Review: Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters Ethiopia Amaro Gayo (Sacramento, California)

Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters is a roaster and coffee bar from Sacramento, California. As soon as I heard the name, I immediately knew this company was either founded by a Kiwi or by people that have a love affair with the country of New Zealand. Chocolate fish are a type of confection found in New Zealand – it’s a chocolate-covered marshmallow in the shape of a fish. They’re typically given to children as a reward for a job well done.

chocolate fish

A Google image search for “chocolate fish” will net MANY more photos of chocolate fish with their poor heads bitten off.

The beans I got were approximately 11 days post roast, picked up at a coffee shop in Denton. I try and buy coffee that was roasted within the past week, and consume it within three weeks of the roast date, but I made an exception for these beans since I was so curious to try them.

Upon opening the bag, the blueberry aroma was pretty strong, along with a sweetened cocoa powder scent. It was pretty much what I expected for a natural-processed Ethiopian bean. They smelled the same after grinding, but with a bit more of a breakfast cereal note – think Crunch Berries?

In all of these preparations, the bloom was fairly inactive, which showed that the beans were nearing the end of their freshness window. There was still degassing, but I know I’ll need to drink up my supply quickly. There was a rich reddish-brown color to this coffee (mostly in the Chemex, V60, and Aeropress; less so in the french press). I have found that regardless of prep method, natural-processed Ethiopian coffees have a slight plasticky taste when freshly brewed, but that flavor dissipates as the coffee cools a bit to reveal more flavors.

V60: Nice flavors of bittersweet cocoa and tart blueberry. Made my mouth pucker, but not unpleasantly. Nice balance of depth and brightness. Musically, I would liken this to a woodwind quintet.

Aeropress: Oily, heavier cup. A little lemony and fruity. Complex and strong; assertive all the way around. Tastes like the Stravinsky Octet.

Chemex: A very clean and light-bodied cup with less chocolate and much more berry flavor. This is a flute choir.

French press: Heaviest in texture of the four. Nice depth of flavor! More dark chocolate and less fruit in this cup. A little muddy tasting (to clarify: it doesn’t literally taste like mud, it is the least filtered of the four methods so I was tasting a bit of grit and coffee sludge), but enjoyable. This tastes like a brass quintet.

Summary: I like this coffee. I went through a period of about 6 months where I was almost exclusively drinking natural-processed Ethiopians, so I personally am more interested in other flavor profiles now, but this coffee is delicious for anyone that enjoys blueberry/cocoa notes. Today I think I actually enjoyed the french press the most, but they were all eminently drinkable.

From the roaster: Thick body, chocolaty, dried banana and blueberry, sweet rich chocolate aftertaste, very clean and consistent

Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters Amaro Gayo Natural

Coffee snobbery (Or, Don’t Judge Me Bro)

The best cup of coffee is the one you like best.

Let me repeat this: The BEST cup of coffee is the one YOU like best.

Obviously, I really really like coffee. I take it very seriously, and I spend way more time and energy on it than the average person. Yes, this means I have my preferences, but I don’t think that this means that my opinions are any better than someone else’s. I attended a coffee cupping several years ago back when I was firmly in my Indonesian coffee kick, and all the coffees present at the tasting were from Central America, including one Gesha (at around $50/half lb, it was quite the special guest!). None of the coffees that day were really to my taste at the time; when the cupping instructor asked me what I thought, I truthfully said that while I could taste the raspberries and lemon curd and whatever other flavors were present, it wasn’t really my thing. He asked what I liked, and I told him I was drinking a lot of Sumatran coffee. I remember him sniffing somewhat derisively and saying that Sumatras were overrated and the beneficiary of a great marketing campaign. Way to make me feel small, dude (and on my birthday, as well!).

It’s true that I have grown to appreciate Central American coffees a lot since then, and if I attended the exact same tasting today, I probably would enjoy everything much more. However, I didn’t come to this place in my palate because this man made me feel bad about myself. I wish he had understood that anyone that would take the time to drive 1.5 hours to a coffee cupping on a Saturday morning WANTS to learn more about coffee, and that it wasn’t necessary to insult me. Perhaps he didn’t mean to come off demeaning, but to me, that attitude is coffee snobbery at its worst.

