this coffee twice (I guessed too coarse of a grind). I’m going to guess that this was not my favorite brew method.

AeroPress: Really thick and tangy brew that tasted strongly of both citrus and honey. I tried adding water but it immediately became bland, even with just a touch of it. Stick to drinking this as a concentrate.

V60: With an extraction time of 3:30, this had the least amount of citrus flavor, which is good if you’re not into that. It spoke mostly of brown sugar and had a pleasant bitterness to the finish, which would go extremely well with a sweet treat.

Summary: If you like citrus and honey, this is the coffee for you. It was lively and delicious with varying levels of those two flavors depending on the brew method.

From the roaster: Panela, butter cookie, and citrus

I am behind on posting reviews, so again, this coffee is no longer available on the Roseline website, but here’s a link to their online store: Roseline Coffee Roasters Online Store

Review conducted at 4-6 days post-roast.

Review: Roseline Coffee Ecuador Rosa Encarnacion (Portland, Oregon)

I’ve reviewed Roseline coffees multiple times before, and I think of all the coffee companies I’ve done repeat reviews for, Roseline is among the most consistently stellar (others I would include in that category are Klatch and Heart). I’ve gotten their beans in retail shops located both in Dallas and in their hometown of Portland, but I broke with tradition and ordered a couple of bags from them online, thanks to an Instagram ad they put out featuring this coffee I’m about to review. Congrats, guys, your social media ads work!

This particular bag called out to me because I have a friend that adores rose-flavored anything, and it listed rosewater in its flavor notes, so game on. I figured I would give her some of these beans as a gift if they were as rosy as I thought they might be. 

Whole bean: Very bright scent – floral, kind of astringent. Loud. I had an image in my head of furniture and fashion from the 1970s.

Yep. That pattern is about right! (And no, this is NOT my house!)

V60: At a 3:30 extraction, this cup was very floral. I could taste petals and stems, as if someone had thrown a small bouquet of flowers in a Vitamix. A bit too much for me – it was so bright, I felt like I needed shades!

AeroPress: Bright with flavors of lemon and stone fruit along with flowers. I wrote in my notes that both this and the V60 cup were more pleasant with pumpkin bread, but really, what isn’t more pleasant with pumpkin bread?

Chemex: This was a drastic change in flavor. Smooth, sweet and mildly nutty like cashews. Way more approachable vs. the Secret Garden Smoothie that was the V60 cup!

French press: This cup was the most complex of the bunch, with an aroma of fruit punch in addition to layers of macadamia nuts and flowers.

Summary: This is a coffee that reveals very different personalities depending on the brewing method. I liked the complexity of it in a French press, and I also enjoyed how delicate it was in the Chemex, but the Secret Garden Smoothie that resulted from the Hario V60 was just a little much! A hint of flowery flavor is nice, but this felt unbalanced.

From the roaster: Plum, rosewater, macadamia nut

I am behind on posting reviews, so again, this coffee is no longer available on the Roseline website, but here’s a link to their online store: Roseline Coffee Roasters Online Store

Review conducted 7 days post-roast.

Review: Eiland Coffee Costa Rica Hacienda Sonora (Richardson, Texas)

Eiland Coffee has become a somewhat go-to coffee company for me when I’m looking to keep things local (Dallas). Not only are their coffees available at my local Whole Foods for when I’m in a pinch, their roasting facility is along a major highway which I take at least a few times a week, so it’s relatively convenient for me to drop in for a fresh bag when their shop is open (as long as I can get there before 5:30 pm… traffic in Dallas is unpredictable!).

On my most recent visit to Eiland, they had fresh Costa Rican coffee available. Historically, I have not enjoyed Costa Rican coffee. It’s made me cry. It’s smelled like gasoline (though I don’t think that was the fault of the beans). It’s felt like a socially awkward encounter. It’s been a coffee equivalent for me of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (sorry for any fans of that band, but that is NOT a compliment coming from me). I really wasn’t all that keen on trying this particular bag (once burned, twice shy?), but the young woman behind the counter at Eiland gave me a whiff of some of the roasted beans, and they smelled delicious! Surprise, surprise. So, I agreed to get a bag. I figured if any roaster could make me change my mind about Costa Rican coffee, it would be Eiland.

