Review: Peet’s Coffee Major Dickason’s Blend (Berkeley, California)

Back in the days before I made my own coffee, I was fond of visiting Peet’s Coffee locations to get my fix. For those who don’t know, Alfred Peet was the man that trained the founders of Starbucks how to roast beans. Starbucks coffee is generally a bit too darkly roasted for my taste, even back in the days when I liked dark-roasted coffee, but Peet’s seemed better balanced to me than Starbucks. When I started making my own coffee at home, I started out with a Peet’s subscription, getting it shipped from California, because I had warm fuzzy feelings toward the company and my days back in the Golden State. However, as my tastes evolved and I learned more about the third wave of coffee, I gradually stopped buying Peet’s in favor of smaller roasters that roasted their beans more lightly.

I haven’t bought a bag of Peet’s in quite a long time, but I happened to be at the grocery store and noticed that they had bags of their Major Dickason’s blend roasted only 15 days prior. That’s an almost unheard-of level of freshness for grocery-store beans, so I decided it would be an interesting experiment to put this second-wave bag of coffee through the same tests I do all the other coffees I bring into my home these days.

The first thing I noticed when I opened this bag was how incredibly oily the beans were. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I get a bit nervous when I see oily beans. Green (unroasted) coffee beans have coffee oils inside them, but the beans themselves stay quite dry through roasting until they reach a certain level, at which point the oils start coming to the surface. I would classify that level as medium-dark. Why do coffee beans get oily? I think it’s an indicator of the roasting level, similarly to how a piece of meat dries out the longer that it’s cooked. If a steak, for instance, is cooked to medium-well or well done, the juices inside the meat have largely left it and the meat itself is much tougher than the same steak would be if cooked medium-rare.

From a practical matter, I prefer my coffee beans to not be oily. I find that coffee beans that have visible oil on the surface tend to go rancid more quickly than beans that do not have the sheen of oil. Besides, part of the pleasure of drinking coffee (especially in a french press or other unfiltered method) is tasting the rich oils in the cup. I want the oils to be in my cup, and only in my cup. When I measured and ground these Peet’s beans, they left an oil slick in the little measuring bowl I use for dosing, and they left quite an oily residue in my grinder. On the bright side, there wasn’t a static problem when I opened the grinder drawer, but on the down side, that means the entire interior of my grinder (hopper, burrs, bin) was coated with oil. I was a bit grossed out by this and endeavored to clean my grinder immediately after this tasting was done.

Whole bean: Very oily. Strong, brash, acrid smelling. Not rancid in normal terms but if I’m smelling roasted coffee and smell what I smelled from this bag, it’s the first word that comes to mind. Not a good fragrance.

French press: Pleasantly thick mouthfeel and chocolaty flavor, with a bitter edge on the finish that tasted like almond skin.

Chemex: This method made the smoothest cup of the four methods I tried, with a vanilla and almond flavor. It was a bit bland but inoffensive overall.

AeroPress: Drinkable but had a sharp bite of acidity. Quite brash. I would need to temper this with milk.

V60: Similar to the cup from the Chemex but also smelled a bit like dog. A clean dog, but still dog.

Just out of curiosity, I made a french press of this for Shutterbug. He added milk and sugar, as he normally does, and then he took his first sip. I wish I had a picture, or a recording, but this pretty much sums it up:

I haven’t seen him react this violently to a coffee, perhaps ever. He really hated it! It happened to be on his birthday as well, so I felt extra bad. Lesson learned though, I’ve made him into more of a coffee snob than I thought. Yay?

Summary: Like FunDip, Squeeze-Its, and Hi-C Fruit Punch, Peet’s Coffee is something I have fond memories of from my youth, but trying it again in the present day makes me realize I just can’t stomach it anymore. My tastes have changed to the point where it’s just not enjoyable for me. With that said, if you are a dark-roast coffee fan, it certainly is that, and it is pretty widely available. I’m just the wrong demographic for this coffee now! The Chemex would probably be my vote for a brewing method for these beans, as it created the smoothest cup, but I’m not likely to buy these beans again anytime soon.

