Review: Pinewood Roasters Ethiopia Beriti (McGregor, Texas)

Coffee makes a great gift, and I am lucky to be on the receiving end of it from time to time. My lovely friend Jennifer picked this bag up for me from The Foundry while on a work trip to Tyler,¬†Texas. She asked me if I had tried this roaster before, and when I told her I hadn’t, she positively beamed and said how glad she was to find a coffee I hadn’t tried yet! I’m glad I could make her as happy as she made me in that moment. ūüėČ

Sorry about the stain on the bag in the picture; this bag was in the direct path of a bit of espresso slinging in my kitchen!

Whole bean: These are heirloom beans, so they’re smaller and denser than most. Be sure to adjust your grinders accordingly if you’re grinding heirloom varieties – they require a coarser grind than “normal” coffee beans in order to hit the same extraction rate in pourover methods. These beans had a mild berry aroma¬†to them along with a whiff of plastic (which I find common with natural-processed Ethiopian beans). Once ground, the plastic scent was overtaken by intense berry notes.

V60: Floral and thin. Very light cup with character. The bright, flowery notes were okay hot, but I think this might be even better over ice; it seems like it would be quite refreshing.

AeroPress: I couldn’t drink this straight out of the AeroPress – it was too strong for that. Once I added some water though, it smoothed out, though there seemed to be a hint of cleaning product to its aroma. I couldn’t quite place it! (And yes, I am sure it wasn’t soap residue or something like that.)

Chemex: Now we’re talking. This coffee had a honey-like mouthfeel with a lovely aroma of clover honey to the brew. It was not particularly fruity or sweet, but it was pleasant.

French press: This was my favorite method for these beans. I tasted caramel, butter, and berries. Lovely richness that lingered on the palate with a balanced aftertaste.

Summary: I typically expect natural-processed Ethiopian coffees to scream fruit (raspberries, blueberries), and maybe a bit of chocolate. This one didn’t quite fit the stereotype, which was a nice surprise. The french press method yielded the tastiest and most complex coffee for my taste, but it was also good in a Chemex for those that prefer milder and more straightforward coffee.

From the roaster: Blueberry cobbler, floral, viscous

This particular coffee is not available online from Pinewood’s website, but I’ve included a link to their online store.

Pinewood Roasters Online Store

Review conducted 18 days post-roast.

Review: West Oak Coffee Milk and Honey Blend (Denton, Texas)

Every time I visit Denton, Texas, I marvel at how much it’s changed since I was doing graduate work at the University of North Texas in the early 2000s. Denton has always had a counterculture vibe, with people taking pride in their differences and individuality, but the city has grown in the last 15 years and I am now finding all sorts of cool little eateries, record shops, boutiques, and coffee bars that weren’t here back when I was a student. Makes me a bit jealous, to be honest!

West Oak Coffee Bar is located in the Square (downtown Denton), which is also home to the fantastic Recycled Books and Records (I’ve spent many a pretty penny here — their classical vinyl selection is AMAZING) and Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream¬†(Gah, I’m getting nostalgic). West Oak is one of the only places I know of in Texas that has¬†Intelligentsia coffee on rotation, and I’ve purchased several bags of their Black Cat Classic here (all very fresh). On my most recent trip, they were featuring several different origins of their own house-roasted coffee. I opted to go with this Milk and Honey Blend due to its freshness (and really, doesn’t milk + honey sound good?).

Whole bean: Sweet chocolate and blueberry aroma.

V60: Rich mouthfeel to this medium-bodied coffee. There is a chocolatier a few miles from me called Sublime Chocolate that sells a dark chocolate bar with dried blueberries. This coffee tasted just like that. What a wonderful flavor to this brew!!

AeroPress: Buttery, semi-sweet chocolate notes. This was really delicious as a concentrate – no need to add additional water.

Chemex: This coffee had a mild, smooth flavor like milk chocolate. There was just a hint of berry brightness to it that was interesting but not obvious. Tasty and approachable. I feel like this particular method would be how I would brew this for a crowd.

French press: This had a bit of a chalky mouthfeel. The overall flavor was of semi-sweet chocolate but the overall flavor profile was unbalanced and a bit harsh. Not recommended this way.

