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.


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

Review: Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters El Rio honey processed El Salvador (Dallas, Texas)

I like to support local businesses, and DFW has a number of local roasters I enjoy (and I do plan to cover them all in due time!). OCCR has a sizable presence here in Dallas; Davis Street Espresso (the shop next door to the OCCR roasting facility) is a popular destination and their beans are served in many coffee shops around the Metroplex. I admit that I have not visited Davis Street Espresso yet so I may not have gotten a full profile on what these beans are capable of. Thus far, however, I’ve been less than thrilled with OCCR coffee when I’ve had it at other shops. Drip and pourover coffee have been unbalanced in flavor, and the espresso (both straight and in milk) tastes to me like I am licking an ashtray, which makes no sense to me because I know these beans aren’t THAT dark roasted.

I read a thread on a coffee forum recently regarding ashy espresso and the consensus was that the espresso shot was likely overextracted. This made me wonder if I would enjoy OCCR more if I brewed it at home and had more control over the variables. I opted not to try this particular roast as an espresso since I’m not generally into single-origin espresso, but I will plan to try their Hidden City Espresso in the future.

First impressions:

The roast date on the bag is March 4, and I bought the beans on March 7, so it’s very fresh. For this fresh of a coffee, I expect there to be a noticeable amount of degassing. I love seeing my new bags of coffee inflate and squeezing them to release the aromas full of promise for a delicious cup. This bag had none of that, which disappointed and concerned me a bit. Even after I cut open the bag and put it into a zipper storage bag (after pressing out the air), there was minimal degassing by the next day. The coffee did bubble and release some CO2 when hit with hot water, so it doesn’t appear to be stale. The aroma from the beans was very mild – I was a bit congested so I thought perhaps my nose was faulty, but I opened up the remainder of the Three Ships that I still had and got punched in the face with strawberries, so it wasn’t my nose.

Chemex: The coffee reminded me most of the Mango Black Tea from Trader Joe’s, but more like tea and less like mango. I’m generally not a fan of tea, as I don’t care for the flavor of tannins. As soon as I smelled this coffee, my throat started constricting like it does when I smell black tea.

V60: This coffee was the deepest in color of any of the preparation methods. It also struck me as quite tannic, and I tasted little to no fruit flavor. There were tobacco notes on the finish, which I dislike.

Aeropress: This was my favorite of the four. It had a citrusy flavor that was light and bright, yet smooth and rounded. As it cooled, I tasted caramel and vanilla along with the citrus.

French press: Richest body of the four, which is not surprising. Right off the bat, it tasted sort of like plastic and grapefruit, but as it cooled, it improved significantly – by the time it was cold, I tasted a lot more depth.

Summary: I like this coffee best when it has oil in the cup. It is a bit astringent and would probably be excellent as an iced coffee, or perhaps as a cold brew? For consuming hot, I would go with Aeropress.

From the roaster: The cup is juicy and thick with notes of mango, candied orange and honey.
Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters

Review: Three Ships Konga Ethiopian Yirgacheffe (Virginia Beach, Virginia)

I received these beans as a gift from a fellow musician and coffee fanatic (hi, David!). I had never heard of this roaster, so I was super excited to give them a try. My first impression when we opened the bag was HELLO, BLUEBERRY MUFFIN! It seriously smelled like breakfast. I also smelled raisins and dates, and I could tell that this was going to be some seriously flavorful coffee. The beans were smaller than I’ve usually seen, and if coffee beans can be cute, these were!

Chemex: This made a really clean, juicy cup. I tasted a lot of berry flavor – it was like strawberry jam, which surprised me a little since I thought it would taste more like blueberries. Very bright flavors, a very light and refreshing cup. I once had a white sangria with fresh strawberries and a bit of orange – this was actually reminiscent of that, believe it or not. Absolutely delicious.

V60: Compared to the Chemex, this tasted like it had more depth – it was buttered toast with strawberry jam. Beautifully balanced between richness and fruitiness! Definitely made my mouth water.