From the roaster: Rich, smooth, and complex, with a very full body and multi-layered character.

Peet’s Coffee Major Dickason’s Blend 

Review conducted 20 days post-roast.

Review: Quills Coffee Blacksmith Espresso (Louisville, Kentucky)

Quills is a new company to me, but I was absolutely floored by the amazing flavors in their Ecuador La Papaya (as you might have seen me raving about¬†a couple of weeks ago). I ordered this bag of their Blacksmith espresso blend at the same time, but life kind of got in the way and I wasn’t able to do a full battery of testing on the beans in my normal time frame (around 7-14 days post-roast). This might have actually worked out though, as the beans proved to have a useful life for longer than I anticipated. Good job, Quills. ūüôā

Whole bean: Fresh scent, with notes of cocoa and nuts and a hint of red cherry.

Espresso: I started pulling shots of this bean 10 days post-roast, and did another series of shots at 20 days post-roast. Throughout the first run of shots, the flavor was really bright and verging on sour, but I found that this bean benefited from higher temperatures (for my taste, anyway). The best shot to my palate tasted mostly of bittersweet chocolate, but still had a slight punchiness and acidity to it to keep things lively. There was plenty of crema throughout both tastings.

Favorite parameters for this espresso: 206 degrees F, 19 grams in, 40 grams out at a 25 second extraction time.

With milk: Shutterbug liked the latte I made for him, though to be honest, I think he was inclined to like just about anything I gave him after a really nasty surprise with a bag of Peet’s coffee I brought home (that review will be posted next week).

AeroPress: This was a bit disappointing. The coffee brewed this way tasted strangely watered down, even though I was drinking it as a concentrate. Stick to brewing this as true espresso – it tastes hollow and bland in this method.

Summary: This espresso benefits from high temperatures if you’re looking to get rich, chocolaty flavor with a good balance of acidity.

From the roaster: cherry, honey, toasted almond

Quills Coffee Blacksmith Espresso

Review conducted at 10 days and 20 days post-roast.

Review: Anthology Coffee El Salvador El Gobiado-Carmen Orange Bourbon (Detroit, Michigan)

This is the second bag I ordered from Anthology Coffee recently. Both were Bourbons, but this second bag, from El Salvador (a region known for its Bourbon varietals), could hardly be more different from the first bag I got from Burundi.

Whole bean: fresh, light scent with a hint of thai basil. Ground, it smelled nutty, sweet, rich, and a little complex (no herbs, though).

V60: Right out of the brewer, there was a plasticky scent and the flavor was a bit metallic, but that dissipated after the coffee sat for a few minutes. This particular cup, at a 3:00 extraction, was not very complex but it was pleasant to drink. Medium-bodied coffee with a hint of acidity on the finish.

AeroPress: This had the most intense flavor of the four brewing methods I tried. I had to add just a touch of water after brewing, as it was a little too strong for me to drink without dilution. Good robust flavor of nuts and chocolate, though.

Chemex: Almond.

French press: This was a milk chocolate bomb, with a hint of almond milk flavor as well. Smooth as silk.

Summary: This is definitely an example of a coffee bean smelling differently than it tastes (seriously, where did the thai basil go?). Fans of chocolate and nut flavors in their coffee will enjoy this. I thought it was perfectly drinkable in all methods, but it was best in a french press because of the additional body the brewing method provided.

From the roaster: No tasting notes provided

Anthology Coffee only offers two coffee varietals at a time on its website, and as of the date I’m publishing this, this El Salvadorian coffee is no longer available, but here’s a link to their online store:

Anthology Coffee Home Page

Review conducted 14 days post-roast.

Review: Eiland Coffee Roasters Espresso X (Richardson, Texas)

“How do you decide what coffee to buy?”