When people find out how weirdly obsessed with coffee I am, they tend to say things like, “You probably think I’m terrible for liking Starbucks/Folgers/gas station coffee.” This makes me sad, as I would NEVER want to make people feel bad for liking something. If you invite me over to your home and offer me coffee, I will gladly drink it in the spirit it is given… with love and hospitality! Coffee should be inclusive, not exclusive. Wine circles say to drink what you like, and like what you drink. If someone wants to broaden their palate, wonderful! But, if someone has found what they think is their ultimate favorite coffee? Enjoy. Life is too short to worry about what someone else thinks of your choices.

My Coffee Journey (Or, Don’t Be a Coffee Bigot)

When I started drinking coffee, it basically came in two varieties: hot and iced. I cared not a whit about how the coffee tasted, because it was going to be drowned in milk and sugar anyway! I always liked the smell of coffee, but thought it was too bitter on its own to be consumed black. How times change…

Age 7(ish): Taster’s Choice instant made with heated milk and plenty of sugar (no water).

High school: I discover Starbucks frappuccinos and vanilla lattes.

College/Grad school/More Grad school: For some reason, I don’t really remember drinking coffee in college. I certainly didn’t have a coffee machine in my apartment. Most of my coffee experience at this time was limited to occasionally going out for Starbucks, Peet’s, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, or Biggby Coffee.

2006: Shutterbug and I received an automatic drip machine as a wedding present, and I start making coffee at home with Peet’s beans from the grocery store and a blade grinder.

2007ish: I get a french press and a Capresso Infinity grinder.

2013ish: I get an Aeropress from my cousin as a Christmas present and discover I really like the cleaner flavors (vs. the french press). I start drinking coffee black.

2014: I get a Baratza Virtuoso grinder and start acquiring more pourover methods and accessories, in addition to my first espresso machine (Gaggia Classic Coffee).

2015: See the “Geek corner” page for a rundown of my current state of coffee insanity.

There are a lot of things I learned along the way re: how to get the most out of your coffee experience, but the most confusing is probably the flavor profiles of blends (which is what you’ll typically get at coffee shops – House Blend) vs. single-origins (coffee all from one country, often from one particular farm). Once I learned that coffee is grown in various places around the globe and that it tastes different depending on where it is grown (among other factors), I wanted to know what I could expect. I was (and am) trying to figure out, “What do African coffees taste like? What do Central American coffees taste like?” I feel now that I might be asking the wrong questions.

To get a handle on the general differences between coffee regions, I’m going to borrow Alton Brown’s coffee classifications:

Hawaii/Central America: Bright, snappy. Pop music!

East Africa/Yemen: Brooding, but still catchy. Beethoven on a good day.

Sumatra/Indonesia: Just plain funk. No way around it.

These summaries are a good place to start, but as I’m tasting more varietals and roasters, I’m discovering so many more subtleties. It’s not as simple as just saying all African coffees taste a certain way, any more than I could say that Herman’s Hermits and Led Zeppelin sound the same because they’re both from Britain.

I used to think I didn’t like Central American coffees. I thought they were too much like orange juice, too sour, too “bright.” I leaned toward Sumatran/Indonesian coffees back in the french press days, but after exploring those fairly thoroughly I decided I was bored and wanted a change. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with liking coffees from a certain region, but I think personally I was too quick to dismiss an entire AMAZING region of the world because I had one or two coffees that weren’t to my taste. Even coffees from the same country, sourced from different areas, can taste very different, as I am discovering.

What have I learned from all this? While there might be similarities, don’t expect all coffees from one country (or region) to taste the same. Be open to new flavors. Realize that your tastes may evolve and don’t be surprised if you find yourself changing your mind. There is so much variety out there waiting to be discovered, and we shouldn’t deprive ourselves of joy because of preconceived notions.

And we don’t have to limit this exploration to just coffee… 🙂

 

Mini review: Stumptown Guatemala Finca El Injerto Bourbon (Portland, Oregon)

Got a little sample of this lovely Guatemala Injerto from an equally lovely friend yesterday! I may choose to do a full review of these beans someday, as I definitely liked what I tasted (when brewed in a Chemex) and would be curious how it would taste in other applications. Generally speaking, I enjoy the citrus notes of Central American coffees, and the Chemex produces a light, sweet but slightly dry cup (comparable perhaps to a dry Riesling or Pinot Grigio?).

This cup had a toasty flavor at the start. As it cooled, I tasted lemon/orange notes along with buttery richness, like I was eating a buttered piece of toast with orange marmalade. It was rich but not heavy, and because it left my mouth slightly dry (like some wines), I kept wanting to drink more. No doubt that’s all part of Stumptown’s nefarious (but delicious) plan!