Summary: I would absolutely recommend this coffee to anyone that might be looking to dip their toe into the waters of craft coffee but isn’t sure where to start. Blends often are more approachable than single origins, and this coffee is no exception. It has a lovely chocolaty flavor to it with just enough berry/fruit flavor to pique your interest and keep you wanting to drink more, without verging into sour/off-putting flavors for the uninitiated. My personal favorite brew method for this was in the Hario V60, because it brought out the berry flavor the most, but it’s also quite good in an AeroPress and Chemex.

For added feedback, I took multiple batches of this coffee to share with colleagues at a multi-week gig. I think I brought in this coffee (brewed in a Chemex) three times during that run, and of the coffees I brought for them to taste, this one seemed to win the most hearts. Granted, since the other option was pre-ground Folgers, I think my friends were already inclined to like whatever I provided, but this really did seem to be the most crowd-pleasing of the beans!

From the roaster: Buttery, honey, velvety, balanced

West Oak Coffee Milk and Honey Blend 

Review conducted 7 days post-roast.

P. S. – I stole the photo of the coffee bag from the West Oak website. I usually take photos of the bags myself, but I must have thrown my bag away before I had a chance to take the photo – these beans went FAST. Which, really, is a good thing!

P. S. #2 – In looking at the West Oak website, I realized that this is their espresso blend!! I never got a chance to try this as an espresso because the beans disappeared so quickly, but if I have a chance to get my hands on more, I’ll do so and update this review later. Just goes to show though that you don’t need to limit yourself to just brewing espresso beans as espresso… they can be good in multiple methods.

Review: Novo Coffee Roasters Espresso Novo (Denver, Colorado)

For the last of my three selections from Novo Coffee, I brought home their house espresso blend that is served in their shops, Espresso Novo.

When I opened up the bag and measured out beans to pull my first shot, I noticed a green (unroasted) bean hanging out among all of its roasted brethren. A good reminder to keep an eye on your beans!

IMG_4449

Notice how much larger the roasted bean is compared to the unroasted bean.

IMG_4450

Whole bean: Smells bright and tea-like, with a fruity character. I was having a hard time putting my finger on what it was I was smelling – I knew it wasn’t a berry scent, and I wrote “mango, maybe” in my notes. Later on, it hit me – banana!

Straight shots: I was amazed at the variation of flavor that I got while adjusting the parameters. Here are my notes, verbatim (minus all the dosages, temperatures, grind settings, etc.):
1) ristretto: not bad, but very tangy like bananas
2) between normale and lungo: bland, tastes like nothing.
3) normale: rare steak??? Really meaty. Weeeeiiiiirrrrrdddd
4) normale: creamy, balanced, and smooth.
5) normale: crisp, fruity, acidic. Slight berry flavor.

Favorite parameters (#4): 18 g in, 37 g out, 200 F, 23 seconds from first drip

With milk: I totally forgot to taste this with milk (as I almost never drink milk drinks these days). Sorry!

AeroPress: The resulting brew was thick and fairly smooth at the start, with a little bracing acidity on the finish. Odd aftertaste. Overall, I was underwhelmed with the coffee brewed this way – I would stick to drinking it as espresso.

Summary: This espresso can lead to some crazy tastes (seriously, rare steak??) but it’s not bad at all¬†once you find that little window of¬†balanced flavor!

From the roaster: medium body, caramel, blueberry, banana

Novo Coffee Roasters Espresso Novo

Review: Corvus Everyman Seasonal Espresso Blend (Denver, Colorado)

On a recent visit to Method Coffee in Dallas, they had fresh bags of this in stock, so I decided to check them out. I had not previously heard of Corvus, but the independent DFW area coffee shops that I frequent have not steered me wrong yet!

Poking around their Mission¬†page, I learned that Corvus prefers to work directly with private farms instead of relying on certifications like fair trade, organic, etc. They roast in the Nordic style, which to me basically means they roast only as much as needed to bring out the natural flavors of the coffee, as opposed to roasting until the coffee tastes like the roasting process. Heart would be another roaster I’d put in this category.

Whole bean: Creamy scent with notes of berries.

Espresso: This espresso had a lot of bright berry acidity. It reminded me a lot of the Commonwealth Ontology Espresso in flavor Рchocolate and blueberry/raspberry notes. It was very nice pulled as a straight shot if you like a bright, sweet espresso that packs a punch.