I wish I could say that I have a system for this, but I really don’t! Coffee isn’t my day job, so contrary to popular belief, I don’t spend all day thinking about it or making plans for where to get my next fix… erm,¬†I mean cup. I do have a list on my computer¬†of roasters that I’d like to eventually check out, and as time and finances permit, I do chip away at that list. However, about half of the time, the coffee that makes its way into my home is the coffee that catches my eye somehow while I’m out and about. Most of my coffee purchases are done directly from roasters or from specialty coffee shops. Occasionally, though, I have good luck at Whole Foods markets, as was the case with this bag.

I’ve reviewed and enjoyed Eiland Coffee before, when I got a chance to buy their Ethiopia Sidamo Ardi at Dallas Coffee Day 2015. Even though their roasting headquarters are probably only 20 minutes or so away from where I live, I keep forgetting how relatively local they are to me so I haven’t tried any of their other beans until now. This Espresso X was fresh and it had been a while since I had purchased a local roaster. Game on!

Whole bean: Super sweet. Chocolate and almond. I typically try not to look too closely at the tasting notes on bags prior to doing these reviews, but I couldn’t help but notice the words, “rock candy” on the label. They’re not kidding!

Espresso: Unlike the Ritual Day Drinker espresso, which was complex and sunny and almost didn’t taste like coffee, Eiland’s Espresso X would be what I would consider to be an espresso for everyone. This is not a frou-frou bean, but it is not dark or¬†bitter either. It doesn’t have a lot of flavor notes, but what notes it does have¬†(chocolate, sugar) are REALLY tasty. Smooth, sweet, and eminently pleasurable to drink any time of day.

Favorite parameters for this blend: 204 degrees F, 17 grams in, 28 grams out, 28 second extraction.

With milk: I just had a sip of Shutterbug’s latte to see what I thought of this espresso + milk. It didn’t disappoint – it tasted very much to me like Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream!! Granted, there was additional sugar in the cup, but the same creamy, smooth, luscious flavor was there. If I ran a coffee shop, this would be the sort of espresso I’d keep around as a “house” espresso. I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that wouldn’t love this.

AeroPress: These beans weren’t quite as special in the AeroPress… Not bad by any means, but I just felt it tasted like good strong coffee. A bit generic, as I was missing the chocolate flavor that was present in the espresso. However, I will say that with a bit of sugar added, the coffee tastes pretty much exactly like it smells. One common lament I hear from people is that they love the smell of coffee but don’t like how it doesn’t taste as good as it smells. I’d love to brew them some of this and see if they change their mind.

Summary: I challenge you to find a more comforting, delicious espresso shot than this. It’s simple, but done exceedingly well. This isn’t trendy – it’s a classic.

From the roaster: Rock candy, milk chocolate

Eiland Coffee Roasters Espresso X

Review: Batdorf and Bronson Kenya AA Gatumbi (Atlanta, Georgia)

This is the second of two bags I picked up from the Batdorf and Bronson cafe in Atlanta (the first was their excellent Dancing Goats Blend). I’m always intrigued by Kenyan coffees as no two of them have ever been quite the same, so I was curious what awaited me in this bag.

Whole bean: The beans look to be a nice medium roast – a little darker than I’ve observed in the past from other roasters, but not “dark” by any means. The air was filled with a butterscotch sweetness when I broke the seal, and I was reminded of nougat from candy bars.

French press: The coffee smelled a bit plasticky right off the bat, but it faded after a minute. Upon my first sip, my tongue was flooded with the taste of chocolate truffles. Decadence in a mug!

Chemex: All I wrote here were the words “vanilla pudding.” Wow.

AeroPress: Vague flavor of toasted almond, but it was obscured by¬†an unpleasant acidity. Adding a bit of water helped tame the acidity to manageable levels, but this wasn’t my favorite method for this coffee.

V60: This method had the most character, with flavors of peach and raw almond. Very nice!

Summary: If you like sweet chocolate and vanilla flavors, try this in a french press or a Chemex. If you like fruitier finishes, try this in a V60. I couldn’t choose a personal favorite – they are all so different but all very enjoyable!