From the roaster: Navel orange, butter, transparent

Stumptown Coffee

Review: Pergamino Cafe, Finca Loma Verde (Medellin, Colombia)

These beans were an unexpected and very welcome gift from a student and her family! Colombian coffee beans are some of the most common and well-known coffee beans out there (Juan Valdez, anyone?), but I am pretty certain that I have never had Colombian coffee of this freshness level and quality before. I was fascinated to learn that despite coffee being such an important crop in Colombia, Colombians don’t even rank in the top 50 for coffee consumed per capita. The “third wave” of coffee that’s been so popular in the USA for the last decade or so has only just started in Colombia, and Pergamino Cafe appears to be at the forefront there, selling their own locally roasted beans as well as ones from other regions. Click here for more info on Pergamino Cafe…

The beans smelled delicious right off the bat. They were definitely unique compared to any other coffee I had experienced before, in that the whole beans had notes of red wine and pinenuts. Once I ground the beans, I smelled Teddy Grahams along with the other scents.

French press: Overwhelming flavor of pinenut and hazelnut. Very earthy, thick brew with just a bit of acidity to liven things up.

Aeropress: Smoother, but not as much personality as the FP version. No fruit or acidity, just nutty flavor.

V60: This cup was thin compared to the others, probably because the filter caught most of the coffee oils. It was very slightly bitter at the start, but as it cooled, it rounded out and smelled “like coffee” — I didn’t smell nuts, or chocolate, or anything other than true, honest-to-goodness coffee aroma. Just lovely simplicity in a cup.

Summary: If you like your coffee honest and uncomplicated, Colombian coffee certainly fits the bill! Would go great with milk. Naturally sweet so it really wouldn’t need much (if any) sugar in my opinion!

From the roaster: This coffee is characterized by its sweetness and smoothness. It has notes of chocolate and caramel and its acid tones are reminiscent of yellow fruits.

Pergamino Cafe

Review: Stumptown Hair Bender espresso (Portland, Oregon)

My first experience with Stumptown beans came years ago during a trip to Portland, Oregon for an audition. Those who know me know that I have a habit of cutting out coffee/caffeinated beverages for a couple of weeks prior to an important audition, so the first cup of coffee I have after the audition is over is typically HEAVENLY. I imagine I look something like Michael Scott as I approach my first cup:

(Coffee would totally look like Jim Halpert if it was in human form, right?)

Anyway, I took the MAX light rail to the nearest Stumptown location I could find at the earliest possible opportunity, and I chose to get a latte to go that day. As I’m drinking it, instead of getting feelings of YES, I had feelings of ????. Keep in mind that at the time, I mostly drank milk drinks and typically favored medium-dark roast coffee that had chocolate/nut flavors. Stumptown was quite confusing for someone that wasn’t prepared for it – I kept sipping the latte trying to pinpoint what I was tasting. I kept thinking plum sauce, which is NOT what I was expecting. I didn’t like it, yet I kept drinking trying to figure out what I didn’t like about it. Before I knew it, my drink was gone and I was left even more confused! Was it “good”? What happened??

I’ve only had Stumptown coffee a couple of times since that time 5-6 years ago, so when my friend Julee brought me a bag of Hair Bender, I was ready to experience it anew.

Brew parameters: 199 degrees F, 19 g in a double basket, 30 sec shot.

I was jumping up and down with anticipation because the aroma coming from the bag was so buttery and spicy and rich. As a straight espresso shot, I was floored. It had such a sweet, almost candied flavor to it, with a thick and ridiculously decadent crema. The finish was refreshing and had a little heat/spice – the warmth at the back of my throat reminded me of brandy. So good! Complex and layered and rich but not cloying.

Interestingly, the same shot at 198F was unbalanced in flavor and at 200F was bitter to my taste. Perhaps this is a fairly unforgiving blend that needs to have the temperature JUST RIGHT for espresso nirvana… or maybe I just lucked out.

With milk: No plum sauce this time! I didn’t taste any discernible fruit flavors but overall the cup seemed “fruity” to me, compared to something like the Dunn Bros. which was more smoky. The milk muted the slight brashness of the brandy notes and made for a smooth, well-rounded cup.

Summary: I love this espresso! It takes some patience but whooo is it good when you coax the flavors out.

