Review: Two Guns Beach Blend (Manhattan Beach, California)

I picked up this bag from the Two Guns Espresso location in Manhattan Beach at the same time that I got a bag of the Two Guns Espresso Blend. Both of these bags are roasted by Dillanos Coffee Roasters in Washington. I don’t think it’s possible to buy Two Guns-branded beans online, but you can pick them up at their 3 locations around Southern California.

This bag, labeled Beach, states that the coffee is a certified fair-trade light roast from Guatemala, washed process. I can’t tell if it’s a single-origin or a blend, but I figure it is at least from multiple farms since most coffee companies would give further details if it was a single-origin coffee.

Whole bean: cocoa aroma with notes of juicy citrus.

V60: Very strong flavors of lemon pith and dark chocolate. I found this cup, brewed at a 3:05 extraction, to be acerbic and brash.

AeroPress: Much better! Smooth chocolate flavor with a hint of rose.

Chemex: Less harsh flavor than the V60 but still not my favorite brewing method for this coffee. It was on the quite bitter side of bittersweet chocolate.

French press: This was the smoothest cup with the most depth of flavor. Milk chocolate, vanilla, and a hint of orange all mingled to create a really sweet, delicious brew.

Summary: Definitely, DEFINITELY brew this coffee in an immersion method – AeroPress is good but French press is preferred. This blend (?) comes out rather harsh in a pourover method.

From the roaster: Light citrus aroma, cocoa and dried mango

You can purchase this coffee from Two Guns locations. For more info on the roaster, check out Dillanos Coffee Roasters.

Review conducted 14 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: Andytown Coffee Roasters Colombia Las Planadas (San Francisco, California)

A quick trip recently to Michigan found me seeking out local shops/roasters in the Detroit area. I had about 10 minutes to decide where I was going, and luckily for me, I found a terrific little shop called Astro in the Corktown area of Detroit. I saw several shelves of roasters,¬†notably Heart and Kuma, but I was more interested in trying roasters¬†I hadn’t yet tried before, so I was happy to grab a bag from George Howell Coffee and this bag from Andytown.

I first heard about Andytown via reviews from the excellent blog The Coffee Concierge. Andytown is a San Francisco-area company that bakes, serves coffee, and roasts beans all from their 600-square-foot space. Their “About” page is warm and charming, and certainly makes me want to visit the next time I’m in that area!

I also enjoyed this, printed on the bag behind the information card:

It brought to mind¬†“I Like Birds,” by Eels.¬†ūüôā

Whole bean: Smells sweet like honey! Super fragrant.

French press: The dominant flavor was of chocolate/cocoa powder. It was less sweet than the aroma of the beans promised, but it had a lovely citrusy tang on the finish, like tangerine. Really tasty.

Chemex: Easy drinking cup that tastes like cocoa powder but it’s missing the tangerine element of the press pot cup. Not bad, but I felt this cup had less personality.

AeroPress: The citrus flavor was the most present in this cup, with a nice thick texture and bright flavors.

V60: Bittersweet chocolate flavor that had a bite to it, but it smoothed out as it cooled.

Summary: I liked this coffee in the French press best, as I felt it brought out the best balance between the chocolaty depth¬†and the citrusy brightness. I was a tiny bit disappointed that the coffee smelled sweeter in bean form than it actually ended up in the cup, but it’s nothing a drop of honey wouldn’t cure if you swing that way!

From the roaster: Lightly floral, full-bodied, honey sweet

Andytown Coffee Roasters Colombia Las Planadas

Review conducted 6 days post-roast.

Review: Birch Coffee Emma’s Espresso (Long Island City, New York)

The end of June saw me taking a very short trip (24 hours) to New York City for a concert (Stone Roses at Madison Square Garden). While there, I naturally had to pick up some coffee! I was limited to what I could find within walking distance of Midtown, but luckily for me, there were plenty of options. I snagged this bag of Birch Espresso at one of their shop locations.

As sometimes happens, when I went to the checkout, I had the following exchange with the barista.

Barista: Do you need your beans ground?
Me (slightly horrified): Oh, definitely not! Doesn’t that hurt to have to even offer??
Barista:
yes_agreement

Grind your beans right before brewing, kids.

Whole bean: aromas of milk chocolate and red fruit (bing cherry, raspberry).

Espresso: It took me some time to get a handle on this espresso. The faster pours got me buttery and red wine flavors, but as I tightened up the grind, it revealed chocolaty flavors. It was particularly good as a ristretto shot.

Favorite parameters: 17g in, 19g out, 201 degrees F, 30 sec pull. Syrupy texture and milk chocolate flavor with a cheery, bright finish. Very nice!

With milk: I have stopped drinking milk and things like lattes altogether¬†so I’ll be depending on Shutterbug’s opinion for this category. His comments: “Very good! It’s… milky.” I think that’s actually a compliment, in that the espresso + milk doesn’t taste weird to him. That definitely happens sometimes in this house…

AeroPress: This tasted much like the espresso when brewed as a concentrate. However, once I added a bit of water, it toned down the brightness and made for a rich, flavorful, multi-dimensional coffee that kept me sipping. I actually ended up using my last beans from this bag in this method and was sorry when they were gone; I would have enjoyed having this again!