From the roaster: Silky and sweet. Peach, molasses, butterscotch

This coffee is not currently available on their website, but here’s a link to Batdorf and Bronson’s online store

Review: Batdorf and Bronson Dancing Goats Blend (Atlanta, Georgia)

Before I started this blog, I had asked my Facebook friends to recommend some coffees to try out, and one of those coffees mentioned was this one – Batdorf and Bronson’s Dancing Goats Blend (thanks, Sara!). It took me close to two years to get around to trying it, but better late than never!

Batdorf and Bronson roasts beans in Atlanta, Georgia and in Olympia, Washington. They are a longtime part of the specialty coffee scene, having begun their business back in 1986 (30 years ago!). I had the pleasure of visiting their cafe in Atlanta (which is where I picked up their beans), and it truly is a gorgeous place – spacious and airy, with lots of comfortable chairs and sofas strewn about the sunroom-like outdoor area. I chose to pull up a stool to the only space left at the coffee bar, and happily sipped my way through a deliciously delicate Ethiopian pourover coffee. It happened to be my first cup of coffee in weeks, and it didn’t disappoint. I was very much looking forward to trying their beans at home, particularly since this roaster is famous for their Dancing Goats blend.

Whole bean: toasty aroma that smelled nutty and rich. Lots of nice depth to this coffee!

Espresso: The best shot I made of this roast tasted like chocolate-covered almonds, with amaretto on the finish. Decadent, with a pleasant bitterness on the finish. I found that these beans required a pretty high temperature – anything less than 205 degrees F made the espresso a bit sour!

Favorite parameters: 205 degrees F, 17 grams in, 21.6 grams out, 26 second extraction

AeroPress: This coffee made in an AeroPress tastes much like it does as espresso, just less intense. Still rather dark and toasty in flavor with a nutty bite to the finish. I don’t take cream or sugar in my coffee, but they would compliment this coffee very well if you choose to add them.

French press: Just for fun, I brewed these beans a couple of times as press-pot coffee, and while I didn’t think it was quite as special as the espresso, it was a satisfying cup of coffee if you’re looking for classic, comforting flavors.

Summary: I can see why this espresso blend has its fans, as it’s a crowd-pleasing mingling of flavors. This espresso is great on its own, and stands up well in milk drinks. It also¬†does well brewed in methods like the AeroPress and a french press.

From the roaster: Our signature blend!¬†Dark, smooth and sweet with a beautiful floral aroma, exceptionally clean acidity and a heavy, nutty body. Flavor nuances include fresh citrus fruits and fine chocolate. Caramelly and spicy, its complexity makes for both a flavorful espresso with rich, rusty reddish-brown crema as well an excellent drip coffee. This fabled blend is featured in espresso bars, cafes and restaurants across the United States that strive to create the “perfect cup”.

Batdorf and Bronson Dancing Goats Blend

Review: Redroaster Coffee Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Aricha (Brighton, England)

I had the great luck and pleasure of being able to spend just over a week traveling in southern England earlier this year. One of my destinations on this trip was the seaside city of Brighton, and the weather really was idyllic during my visit: sunny, breezy, and comfortable. My sunglasses got a lot of use — not something I expected to happen in England!

There were several coffee shops that popped up on my radar to check out, but I was limited on time, so I chose to visit the Red Roaster Coffee House because of the good reputation of their beans, and it happened to be a short walk from the B&B where I was staying. Upon walking in, I felt immediately comfortable – it was an airy, spacious shop, with lovely round tables and antique looking coffee decor lining the walls (including some vintage equipment). I ordered a Colombian coffee made as a pourover, and it was delicious – a nice slightly minty, chocolaty bite prevailed in this brew. My only quibble was that they served the coffee to me in a glass (like the kind of glass that I would get at a pub). It looked attractive, but the coffee cooled down much more quickly when served in a glass vs. when served in a mug/thick ceramic. By the time I got to the end of my cup, it was quite cold.

I opted to get these Ethiopian beans as they were the freshest they had available. There actually was an issue with the stamped roast date; it was stamped as roasted on August 22, but according to the baristas, it was actually roasted on September 1. I opted to trust the baristas on this even though I was a bit nervous about this. I ended up doing the tasting on September 16, so I hope they were correct! The coffee seemed decently fresh, so I am inclined to trust them.