From the roaster: Tasting notes: Cherry, Toffee, Fudge

Stumptown Coffee

Review: Dunn Bros. Espresso Blend (St. Paul, Minnesota)

Dunn Bros. is another Dallas-area roaster/coffee shop that I’ve been meaning to try for a while. These beans came to me courtesy of my friend Vilma (thank you!!). I haven’t had a chance to visit the Dunn Bros. store in Addison yet, but I certainly will next time I’m in that area.

Officially, Dunn Bros. classifies their espresso beans as a medium roast. Light, medium, and dark roasts are not standardized terms in the coffee world – Starbucks’ medium is a lot darker than Dunkin’ Donuts medium, for instance. There are more specific terms regarding roast levels (City, Full City, French, etc.), which I am sure I will talk about more whenever I get into home roasting. These beans, in the Northern Italian style roast, are pretty dark in color with a slight sheen of oil on the beans.

These beans smelled very nice; I know it’s vague, but the best description I have is that it smells “like coffee.” An honest cup of coffee. Nothing frou-frou or complicated!

I tried these beans at a variety of temperatures and dosages. I think the best balance of flavors came at 200 degrees F, 16.5 g in a double basket. It tasted smoky and rich, not sour or bitter. I think these beans are great for those who prefer dark roast coffee, and for those who like to add milk/additional flavors. For drinking straight, I missed the fruit notes and complexity of Klatch or Stumptown (which are roasted slightly lighter), but if you don’t like fruity flavors in your coffee, Dunn Bros. is a great choice.

Summary: Perfect for dark roast fans; smoky flavor and finish.

From the roaster: Heavy and complex. A lot of sweetness with rich, creamy body, luscious acidity, and a crisp, sweet fruit, spice, and chocolate finish.

Dunn Brothers Coffee

Recommendation Corner: Looking for a “chocolaty” coffee…

I’ve had a few friends recently ask me about what coffees I would recommend for people looking for chocolate flavor in the cup. The easy answer would be to add some chocolate syrup, of course! But I’m going to try and go a little deeper for those that are interested in trying out different beans.

When I’m tasting coffees, I notice several main categories of flavor:
– citrus (lemon, tangerine, orange, grapefruit, lime)
– berries (raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries)
– nuts
– chocolate

I used to be pretty firmly in the chocolate/nut camp, back when I added milk and sugar, and then transitioned into just milk. Fruity coffee with milk = blech. But, as I gradually started cutting out dairy in my coffee, I started appreciating flavors that I wouldn’t have liked before. Nowadays I don’t search out many “chocolaty” coffees, but for those that want to explore, I think these are good places to start.

1) Brazilian coffee: Tends to be low acid and round with bittersweet cocoa flavors.
2) Mexican coffee: If you read my review of the beans I got from Ah Cacao (Playa del Carmen, Mexico) those were an absolute chocolate bomb. Not sure if those beans were Oaxaca, Chiapas, or a blend, but I would try out some Mexican coffee if you’re looking for that flavor.
3) Arabian Mocha-Java: I used to order regularly from Peet’s Coffee and this was one of my go-to blends. Nutty and thick in a French press.
4) Sumatra: Sumatras are divisive – They are earthy and rich, but can be off-putting to some. Very little to no fruit… can taste more like dirt on occasion. When I’ve had Sumatras I’ve liked, they’ve been like bittersweet hot chocolate even without any cream/milk. When I’ve had Sumatras I haven’t cared for… ehhhh. One suggestion is if the coffee seems too funky/gritty in a French press, try a filtered method and see if you like it any better.

I’m really making a case for Sumatras, aren’t I? 😉 Seriously, they’re interesting! Worth a try, but they might be the brussels sprouts of the coffee world (love ’em or hate ’em…).

And if money is no object:
5) Kona: I hear this can be like a delicate and mild milk chocolate. I haven’t tried any myself yet though!

At a coffee shop:
Assuming you are somewhere other than Starbucks, I would ask the barista about the espresso and what sort of tasting notes you can expect. Many places use blends for their espresso to bring out chocolate/caramel/nut flavors. If you don’t want a latte or milk drink, you can try an Americano and see if that has the chocolaty profile you’re looking for.

Happy tasting!

Edited to add: By the way, I took the picture of the Torani chocolate syrup mostly as a way to have a picture with this post, but it’s actually delicious! I am not above the occasional mocha… or putting the chocolate sauce on vanilla ice cream. Or both at the same time.