Summary: A good multitasking espresso bean, whether you’re drinking it straight or with milk. Particularly tasty when pulled ristretto.

Birch Coffee Emma’s Espresso

Review: Roseline Coffee Colombia San Jose de Inza (Portland, Oregon)

Since I had¬†just reviewed a Colombian coffee from Cultivar, I wasn’t intending to pick up another Colombian coffee for a while, but on a recent visit to Houndstooth, this was the freshest coffee available, so I acquiesced. There are worse things in life than repeating an origin two weeks in a row!

Whole bean: cocoa powder, blackberries and raspberries.

French press: Semisweet chocolate and strawberries. It really did taste and smell like chocolate-covered strawberries!

Chemex: I brewed this a bit long (4:19) but the end result was pleasant, if sort of generic in flavor. There was very little fruit.

AeroPress: The flavor was like bittersweet chocolate, and it had a grassy finish. Once I added water, the grassy note disappeared and it morphed into milk chocolate with a really sweet, fudgy finish that tasted exactly like the Jelly Belly chocolate pudding-flavored jelly beans.

V60: Brewed on the faster end (2:35), the coffee was just “fine” – I wrote nondescript in my notes. However, at 3:30 extraction, it had a buttery flavor with just a hint of cherry cordial to it.

Summary: I think I tend to prefer my Colombian coffees in immersion methods, and this one is no exception. French press = chocolate-covered strawberries. Delightful! But if you want a thick, fudgy, sweet experience, brew this in an AeroPress, add a little water, and try not to drop your jaw too much… you might get coffee all over your lap.

From the roaster: Cacao nibs and berry preserves

Roseline Coffee Colombia San Jose de Inza

Review: Lexington Coffee Roasters Guatemala Waykan (Lexington, Virginia)

Thanks again to my friend Sarah for these beans! ūüôā

I consider my tasting skills to be decent, but I can’t hold a candle to the fine folks at Coffee Review. I purposely did not pay attention to the tasting notes on this coffee until after I was finished, and I’m always interested to see where I agree with others and where I diverge. More details in the summary.

This particular coffee features top-quality beans from 55 communities in Guatemala.

Whole bean: In the whole bean format, I didn’t detect any particular fragrance that stood out, but once ground, they had a beautiful fragrance of bittersweet¬†chocolate.

V60: My extraction time was a bit on the short side (2:30), and this particular cup tasted mostly like black tea with a bit of bittersweet cocoa and lemon.

AeroPress: In its concentrate form, this cup was pretty sour – it tasted like a combination of lemon juice and pith. However, once I added water to the concentrate, it smoothed out and had a more iced tea-like quality (but hot, of course). Rich body.

Chemex: Smelled a bit like the smoke from blown-out matches, but it tasted like milk chocolate. This also had a little bite of acidity at the end to keep things interesting, but overall it was markedly smoother than either the V60 or AeroPress cups.

French press: Dominant flavor was one of marshmallows, followed by hot cocoa. This is a nice cup for cold winter mornings when looking for a comforting way to start the day. Too bad it’s currently August in Texas! ūüėČ

Summary: I liked this coffee. It reminded me a fair bit of the Coffee del Rey Guatemala Huehuetenango without the graham cracker flavor. Most of the flavors I noticed in this coffee were chocolate, marshmallow, black tea, and lemon. However, the reviewers at Coffee Review had this to say:

“Gently crisp, cedary, complex. Tobacco-toned cedar (think cigar humidor), vanilla, raw sugar, narcissus-like flowers in aroma and cup. Brisk, dry acidity; lightly syrupy mouthfeel. Vanilla, flowers and cedar carry into a resonant finish.”

Yeesh, I need to work on my tasting game!

From the roaster:

Aroma: Candied Fruit & Chocolate

Flavor: Apricot, Pecan, & Milk Chocolate

Acidity: Brisk

Body: Silky

Aftertaste: Tangy Fruit, Nut, & Cocoa

Lexington Coffee Roasters Guatemala Waykan

Review: Cultivar Colombia La Esperanza (Dallas, Texas)

During my last trip to Los Angeles, I had a little time to kill before returning my rental car, so I decided to try out Cognoscenti Coffee on my way to LAX. They had coffee from multiple roasters offered that day, none of which I had tried yet (Commonwealth and Four Barrel among them), and I opted to go with the featured pourover coffee from Ritual Roasters. Since I had to get to the airport, I got my coffee to go.

Let me tell you, I was walking to my rented silver Volkswagen Beetle and I took a sip of this coffee and stopped in my tracks (luckily for me, this wasn’t New York, so¬†no one ran into me from behind while cursing me for being a stupid tourist!). I was so surprised by the flavor of the coffee… a little plummy, with semi-sweet chocolate and warm spice. Complex. Medium-bodied. Sweet and satisfying.