Whole bean: almond, amaretto, licorice, peach

V60: Bitter at the forefront – too long of a brew (at 3:20)? When I tasted it again 5 min later, the coffee had smoothed out some but it was still quite a punch to the face. Assertive. Thick. No fruit flavor; mostly tasted of black licorice.

AeroPress: DARK hot chocolate. So sweet and smooth! Shocking, especially compared to the V60 cup! Peach on finish.

Chemex: Caramel on the front. Amaretto on the finish.

French: I just wrote “complex” in my notes with no other details. I’m gonna guess it was pretty confounding.

Summary: I have had a lot of Ethiopian coffee over the past few years, both natural- and wet-processed. This coffee was unlike any other Ethiopian coffee I’d had before, with its unexpected flavors of licorice and stone fruit combined with almond/amaretto. It was a nice reminder to not just assume all Ethiopian coffees will fit a narrow flavor profile (berry sweetness for natural-processed; floral/citrus for washed varieties).

From the roaster: No flavor notes provided by the roaster.

Redroaster Coffee doesn’t appear to sell their beans online, but you can find them at their cafe in Brighton, England, or contact them about wholesale orders through their website.

Review: MauiGrown Coffee Company 100% Kona (Hawai’i)

Hawai’i is the only state in the USA that grows coffee, and Kona coffee in particular has a reputation for being both very mild in flavor and very expensive. It’s hard to get your hands on 100% Kona coffee on the mainland; finding blends is much more common. Certain roasters do offer fresh-roasted Kona beans (for instance, Peet’s Coffee has 100% Kona available on their website, roasted once a week). However, with so many varieties of coffee available at more reasonable price points, splurging on 100% Kona wasn’t really a priority for me. However, when one of my students told me she was going on vacation with her family to Hawai’i, I couldn’t resist asking her if she would mind bringing back some coffee. Happily, she obliged, and this was one of the two types of coffee she brought back for me. Thanks, K! ūüôā

Whole bean: These beans looked to be roasted to about a Full City level; nice medium roast. There was the barest hint of cherry, but overall the aroma was¬†simply a strong “coffee” scent,¬†the kind that anyone that enjoys coffee would smell and go, “ahhhh.”

French press: Simple flavor of semi-sweet chocolate. One-dimensional, but a good dimension if you enjoy chocolate!

Chemex: This method yielded a sweeter cup, that tasted more of milk chocolate. It had a rather delicate fragrance, that wasn’t as assertive as the whole beans.

AeroPress: Brewed at 175 degrees F, this cup tasted of chocolate-covered almonds. This was the smoothest cup of the four, with no additional water needed (other than what is used for brewing). I do encourage drinking this as a concentrate!

V60: Very similar to the AeroPress cup, with a hint of butter on the finish. Delicious.

Espresso: Based on how much I liked this coffee in the AeroPress, I opted to try this¬†as espresso. It had a lovely reddish-brown color, but the flavor was pedestrian. Admittedly, I didn’t do very many pulls of this bean in my espresso machine before writing this review, but I definitely enjoyed it more when brewed as drip coffee.

Summary: 100% Kona coffee is expensive and difficult to get unless you live in Hawai’i, but if your coffee tastes run to the chocolate/almond/smooth side, it might be worth getting your hands on some as a splurge! I liked this particular coffee best in the AeroPress and V60.

From the roaster: Kona coffee is grown only in the Kona district of the Big Island of Hawai’i. Most Kona coffee is the Typica variety. Not all Konas are alike. Depending on altitude, soil, nutrition, pulping, drying, and roasting, Kona coffees can vary greatly. MauiGrown Coffee Company Store has selected a Kona coffee with what we consider is a Classic Kona Taste.