Review: Klatch Belle Espresso (Upland, California)

Finally! Time to review Klatch Belle. I will say upfront that I am still learning about what makes a “good” espresso, and I am not as experienced with tasting espressos as I am with coffees. However, this was a very enjoyable tasting for me, and I do think that the espresso shots I made at home have been better than some I’ve gotten at coffee shops!

My Vario grinder is still quite new and I’ve only gone through around 1 pound of beans, so the burrs are still being broken in. I had to play with the grind settings quite a bit before I was able to dial in the right size grind for Belle. Once I found it, my espresso machine poured some delicious looking shots. The streams were slightly redder than I had ever seen before – definitely on the red side of reddish-brown. Very syrupy in consistency.

Stats for espresso geeks: 201 degrees F, 16g in a double basket, 27 seconds from first pour.

IMG_0788

I really liked these shots. Great crema! The flavor of the shot was wonderfully balanced – bittersweet cocoa and a bit of fruitiness (cherries?). Not sour or bitter in any way – very complex and rich.

My latte art is laughable, so I will not be posting pictures of my milk drinks yet. However, I did make a few lattes and flat whites with these beans and they were absolutely delicious; the flavor of the espresso stands up well in milk with no burnt/sour/off flavors… just creamy silky balanced goodness. Shutterbug is a man of few words when it comes to coffee, but when he tried the latte I made for him this morning, he commented, “Wow, this is really good!” Good on you, Klatch.

I also chose to try these beans in an Aeropress, just for kicks. I had a bad experience once with using the inverted Aeropress method (and by bad, I mean hot water and coffee grounds EVERYWHERE), but I faced my fears and did it for this review. After having mostly single-origins lately, my palate was confused by the Aeropress brew: I was drinking it and thinking, “I can’t tell where this is from!” But, it didn’t really matter. It was strong and flavorful; smooth with a touch of spiciness that added character. It was VERY easy to drink. Definitely a winner, though I would prefer using these beans strictly for espresso.

From the roaster: Intense, sweet aroma of brandy, chocolate and caramel as well as a smooth taste and understated complexity. Described by Coffee Review as “crisply pungent yet caramelly sweet.”

Klatch Coffee Roasters

Review: Klatch Coffee Panama Elida Honey (Upland, California)

I have been looking forward to trying Klatch Coffee ever since I started reading up on specialty coffee roasters. Klatch is a name I saw mentioned repeatedly, along with Intelligentsia, Verve, Counter Culture, Madcap, and Stumptown (especially in an espresso context). The Klatch Belle Espresso review will be happening in a few days, but I couldn’t wait to open up my fresh bag of the Panama Elida Honey (roasted March 9, arrived at my house March 11). I’ve had “name-brand” expensive coffees before that hadn’t lived up to the hype (in my opinion), so I was prepared for just about anything. At $22/12 oz., my wallet would certainly prefer that I didn’t like this coffee.

Spoiler alert: Sorry, wallet.

First impressions: The whole beans smelled absolutely delicious. It was like a chocolate bar with dried currants. Ground, I got hit with spicy notes (like cinnamon/cloves) and rum cake.

V60: Very smooth flavor; mouthwatering and juicy. Delicate at the start, but as the coffee cooled slightly, it really opened up. It tasted like butterscotch and a hint of dark chocolate with tangerine on the finish. Absolutely stunning. In fact, I was going to make the coffee a second way to compare and contrast, but I was so taken with this cup that I just sat there and savored the entire 12 oz or so that I made. There was such a nice balance and a deceptive simplicity to it – if this cup was music, it reminded me most of Maurice Ravel.

The very last drop in the cup smelled exactly like honey. Gorgeous.

AeroPress: Thick, creamy, with a lemon and graham-cracker flavor. I liked it, but after the perfectly balanced magic of the V60, it almost struck me as bland. I think I was missing the brighter notes.

Chemex: Very bright and lively with lots of lemony flavor. Comparatively astringent. This was unbalanced to my taste but great for those that like a cup with a lot of citrus.

French press: Sweet, heavy, and smooth. Not a lot of fruit flavor; much more like bittersweet cocoa.

Summary: For me, V60 all the way. No question. However, it’s also really good in an AeroPress and french press. Worth every penny!!

From the roaster: This coffee offers pure flavors of light rum, hints of dried fruit, tones of orange-citrus, chocolate and honey along with a very clean, sweet finish.

Klatch Coffee Roasters