Once I got through LAX security, I called up Cognoscenti and demanded (nicely) to know¬†exactly what it was that I was served that morning. They told me that it was Ritual’s La Esperanza microlot from¬†Colombia. I thanked them and resolved to order a bag online once I got home. However, I soon discovered that it was not available online. Coffee is a seasonal product and my timing was both lucky (because I was able to try it at the shop) and unlucky (because I couldn’t buy more).

Dismayed, I’ve been checking Ritual’s website regularly ever since April to see if I could get my hands on some. No luck yet.

THEN….

On a recent trip to Denton, TX I remembered that Cultivar Coffee has a shop there, so I went to grab a bag. Cultivar is a regular on “best of” Dallas lists for their superb coffee, but their two locations (East Dallas and Denton) are both pretty far from my home, so I rarely have a chance to get to their shops.¬†I got very excited when I saw this bag of Cultivar coffee with the words: Colombia, La Esperanza. It’s a pretty appropriate name for the coffee farm, really — I’ve been waiting for this coffee for what feels like a long time! Obviously, Cultivar may not roast in exactly the same manner that Ritual does, but I hoped that the fact that these beans originated from the same farm would lead to a similar cup.

Whole beans: Rich aroma. Buttery and spicy (like baking spices).

V60: From the first swallow, I was hooked. THIS is what I’ve been missing! It was perhaps a touch less flavorful than I remembered from my cup in Los Angeles, but the flavor profile was all there: semi-sweet chocolate. Dark stone fruit. Spicy and satisfying. Delicious!!! I brewed this at a 2:45 extraction time. When I adjusted the setting one notch finer on my grinder, it made it a 3:15 extraction time which happened to result in less fruit flavor and more bitterness. I’ll stick with 2:45.

AeroPress: Very dark and smooth. No fruit flavor. Somehow, this method makes the beans taste like a very dark roast coffee as opposed to the medium roast that it is. Rich, buttery body that coats the inside of the mouth. I mostly got a flavor of bittersweet cocoa here. I did not try it with milk and sugar, but it seems like it would be delicious.

Chemex: Brighter yet less interesting to me than the V60 or AeroPress versions. There was not as much sweetness and this cup had a powdery finish to it.

French press: More fruity/plummy than any other method. Delicious intensity of flavor, along with a thick, syrupy body. This had the flavor that I was missing (just slightly) in the V60.

Summary: At long last, I found the coffee I had been looking for. Thank you, Cultivar! The flavor of the french press was exactly what I wanted, but I also want it with the cleaner finish from the V60. Maybe a Clever Coffee Dripper will get me the result I want? I will continue experimenting to find my perfect balance. In the meantime, I think it’s very safe to say La Esperanza was worth the wait. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have another cup to brew!

From the roaster: Syrupy. Baking spices. Berries.

Cultivar Coffee Colombia La Esperanza

Review: Kaladi Brothers Coffee Costa Rica San Pablo (Anchorage, Alaska)

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):

IMG_1073

 

IMG_1072

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

Kaladi Brothers Coffee

Review: Heart Coffee Roasters Stereo Blend (Portland, Oregon)

I will be taking a hiatus from tasting coffees for the next couple of weeks, so I wanted my last coffee (for now) to be a great one. Luckily for me, I was able to snag this bag of Heart Coffee from Oak Lawn Coffee in Dallas. Pro tip: They receive shipments from Heart on Fridays, so if you want a bag, you had best pick one up on the weekend. When I stopped in early Sunday afternoon, I got the penultimate bag in the store.

First impressions: The whole beans smelled creamy, with strawberry and milk chocolate notes. Once I ground them, the chocolate became fudgy, with a pinenut and red berry aroma.

V60: Bright, delicate, with white tea and raspberry flavors. This was a sweet cup with a light flavor. It spoke in a whisper, not a shout. If this coffee was a person, it would probably be a young woman wearing polka dots and holding a bunch of daisies. Sunny and optimistic, but not cloying.

AeroPress: Whoa. This cup shouted. There was more raspberry flavor and a more assertive personality overall. Thick and punchy, not too sweet. A bit of lime crept in and it reminded me most of a raspberry-lime gin rickey, oddly. Refreshing in its way, because it had a lot of tart/sweet on the finish.

Chemex: Compared to the V60, it was fruitier and more acidic. Brighter and drier – more treble notes. If the V60 was a moderately sweet Riesling, this was a dry Pinot Gris.

French Press: This brought out more bass notes – bittersweet cocoa dominated with a tartness throughout.

Summary: The V60 cup was really striking. It was demure and didn’t try too hard to capture your attention – you just wanted to be around its energy because it makes you feel good. Lovely balance of flavors! I didn’t taste caramel while drinking the coffee but once the coffee cooled, I definitely smelled caramel. I can’t wait to try some of Heart’s single-origin coffee if the blend is this interesting.

From the roaster: Raspberry, caramel, cocoa

Heart Stereo Blend

I will resume posting on June 11!