Favorite parameters: 18 g in, 35 g out, 202 degrees F, 23 second extraction

With milk: This blend seemed a little less special once milk was added since it muted the berry notes, but it made a decent latte.

Other preparations: I had a hunch that I would like this blend prepared as coffee instead of espresso, and I was right! This was excellent brewed in a Chemex: chocolaty and lively due to the blueberry flavor. Lovely depth and sweetness. It was also very good in a french press.

Summary: A tasty espresso consumed straight if you like berry notes; good with milk. Particularly good brewed as coffee!

From the roaster: Dried berry, Cacao sweetness, supple. Currently made up of coffees from Peru and Ethiopia.

Corvus Everyman Seasonal Espresso Blend

Review: Porch Culture Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Natural (Tyler, Texas)

Music is my mood-altering substance of choice, even moreso than coffee. It encompasses nearly every waking moment of my day… I am constantly listening to music, making music, imagining and striving for an unattainable perfection in music. The kind of music I gravitate to depends on my mood, the time of day, and what I have going on. Sometimes I want something familiar, with no surprises. Sometimes I need a shot in the arm to get me moving. Sometimes I want to hear a piece of music that demands my full attention and will not let me multitask.

When was the last time you listened to music without doing something else (like driving, or playing with your smartphone, or eating at a restaurant, or jogging)? I love having a soundtrack to my daily life, but sometimes, the music needs to take center stage and I become a supporting character to it, and not vice versa. I think this is one reason I (and I daresay others) really enjoy listening to vinyl records. Records and turntables are bulky, they’re not portable, they’re not convenient… they won’t go where you go. Don’t get me wrong – I have an iPod (my 5th gen classic is still kicking, 10 years later!!), I use my iPhone for music, I have CDs… but the inherent inconvenience of vinyl makes listening to music a special event, and that is sometimes exactly what I need, and what the music itself deserves.

Case in point: I have a gorgeous remastered limited edition Mobile Fidelity pressing of Ryan Adams’ “Love Is Hell” album. I’ve listened to it about twice since getting it last year because it is the sort of album that stops you in your tracks and DEMANDS your full attention. It is not content to be background music – especially not with the incredible sound quality. I don’t put it on unless I know I have an hour free to devote to immersing myself in the world that he creates. Next to hearing a live performance, vinyl is¬†my favorite way to listen (really listen) to music.

How does this apply to coffee? Well, I’ve found that different methods of brewing will amplify and dampen different aspects of the coffee beans, much like raising and lowering treble/bass levels. Some brewing methods result in a coffee that will slip easily into the background, and some methods will bring a richness to the fore that will make it impossible for you to focus on anything else.

I have had a lot of natural-processed Ethiopian coffee over the past few years, and I have a pretty good idea of what to expect when I see one for sale. This bag was no exception, so it really became more of a question of how to best enjoy this coffee, as opposed to “will I enjoy this coffee?”

Whole bean: Bright aromas of mixed berry (raspberry, blueberry) jam.

French press: Not my favorite; this cup had a plasticky aroma. I have come to expect this though from naturally-processed Ethiopian coffees so it wasn’t a surprise.

Chemex: Despite setting this on slightly too fine of a grind (total extraction time was 4:40), this made a smooth cup of coffee that tasted like a combination of milk chocolate and red berries. I enjoyed this very much; the french press cup was harsher tasting in comparison.

AeroPress: Smooth and fuller-bodied than the Chemex cup. I didn’t need to add any water to this. There was a slightly powdery finish to this coffee. It was perhaps a little heavier in texture than the Chemex cup, but they were both appealing in the same ways (smoothness, flavors). The AeroPress is of course a lot quicker to prepare, so that might be the way to go if you’re only making one cup and are impatient!

V60: This method created a cup that was rather muted in flavor. After the lively yet smooth and pleasant Chemex and AeroPress cups, this was not what I was expecting. If the cups were music, the V60 cup was like listening to music through crappy headphones.

Summary:¬†Stick to brewing these beans in an AeroPress (if you’re brewing a single cup) or a Chemex (if you are brewing for multiple people… or for one if you are REALLY thirsty) for the best, most balanced flavors.

From the roaster: Wild berry. Sweet pastry. Buttery.

