When I visited Seattle, my intention was to pick up as many locally-roasted Pacific Northwest coffees as I could feasibly drink in the next few weeks. This bag of Kaladi Brothers was the sole exception I made, mostly because I didn’t think I’d ever get another chance to try coffee from an Alaskan roaster without paying for shipping from Alaska, and because the coffee promised to be unlike anything I had ever tried before based on the processing description on the packaging.
(Maybe Alaska can be considered FAR Pacific Northwest?)
Walking into the Kaladi Brothers cafe reminded me a bit of the old TV show Northern Exposure. It felt pretty rustic, with lots of wood. Hardly the sterile, gleaming, glass/metal facade that you see at so many modern cafes. I didn’t see any bags of beans for sale, so I asked a barista and she went in the back and got me some. Here is where I broke one of my cardinal rules of coffee bean shopping. There was no roast date on the bag, but the barista assured me that the beans were very fresh (roasted within the past week), and she also said that this Costa Rica was her favorite. Ordinarily, I don’t buy beans without a roast date clearly labeled, but again, this was probably my one chance to try this brand, so I decided to go for it.
What makes this coffee different from other roasters? Their website has more information, but the major difference between this brand and other specialty coffee roasters is that Kaladi FREEZES all of their roasted coffee within 18 hours of roasting, which “ensures our coffee is absolutely ‘roaster fresh’ when you purchase it” (quote taken from the packaging). Freezing coffee is a hot (sorry, couldn’t resist!) topic in the coffee world, as some people swear it ruins the flavor and others claim there is no difference. I plan to be conducting my own experiment this month regarding freezing and brewing roasted beans, to see if there is a degradation of flavor. From a practical standpoint, shipping from Anchorage takes such a long time that I’m not surprised they freeze their beans to try and extend its shelf life.
Before I started my tasting, I accidentally knocked the bag over and some beans spilled onto my counter. Check out these whole beans (a truly random sample – these four beans were the ones that spilled out):
Notice the varying bean sizes and degrees of roast? The entire bag was like this. According to the packaging, Kaladi uses a hot air roaster vs. a traditional barrel roaster, which “results in a clean, uniform roast, that’s free of the bitter-tasting tars left behind in traditional roasters.” I will concede that the final product was not bitter, but the bag was full of different sized beans (some of which I swear are peaberries!), which would make it impossible to achieve a truly uniform roast.
The aroma of the whole beans had a smokiness to it, with buttery shortbread and just a hint of bittersweet chocolate. A few days after I opened the bag, the beans started smelling like gasoline. (!)
French press: This produced a cup that tasted like toffee and cocoa powder. Very dark and rich coffee.
Chemex: This coffee was quite sweet with a butterscotch flavor.
AeroPress: Extremely smooth with a chocolate fudge flavor.
V60: Nothing memorable in this method. I wrote “meh” in my notes.
I typically gravitate toward lighter roasts than this; this Kaladi coffee seemed like it was roasted a notch below Starbucks in roast level; fairly dark, but not burnt or oily. This particular coffee is one-dimensional to my palate, but if you like butterscotch/chocolate flavor, you might want to try this out. I have no way of comparing this coffee of course to an unfrozen batch, so I can’t say if the freezing hurt the flavor at all, but I was a little unnerved by the gasoline scent after the bag had been opened for about 3-4 days.
Summary: Filtered methods seem to bring out the best in this coffee: AeroPress for chocolate fudginess; Chemex for butterscotch sweetness. The inconsistent bean size and roast level, as well as the lack of transparency about how fresh the coffee truly is, makes it unlikely that I’ll choose to purchase this particular brand again.
From the roaster: No tasting notes provided