This post begins a streak of 5 reviews of Portland-based roasters, and I couldn’t be happier about it! My trip to Oregon was sheer delight; I enjoyed gorgeous sunny weather with a nice cool breeze, mouth-watering food, and of course superb coffee. I’m starting with Sterling partly because it’s the “oldest” coffee in the bunch (which is still not very old at all, at only 10 days old when I reviewed it), and partly because I have a rather special story to go along with it.
Spoiler alert: EXEMPLARY customer service!!!
First, let’s talk about the coffee.
Whole bean: aromas of red wine, dark chocolate, and red fruits (strawberries, raspberries).
V60: My mouth started watering immediately upon taking a sip of this brew. It was more than simply sweet – it had a beautiful complexity to it. I tasted strawberry, lemon, and lychee flavors with a lovely dry finish. Sort of like a fancy strawberry lemonade. I could not stop savoring this cup. What a way to begin!!!
AeroPress: The concentrate was very acidic and lively with a citrusy pop. Once I added some water, it smoothed out. Still perky but more approachable. Nice depth!
Chemex: So smooth. Yum! Great balance in this cup. Light-bodied but with a juicy, creamy finish. The dominant flavors were of tangerine and nougat.
French press: Hello, marshmallow! This was a surprise because I had detected no hint of marshmallow before this. The citrus evident in the other cups was quite muted here. This cup was the sweetest of the four, with a bit of acidity to brighten and enliven things up.
Okay, now for storytime!
I perused the Portland Eater’s 20 Best Coffeeshops and Roasters list and plotted out where I could walk/take transit to in an afternoon. Based on that list, I wandered into Coffeehouse Northwest in Portland and went straight for the bags of Sterling across from the register. There were two people behind the counter and they greeted me with offers to answer any questions I might have. Quickly, I realized that I did indeed have a question: the bags were labeled with a “best by” date, not a roast date. This normally sets off alarm bells in my head because I associate “best by” dates with huge coffee conglomerates and grocery store bags, but clearly Sterling is a small company devoted to quality, so I inquired. Turns out the “best by” date is dated one month after the roast date. My bag of this Kenya Gachatha AA was dated October 14, which meant it was roasted September 14. My visit to this shop was on September 20 (nearly one week post-roast). I knew that I would be buying a LOT of coffee on this trip and I was slightly uncomfortable about buying coffee that was already a week old (since I wanted to consume everything within two weeks of roasting and I didn’t know if I could physically do it), but after hemming and hawing for probably 10 minutes by the bags, I plunked down some cash and bought this bag.
At this point, I sat down to figure out where I was going to go next, and I kept agonizing about this purchase. Is the coffee too old? Should I just order online? Maybe I should visit another shop (there was a Sterling Coffee Roasters shop less than a mile to the north)? What if the other shop doesn’t have this Kenyan (which sounded delicious)?! Will I have time to drink all this??? Argh!!!
I sat at that table for probably another 10 minutes before I walked up to the counter and said, “I know you probably think I’m crazy, but…” I then proceeded to blab about how I’m neurotic about my coffee and I was worried that the coffee would go stale before I had a chance to truly appreciate its potential, I know I’m probably overthinking all this and I completely understand if I can’t return the bag of coffee, but I would feel better about ordering a bag off the website so that I could get one that was closer to the roast date, since I wouldn’t be getting home for another 4 days and possibly not able to even open the bag for another 3-4 days past that, blah blah blah….! The bemused man behind the counter smiled understandingly, and proceeded to inform me that he could tell that I was having a hard time with this, and that he appreciated how much I wanted to experience the coffee at its peak, because…. HE IS THE ROASTER FOR STERLING COFFEE ROASTERS.
At this point I didn’t know if I should be even MORE embarrassed that I let the man who personally roasted this coffee see how nuts I was, or happy that of all people, this man would understand!!! I was a little bit of both. Mostly embarrassed, though. I believe I covered my face in my hands.
Here is where the exemplary customer service comes in. I didn’t catch this man’s name, so I’m just going to refer to him as Mr. Awesome. Mr. Awesome proceeded to refund me for my purchase, but he would not take the beans back. He wanted me to have them, because he felt that I would enjoy them even outside of the two-week window (I believe he said these particular beans maintained peak flavor as far as 20-25 days post-roast), and because he could tell I would really respect the product. He then suggested that if I did like what I tasted, then I could order from the website at a later date as a thank-you. At this point I informed him that I’m a coffee blogger and that he’d be getting a STELLAR write-up about how he went the extra mile to make me happy, and it was his turn to cover his face in HIS hands. Haha!
Summary: This coffee rocks. Purely from the final product in the cup, I can see why Sterling made the list I saw of the best coffee roasters in Portland. I loved it brewed in a Hario V60 in particular for the gorgeous flavors that it coaxed out of this cup, but all of the brew methods tasted outstanding. Sterling offers free shipping, and I can vouch that the people behind this operation are the kind of people I want to give my business to. I’m placing an order for another bag very soon… look for another Sterling review in the next few weeks. 🙂
Thanks, Mr. Awesome!!! (A bit of sleuthing revealed that Mr. Awesome is actually named Adam McGovern. Surely, Awesome could be his middle name, though?)
From the roaster: This Lot #006 Gachatha AA Nyeri Kenya is one of the finest coffees we have ever tasted, full stop. The smell of peaches and strawberry jam fills the room when it’s ground. In the cup you’ll find flavors across the spectrum, everything from oranges to apricots, cherries, and red currants. Seriously, folks, this is one of the ones. Light roasted for drip and press.