AeroPress: The surface of the coffee had quite a visible amount of oils, and there was a lot of body in this cup compared to the first two. The flavors were rather complex; there was slightly less red fruit flavor but a pronounced citrusy note I hadn’t noticed before, like lime. I loved this!!

French press: When I was brewing this, the smell reminded me of pastries. Croissants spread with raspberry or strawberry jam… Mmmmm. In the cup, I didn’t find the flavor quite as satisfying as the smell, though. It was still pleasing, with a nice mouthfeel, but I didn’t get as much fruit flavor as the smell was promising, especially considering the berry bombs that the earlier methods provided.

I have had Ethiopian Yirgacheffes twice before – one dry-processed, and one wet-processed. This bag was a dry-processed variety, and it definitely has a strong berry character to it, along with some lime flavor and some butter. If this quality is representative of what Three Ships has to offer, count me in as a repeat customer!

Summary: Do you like strawberry pie? You’ll probably like this coffee. It’s bright and refreshing. Not really one for those who take milk and sugar – I think the dairy + the fruit flavors would taste weird. My favorite preparation method is a tie between Chemex and AeroPress, depending on if you want a cup with more high notes or more depth.

From the roaster: We taste: strawberry rhubarb, honeysuckle, and cherry limeade.
Three Ships Coffee

Review: Ah Cacao (Playa del Carmen, Mexico)

When Shutterbug and I found out we would be heading to Mexico for the destination wedding of some friends, I started doing a little research regarding where to buy coffee beans. Though Playa del Carmen does have a local coffee roasting company (Cafe Kaawa), they are unfortunately closed on Sundays, and the specialty grocery store in Playa that carries Cafe Kaawa is ALSO closed on Sundays, so that thwarted my plan. Instead, we opted to visit town and just explore, and this is how we ended up at Ah Cacao.

Ah Cacao appears to be a local chain of chocolate/coffee shops, where the focus is on the chocolate. They carry chocolate bars, cocoa powder, chocolate body products, chocolate ice creams… it’s a chocoholic’s paradise. Their coffee menu looks similar to what you might find at any second-wave coffee shop in the USA, complete with iced blended drinks. Most of the beans on the shelf were pre-ground, but there were a few bags of whole beans, so I grabbed the freshest one I could find, which was dated 21 Feb 2016 (My hope is that they packed the beans 21 Feb 2015, which means they were about 9 days old when we purchased them). The beans were still degassing and the bag was releasing delicious aromas of chocolate-almond goodness. I put the bag of coffee on my nightstand at the hotel, which made sleeping simultaneously pleasant and torturous!

This was my first experience with Mexican coffee. There was no origin listed on the bag, but based on my tasting notes, I am guessing these beans are mostly or completely sourced from Oaxaca, which is known for chocolaty flavors in their coffee. I suppose it’s only natural that a place called Ah Cacao would go that route.

French press: This was my favorite preparation method for this coffee. The coffee was chewy, thick and viscous with a fudgy flavor. It had a hint of nut flavor as well (peanut/almond), and it was like a brownie without all the sugar. No fruit flavor whatsoever. Smooth and satisfying if you’re looking for a very comforting cup!

Aeropress: This also made an enjoyable cup. If you don’t care for grit or the thicker mouthfeel of French press coffee, I would go this route. It was thinner in texture, with pronounced chocolate sauce and caramel flavors. Reminded me of a Milky Way bar.

V60: I love pour-over methods for some coffees, but I don’t think these beans benefit from the filtering. In the cup, although it smelled pleasant, the coffee tasted very flat and dull, especially compared to the earlier incarnations. With that said, it would provide an excellent base for adding milk/sugar/flavored syrups. I have since found out that Mexican coffees are often used as the base for flavored coffee beans because they are mild and sweet. However, as a black coffee drinker, I was kind of bored with this preparation method.

Summary: If you like cocoa flavors, this coffee will be right up your alley (though I don’t think you can buy Ah Cacao online). Brew it in a French press.

Ah Cacao‘s site (English)