Porch Culture Coffee Roasters Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Natural

Review: Commonwealth Ontology Espresso (Denver, Colorado)

Along with Houndstooth Coffee, Oak Lawn Coffee is one of my go-to places in Dallas for picking up high-quality, FRESH coffee beans. It’s a pity I live so far from both of these shops (30-40 minutes on a good day!). Thankfully, I was in the area for work and was able to pick up this bag from Commonwealth along with a bag of Tweed Foxtrot blend (review forthcoming).

Side note: The barista offered me a free drip coffee with the purchase of my beans, and even though it was 6:30 pm, I said yes. I mean, it’s free coffee! I got a to-go cup of their drip, and walked out of the shop. Before I even got to my car, I took a sip of the drip and turned around and walked right back into the shop, because I was delighted with the flavor in the cup (“What IS this??? This is DELICIOUS!!”). It was the Commonwealth Colombia Narino Carlos Munoz, and it was like creamy milk chocolate and tangerine and sweet fruit notes. So delicious… I hope they have it the next time I’m in the shop because this warrants further tasting.

Whole bean: Creamy, vaguely fruity aroma. Not much to talk about, actually… I have experienced beans that give off a lot more aroma than this, but I have also found that how coffee beans smell don’t necessarily equate to how they taste.

Espresso: I pulled these shots between 5-7 days post roast. Initially, I was unnerved by how light the streams were from my portafilter, because I was thinking the espresso was reaching its blonding point rather quickly! However, I soon realized that this espresso roast is a bit lighter than what I’m used to (especially after those Third Coast beans I pulled recently), so the lighter stream color was completely normal. This blend is a mix of the Colombia Carlos Munoz and an Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Kochere, and in the cup, you can REALLY taste what the Ethiopian beans bring to the table. At 201 F, there was an intoxicating berry scent to the espresso and it was full of blackberry and chocolate flavor. Not bad at all! I usually go for more straight chocolate/caramel/toffee notes in espresso, but found the blackberry in this one very interesting. When I pulled shots at higher temperatures, the blackberry note disappeared, and I found that I really missed it. Back to 201 F then!

Favorite parameters for this blend: 18 g in, normale shot @ 25 seconds, 201 degrees F.

With milk: I’m off dairy for a little while, so I made Shutterbug my guinea pig on this. Based on a hunch I had, I opted to make him a honey latte instead of a plain one, because the combination of honey and blackberries is to die for (especially served on top of Greek yogurt). This was a hit!

AeroPress: I was underwhelmed by this coffee in an AeroPress. Straight out of the brewer, the coffee had a great mouthfeel, but it was a little unbalanced tasting – it had some chocolate and blueberry flavor but it also tasted like the stems from a blueberry plant. I added just a touch of water and while it made the coffee smoother, it also made it blander. The lack of balance and complexity was disappointing. Stick to pulling this as true espresso.

Summary: Nice espresso blend that definitely leans toward the fruitier side in flavor. Try it with honey in a latte – it is delicious!

From the roaster: Jasmine, plum, caramel, baker’s chocolate

Commonwealth Ontology Espresso

Review: Counter Culture Ethiopia Kochere Birhanu Zerihun Organic (Durham, North Carolina)

This coffee’s name sure is a mouthful! It thankfully is a lot easier to drink than it is to pronounce. I picked this box up in a mad rush at Houndstooth Coffee in Dallas, which has become one of my go-to places when I want to grab something great to review. I had about 3 minutes to get in and get out, so I scanned the selections, checked the date on this box, paid, and ran out of there to get to my gig. The barista was helpful, but didn’t try and engage me in a ton of small talk or anything – I think he could sense that I was a woman on a mission!

Whole bean: This definitely smelled like a blueberry-flavored baked good… Blueberry scone, perhaps. Once ground, there was also a cherry note to the beans.

French press: Sweet blueberry scent. Plenty of fruit flavor with a thick body and a lot of depth. Not a lot of acid – pretty smooth. I brewed this for my usual 4 minutes and felt that a little longer steeping time might bring out a bit more flavor.

Chemex: The aroma coming from the carafe was sooo beautiful Рit smelled like blueberry syrup and vanilla ice cream. It was actually very reminiscent of the Heart Kenya Kiangoi I reviewed earlier this fall, except with blueberry instead of cranberry/pineapple. This cup was quite creamy and smooth, and the blueberry flavor got a little stronger as the cup cooled, but overall the dominant flavor was of cream. Delicious.