Whole bean: Fruity, kind of similar in scent (berry, juicy) to Ethiopia Harrar, but with slightly less intensity. Sweet aroma.

V60: Very smooth but not dull in flavor. Strawberry jam flavor with a nice bright finish. This kept me sipping!

AeroPress: As a concentrate, this had a lovely toasted marshmallow flavor with some acidity on the finish. Very easy to drink! I added a bit of additional water just to see what it would do, and it made the brew smoother but blander. No hint of fruit or brightness.

Chemex: I had a bit of a hard time getting the grind size right; made this coffee twice and still ended up a bit underextracted, in my opinion. This requires a finer grind than I usually do for the Chemex method. Both times I made this, it tasted rather bland and uninteresting in this method. Smelled like matches, with just a hint of vanilla. None of the fruity sweetness that was present in the V60 cup made it into the Chemex cup, which surprised me.

French press: Reminded me mostly of fruit punch. Strong berry flavor, rich mouthfeel.

Summary: Hats off to Eiland for offering a Costa Rican coffee I actually liked! That’s no small feat. I liked this coffee best in the V60 and in the french press, with the V60 just edging out the press pot because I think the juiciness in the beans is more amplified by a filtered method.

From the roaster: Fruit punch, vanilla, round body, juicy acidity.

I took so long to finish this review that the coffee is no longer available in Eiland’s shop, but you can browse their current online selections here: Eiland Coffee Online Store

Review conducted 1-4 days post roast.

Review: Tack and Jibe Ethiopia Sidama (Newport Beach, California)

I started this blog back in 2015 intending it to basically be my coffee diary. As I delved deeper into the world craft coffee and learned about the subtle differences between origins, roasts, brands, etc., I knew I’d want to have a way to keep a record of everything, and in the back of my mind, I remember thinking, “when I find THE BEST coffee, I’ll just start up a subscription to that roaster so I don’t have to keep searching.”

Well, it’s now been over two years, and at the risk of sounding like a player, I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to settle down and commit to one coffee roaster. I really enjoy seeking out new roasters and being surprised by the great diversity of flavors out there. Is it inconvenient? Yes, at times. I always have to keep in mind when I’m running low on beans so that I can order some online or buy some in-store (which usually means a special trip). Sometimes, I get overwhelmed with work and I realize too late that I’m out of coffee at home. The horror!!

Subscription services, of course, are a great answer to this dilemma, as they will ship freshly-roasted beans straight to your door on a schedule of your choosing so that you will never stumble into your kitchen in a sleep-deprived state only to discover that there is no coffee in the house. Many roasters offer subscription services, but it can be overwhelming choosing between all of the available roasts and origins, especially if you’re new to the craft coffee scene.

Enter Tack and Jibe. I was contacted by this coffee roaster/subscription company and was immediately impressed by several things about their business model:
1) They ship only freshly roasted, whole bean coffee. No pre-ground beans.
2) They have five categories of beans with short initial flavor descriptions to allow for easy selection, especially for newbies.
3) They allow easy changes (bean selection, shipping frequency, etc.).

I chose a sample bag of their Ethiopian beans to review. They roasted and shipped these beans to me on a Friday, and I received them the following Tuesday (that Monday happened to be a holiday, so who knows, maybe otherwise it would have arrived sooner!).

Whole bean: The beans looked very small – similar in size to many of the heirloom varieties of Ethiopian beans I’ve tried. There was no information on the bag other than “Ethiopia” but I would have bet $5 that these were definitely heirloom beans (and I found out later that I was right). The roast level was not as light as I am used to seeing with Ethiopian coffee, but was barely what I’d classify as a medium. Somewhere between medium-light and medium, perhaps. The beans had a creamy aroma but nothing particular stood out. I couldn’t tell for sure how it was processed but my guess was that the beans were washed because I didn’t detect any fruity/berry scent.

V60: At a 2:40 extraction, this brew was smooth on the front, like milk chocolate, and a bit like rum on the finish. Interesting! As this coffee cooled, it started emanating an aroma a bit like scotch – I associate scotch with the smell of shoe leather so it turned me off, but if you’re into that, hey!

AeroPress: Smooth and a little smoky. Pleasant to drink but there’s no way I would have ever guessed this to be Ethiopian coffee.

Chemex: My batch of this was slightly underextracted because I guessed wrong on the grind size, but it was a nice cup. It smelled like sweet vanilla. The taste wasn’t quite as sweet as the smell.