This 100% Kona is not available on the MauiGrown website (as of press time), but here is a link to their online store: MauiGrown Coffee Company Store

Review: Wrecking Ball Coffee Ethiopia Classic Yirgacheffe (San Francisco, California)

This is my first experience with Wrecking Ball Coffee. I had initially¬†heard about them through this article on Sprudge, and found their approach to coffee interesting (iced cappuccinos?? I’m not big on iced drinks, but kudos to them for trying something new). Plus, I love that their house espresso blend is named “Pillow Fight“! Someday I will try that blend, but for this particular order, I wanted to go with a single-origin coffee.

Whole bean: Smells a lot like jasmine tea. Once ground, it became SUPER bright and fragrant. I was overwhelmed (in a good way).

V60: A rather flowery-smelling brew with flavors of green grape and dark chocolate.

AeroPress: The concentrate was quite strong, full of grassy/floral flavor. I added just a touch of water and it balanced the coffee for the better. The brew became a little chocolaty with a hint of lavender.

Chemex: For me, this method was the star of the show. Somehow, brewing this coffee in a Chemex made the resulting coffee completely different in character than in the other three methods. It was quite light in color and light-bodied. Ultra easy-drinking brew, with notes of caramel, shortbread, butter, and a hint of lavender. Delicate. Delicious.

French press: Intense aroma of almond and flowers. This was a flavor explosion in the mouth.

Summary: Get your hands on this coffee and brew it in a Chemex for a really superb flavor experience!

From the roaster: Floral, citrusy, clean, complex, balanced.

Wrecking Ball Coffee Ethiopia Classic Yirgacheffe

Review: Summer Moon Organic Sweet Hearth (Austin, Texas)

My dear friend Julee brought me this bag from a recent trip to Austin, knowing I would be intrigued by the workings of this roaster. Summer Moon¬†Wood-Fired Coffee Roasters is a company that does everything old-school. They built their brick hearth by hand, one brick at a time. They use no electricity or modern technology in the roasting process; just a wood fire (oak) and a hand-turned roasting drum. They know the coffee’s done when the coffee tells them it’s done, via sight, smell, and sound.

This coffee was labeled as a medium roast on the bag. When I opened it up, I raised an eyebrow because I felt that the contents of the bag had bypassed “medium” and were beginning to venture into what I would consider a medium-dark stage, due to the sheen of oil on the beans. There are no official standards for “light” or “medium,” so every roaster is free to define it as they wish, but it was a bit past what I would consider to be a medium roast. I would be afraid to see what a dark roast from this roaster looks like.

From left to right: a light roast from Joe’s Coffee, a medium roast from Stumptown, and a “medium” roast from Summer Moon. Note the deeper color and oily sheen to Summer Moon’s medium vs. Stumptown’s.

IMG_1124

Whole beans: Smoky. Nutty. No trace of any origin characteristics to my nose. The bag says the beans come from Honduras but I would never have known that from the smell – to me, it just smells like dark-roasted coffee.

V60: Notes of toffee with a medium-bodied finish.

AeroPress: Consumed via the traditional brewing method as a coffee concentrate, it was smooth and had a nice fullness to the body. This would be a good canvas for adding milk/sugar and flavorings.

Chemex: Strong note of roasted peanuts. Light body (the filter likely caught most of the natural oils). Reminds me of a PayDay bar but not as sweet.

French press: Fullest in body, with a smooth finish and a smoky taste.

Espresso: I tried pulling this coffee as an espresso shot at a couple of different temperatures to see what would happen. Luckily, I got the right grind size right off the bat but the flavors ranged from bitter (at 201 degrees) to just okay (at 199). I didn’t see too much potential in this as a straight espresso, as it was rather¬†one-dimensional for my taste, but I’m pretty sure with a bit more experimentation I could get a smooth, “comfort food” espresso shot out of it that would work fine¬†in a milk drink.

Summary: This coffee was definitely roasted on the dark side of medium. It “tastes like coffee,” and would be pleasing to anyone looking for a smooth, uncomplicated brew that is not acidic.

From the roaster: Traces of almond and sweet brown sugar finish.

Summer Moon Sweet Hearth