AeroPress: As a concentrate, this tasted like berries and leaves – there was a grassy note to this cup. I added just a little bit of water and the grass note was muted to create a nice cup, but this wasn’t my favorite preparation.

V60: Brightest cup in flavor – the most blueberry and the least body, surprisingly (I would have expected that to be the Chemex, but once again, coffee has surprises in store for me).

Summary: This is one of the best natural-processed Ethiopian coffees I’ve ever had. It doesn’t have any of the plasticky flavor/aroma that I find common among this type of coffee, and the creamy, sweet brew that resulted from the Chemex was just magical. I can’t wait to brew more. In fact, why the heck am I waiting?!

From the roaster: Juicy, raspberry, strawberry

Counter Culture Ethiopia Kochere Birhanu Zerihun Organic

Review: Tweed Staycation Ethiopian Blend (Dallas, Texas)

On my most recent visit to Houndstooth Coffee,¬†the baristas used me as a guinea pig and had me try an interesting concoction that was espresso + tonic water + lemon ice cubes + a sprig of rosemary. It was quite sweet and I told them it tasted like liquefied lemon LifeSavers, which they seemed pleased about. The espresso didn’t make its presence known until the latter half of the drink, but when it did, it added a nice complexity to this cold beverage. If that sounds up your alley, visit the Dallas location soon – I didn’t catch the name of this drink but they’re rolling it out shortly (it’ll probably be on the menu by the time I publish this)!

The Tweed Staycation blend is made up of Ethiopian heirloom coffee beans; the bag listed the proportions as 70% Yirgz, 30% Ardi. On the website, they get into a bit more detail; 70% of the blend will be either Kochere or Yirgacheffe, washed, while 30% will be Kilenso Moccanissa or Sidama, natural-processed. The current Yirgz/Ardi blend probably just reflects what is “in season” now and what Tweed was able to procure from their producers.

Whole bean: These beans smell like blueberries and raspberries. Sweet and mild. On a blueberry scale of 1-10, 1 being “no scent” and 10 being “Violet Beauregarde,” this bag rated about a 5.

French press: Flavors of blueberry and melon rind with a piquant aftertaste. I brewed this for my usual 4 minutes but I was missing a certain depth in this cup; it was a bit bland, which is odd for an Ethiopian coffee! However, I tried brewing it again for 5 minutes the next day and it brought out a mesmerizing honeysuckle aroma and flavor.

Chemex: Berry bomb! Deliciously sweet with a bit of citrus zing. This had a very thin body (which could be expected thanks to the thick Chemex filter), and could be super-refreshing as an iced coffee.

AeroPress: The concentrate was too strong to drink straight, but adding just a bit of water brought out muted berry and rich cocoa flavors. Very sweet and satisfying.

V60: This particular cup wasn’t to my taste, as it mostly tasted of lemon and lemon pith. It was a bit bitter, even at only a 2:40 extraction time.

I didn’t know going into this tasting how the coffee was processed; it wasn’t until I looked up the website in order to write this review that I found out it was 70/30 washed/natural. Based on the blueberry aroma I detected from the whole beans, my assumption was that it was mostly natural-processed beans, so my expectation was that I would get much more berry flavor than I did (which makes sense if that was only 30% of the batch).

Summary: This is a nice blend of the two predominant processing styles of Ethiopian coffee, and I think it features the best of both worlds. Natural-processed Ethiopians have strong berry flavor but can come off tasting a bit like plastic. Washed Ethiopians are cleaner in finish but can go too far in citrus and floral flavor for some. This blend had no plastic in it, and strikes a lovely balance that brings out blueberries, raspberries, a little cocoa (in the AeroPress), a little refreshing zing of lemon on the finish (in the Chemex), and sweet floral notes (in the French press).

From the roaster: Berry, melon, lemon zest

Tweed Coffee Online Store

Review: Huckleberry Roasters Phantom Limb Blend (Denver, Colorado)

The next three reviews are thanks to my lovely friend Alison, who surprised me in the best possible way by sending me a box full of coffee to try! Thank you, Alison!!