French press: This was my favorite of the four brew methods I tried. Lovely, rich texture and flavors of vanilla with a hint of cherry on the finish.

Summary: This particular Ethiopian single-origin coffee was roasted a bit darker than I am accustomed to, so I didn’t taste a lot of the distinctive flavors that I am used to finding in various washed and dry-processed Ethiopian coffees (floral, berry, citrus, chocolate, etc.). People sometimes complain to me that light roasted coffee tastes sour or weird or too much like stuff other than coffee, so I think this particular roast might be nice and approachable for someone new to single origins. I can’t speak for the other four coffee varieties offered (Brazil, Mexico, Sumatra, decaf), but the Ethiopia was roasted very evenly with lovely heirloom quality beans, they shipped fresh from the roaster, and they can come straight to your door. Worth checking out!

From the roaster: Roasted on the lighter side. Hibiscus, marshmallow, and herbal notes. Bright, juicy, and floral

Tack and Jibe Ethiopia

Tack and Jibe Home Page

Disclaimer: I received this product gratis in exchange for a fair and honest review. Even though I received this for free, I treat and test it the same way as if I had paid for it out of my own pocket.

A message for my fellow gig-travelers

Do people think it’s weird that you travel, sometimes great distances, to see live concerts? Do you derisively get called a fanboy or fangirl? I sometimes get a reaction akin to, “I can’t believe you’d fly/drive all that way for just a concert!” Once, I got that statement while sitting on a plane with a couple who, no joke, were traveling to see a college football game. They failed to see the irony (or the similarity).

It’s socially acceptable to state that you’re traveling to see things. Cities. Monuments. Natural wonders. But, I suspect I’d start to get funny looks from people if I were to say I was traveling solely to feel the Mediterranean sun on my face, or to taste tapas in Spain, or to smell the scent of orange blossoms, or to hear what Tokyo sounds like at night. Why does our sense of sight get all the glory, when there are so many avenues to experience the wonders this world has to offer?

Not everyone is aware that live music is a multi-sensory experience. People think about music as just something you hear, but live music is felt just as much as heard. I’m not a synesthete so I can’t say I see, taste, or smell music, but it definitely feels three-dimensional to stand and feel waves of sound crashing into you and penetrating your bones. And, sharing the moment with a few hundred or thousand or tens of thousands of fellow fans makes the moment all the more special. Why did the couple next to me on the plane make the effort to travel across state lines to attend a game they could have watched on TV? For the same reason I traveled to see a beloved band that I could have just listened to on my home stereo.

Online streams are great for when I can’t travel, and my hat is off to fellow fans that painstakingly post photos and videos to share their excitement with those who can’t be there. I can appreciate that others try and capture the moment with their phones and cameras, but when I look at pics and streams and video, I’m looking at the moment from the outside. In my memory, I’m inside the moment being created, right before my eyes and ears. Despite pictures and audio and video recordings, no one will ever experience that night exactly the way you will in that moment, because they will not be there to know how it feels, in that exact time and space. That, to me, makes all the inconvenience of travel worth it.

Monuments are all well and good, but I feel a much stronger pull and a greater sense of urgency to travel for more intangible, ephemeral things. Sakura blossoms in the spring. The Northern Lights. A mind-blowing cup of coffee. The sound of crashing waves. And, increasingly, the full-body experience of live music. What is more ephemeral than being present when an artist brings his or her creation into the world? Besides, speaking as a performer, it’s always more fun to perform when the audience is enthusiastic about the music being created. You, the audience, are an integral part of the equation, and your energy can mean the difference between an okay show and an unforgettable one.

So, my fellow gig-travelers, don’t feel apologetic or guilty or embarrassed for chasing the fleeting but intense beauty of live music. Many people can say they have seen the Eiffel Tower, but how many can say they’ve witnessed Eva Cassidy perform live? (I wish.) I’ve traveled a fair few miles to see musicians whose work I admire. I’ve never regretted a single moment of those shows, but I definitely look back with regret at the shows I had the chance to go to but didn’t. I am not likely to get to experience everything I want to in life, but given a choice between getting a selfie with a koala and being part of a one-night only musical experience that will never be repeated exactly as it was that night? Sorry, koala. (Call me if you take up the piano, though.)