Huckleberry Roasters, based in Denver, roasts on Mondays and Tuesdays and only ships out whole bean coffee to preserve freshness as long as possible; they will not sell pre-ground beans. Unlike most roasters, that sell 12- and 16-oz bags, Huckleberry sells 10 oz bags. Pro or con? That depends. Odd sizing can be an adjustment, particularly if you go through a lot of coffee in a short period of time, but I like the smaller sizes because they allow me to try more coffees without worrying about them going stale (or having to freeze them). It can be more expensive in the long run, however, if you have to buy many small bags. I wish more roasters would offer a range of sizes, so that you can buy whatever quantity that best suited your needs.

In addition to being coffee geeks, I suspect the two guys that run this company are¬†music nerds. The single-origin coffees were just named after the countries and regions¬†they come from, but the blends were all named after songs. I could be wrong, and perhaps “Blue Orchid” and “Phantom Limb” don’t refer to the White Stripes and Shins songs respectively, but “Mean Streets” definitely is a reference to the song by the band Tennis. They even have Tennis’s tour dates on their site.

Since I’m also a little bit of a music nerd, I made sure to brew this coffee with “Phantom Limb” playing in the background. Heck, why not?

Whole beans: Strong scent of hot cocoa. Very comforting! I was expecting a little more fruity brightness than I got. The dominant aroma was definitely chocolate with just a little bit of blueberry. Once ground, the chocolate scent got even stronger.

V60: The flavor was mostly of cocoa powder with a little bit of blueberry and lemon. Very smooth and easy to drink. I enjoyed the multiple layers of flavor.

AeroPress: This cup definitely turned the treble up. Blueberry and the flavor of dark chocolate dominated overall. Medium to full body.

Chemex: Lighter in body but similar in flavor to the V60. Sweetest aroma of the four – smelled like agave nectar.

French press: Hot cocoa-esque with just a hint of fruit.

Summary: The roaster’s¬†tasting notes make me think it would be very fruit-forward, but the coffee in the cup was definitely more weighted toward chocolate, in all of the preparations. I enjoyed the bit of brightness provided by the lemon and blueberry flavors that were present, as it made the coffee more interesting. The website indicates that this coffee can vary in flavor a lot as the seasons change and they adjust the blend, so it’s possible that if I have¬†this blend again in six months, it would taste very different.

From the roaster: Expect jammy, fruity sweetness, tangy brightness, and a syrupy body.

Current Blend:  All Ethiopian: Adado Natural Process Yirgacheffe, Ardi Natural Process Sidamo, and a washed Yirgacheffe Gr. 1 ECX lot.

Current Tasting Notes: lemon brightness, floral aromatics, blackberry, subtle cocoa.

Huckleberry Roasters Phantom Limb Blend

Review: Lift Coffee Ethiopia Kochere (Riverside, California)

Here is another selection from Craft Coffee. This coffee reminded me a lot of the Three Ships Konga Ethiopia Yirgacheffe that I reviewed back in March. Both are natural-processed Ethiopian heirloom varietals, and the beans are quite lightly roasted and smaller than typically seen.

Whole beans: Bright, juicy berry aroma. It smells like a mix of tart blueberries and raspberries. Once the beans were ground, they got super sweet and it smelled like blueberry muffins. Yum!

French press: Once the slight plasticky scent that I find common to natural-processed Ethiopian coffees dissipated, I tasted a lot of cocoa powder and raspberry. A little tart and bright, but the most dominant flavor was the rich depth of cocoa. Very juicy cup.

Chemex: Very little cocoa in this – it had a thin body that smelled like raspberries. It also had a hint of floral character. I could definitely taste the hibiscus.

AeroPress: I got even more cocoa in this cup than in the french press cup. This had very little if any fruit character to it. Very smooth, but I felt it was a bit dull compared to the other methods.

V60: This cup struck a nice balance between the Chemex and french press cups with a cleaner, drier finish.

Summary: Lively, bright coffee with lots of red berry flavor. My favorite of this batch was the french press rendition, as I thought the dichotomy between the cocoa and the raspberry notes was very nice. The Chemex cup was also delicious!

Notes from the roaster: Floral scents of hibiscus reveal bittersweet flavors of raw cocoa and ripe gooseberries.

This coffee is not currently offered online.

Lift Coffee Roasters