Review: Blue Bottle Perfectly Ground for Pour Over (Oakland, California)

When I bought Blue Bottle’s Kenya Embu Gikirima in whole bean format, I placed an order at the same time for the same coffee in Perfectly Ground, ground for pourover. Perfectly Ground is the name for Blue Bottle’s new line of coffee which has been ground and then directly sealed in individual oxygen-free bags so that the coffee will taste just as fresh as freshly ground coffee once you tear open each bag. On their website, Blue Bottle has a short video introducing the concept, featuring their founder James Freeman. In it, he claims that despite his own skepticism (he called pre-ground coffee an “abomination”), in multiple cuppings, he and his staff could not taste the difference between the Perfectly Ground and freshly ground coffee, and I was intrigued enough to give it a shot.

You can choose to buy Perfectly Ground pre-ground for AeroPress, French press, pourover, or auto drip machine (coffee maker). I chose to get Perfectly Ground in pourover since I find that pourover is the trickiest of the manual methods to get right, as both the grind size and freshness of the coffee really make a difference in how the coffee flavors are extracted. Immersion methods like the AeroPress and french press are more forgiving because the grind size isn’t quite as critical to the brewing process. If this pre-ground coffee gets good results as a pourover cup, that bodes quite well for all of the other grind sizes.

The Perfectly Ground coffee arrived a couple of days before my whole bean coffee, but unlike the whole bean coffee, I didn’t have to worry about consuming them within a two-week window; this pre-ground coffee will reportedly remain fresh until April 10, 2017. It came in an attractive box which housed 5 packets.

This booklet is the first thing you see when you open up the box.

I have to say, this box is quite sturdy. Yes, there was a bit of wasted space, as the five packets don’t take up the whole box and they had to add that light blue cardboard buffer to keep everything snug, but the packets arrived in perfect shape. Nothing is going to crush this box, especially since it was shipped inside another box!

The back of each envelope has step-by-step instructions on how to brew pourover coffee for anyone new to the process. For each packet (22g of coffee), they recommend 350g of water. My usual Hario V60 proportions are 25g coffee to 400g water so the ratio is the same (1:16).

During the brewing process, the first thing I noticed was that the bloom was notably absent compared to when I brewed fresh beans. Usually, the bloom will start to settle down around the 30 second mark, but with this cup of the Perfectly Ground, the bloom was poor and the bit of water I used for the bloom sifted right through the beans within 15 seconds. Visually speaking, this was not a great sign of freshness. But, the total brewing time, start to finish, took 3:10, which is right in the ballpark of where I usually end up with this method. A promising sign, as this means the grind size was correct.

How did it taste? Well, I was stunned by how complex the coffee was in the cup. I tasted sweet white wine, green grapes, and caramelized sugar. It was pleasantly tart and vibrant, with notes of lychee and kiwi on the finish. What a powerhouse of flavor!! I may not have been impressed with how the bloom looked, but I sure was impressed by the taste of this coffee. This is like no other pre-ground coffee I’ve ever encountered – I definitely think I would have been fooled in a blind tasting.

Interestingly, despite being the same varietal, the tasting notes for this bean differ on the Perfectly Ground box (Riesling, marmalade, candied ginger) vs. the bag of whole beans (cacao nibs, tea, citrus). I do think the notes on the box were a very fair representation of what was in the cup. I DID taste a difference between this and the whole bean version of this coffee in that the Perfectly Ground cup was more tart and the freshly ground cup I made in the V60 was more sweet/bitter, but both tasted fresh. If I was served the Perfectly Ground cup in a coffee shop, I would have no complaints.

This box of 5 single-serving packets of Blue Bottle’s Perfectly Ground coffee is $17.50 with free shipping, which averages out to $3.50 per bag. Is it worth it? Well, if you’re someone that enjoys craft coffee but doesn’t want to spend money/counter space on a grinder, this could be one way for you to get your Blue Bottle fix anywhere you like that has hot water (and a brewing device). It’s convenient, portable, and long-lasting (6 month shelf life). Now, if you consumed this particular coffee weekly (Monday-Friday at a packet a day, $17.50 a week), it would certainly add up quickly! I personally would recommend investing in a quality grinder before spending $70/month on pre-ground beans, even ones of this quality. But, for the right circumstance, this is a terrific option to have on hand. You can take great coffee on your travels without packing a hand grinder. You can keep really good quality decaf around for guests (or for those times when you might want an occasional cup yourself!). Perfectly Ground isn’t something I’d choose to have regularly, since I have two great grinders and I intend to use them, but I could easily see myself ordering another box of Perfectly Ground, this time for AeroPress, so that I can have fresh-tasting craft coffee with me anywhere I might travel. Hats off to you, Blue Bottle!

Summary: It defies all logic and just about everything I thought I knew about coffee, but this pre-ground coffee from Blue Bottle is not just good for pre-ground, it’s a coffee that’s worthy of the Blue Bottle name. This changes my whole perception on what pre-ground coffee can be!

The Story of Blue Bottle Perfectly Ground

Blue Bottle Perfectly Ground – Online Store

Review: Blue Bottle Kenya Embu Gikirima (Oakland, California)

Technically, I purchased this coffee at the end of 2016 and wrote up notes on it very soon after purchase, but I wanted to save the review to start the new year off with a bang, and Blue Bottle seemed like a good roaster to start this blog off on the right foot in 2017! This Blue Bottle review will actually be in two parts, as I bought this varietal both in whole bean form and pre-ground (gasp!). Yes, I broke the rule of just about every coffee geek and bought pre-ground coffee, but for a very good reason, as I wanted to see for myself if Blue Bottle’s Perfectly Ground really could live up to the taste of freshly ground coffee. More on that later, but for now, here are my notes on the whole bean version of this Kenya Embu Gikirima!

Whole bean: Honestly, I kind of forgot to observe this coffee’s notes, as it smelled great right out of the box and I was excited to start brewing. Oops! But it was quite fragrant, like caramelized sugar and tea and all sorts of good things.

V60: This brewing method made a cup that tasted like toasted marshmallows, with a slight “pithy” flavor like lemon pith. Not a very tart cup, but it had just a little bit of citrus bitterness to it. I did brew this on the long side (3:45) so perhaps a shorter brewing time would mitigate the pith.

AeroPress: A surprisingly smooth brew!! Caramel scent and flavor dominated this mug, with a tart finish like lemon candy to keep the taste buds interested.

Chemex: Grapefruit. Very tart and dry. My mouth was puckering.

French press: Very silky mouthfeel. Rich, sweet flavor with just a hint of brightness and tartness to keep things lively.

Summary: This coffee tasted best to me in the immersion methods, with the French press being my personal favorite, as I felt it had the best balance between sweet and tart.

Check back in a few hours for more on this coffee, this time made from Blue Bottle’s Perfectly Ground beans (their version of pre-ground coffee).

From the roaster: Cacao nibs, tea, citrus

Blue Bottle Kenya Embu Gikirima

Review: Cultivar Coffee Colombia Henry Serrato (Dallas, Texas)

The last time I reviewed a coffee from Cultivar, it landed in my Best of 2015 list. I happened to be visiting Emporium Pies in McKinney, Texas one weekend and they had fresh bags of this Colombia Henry Serrato on the shelves, so I decided that the time was right to give Cultivar another go.

Whole bean: The beans smelled fragrant like nectarines and caramelized sugar. Delicious!!

French press: When the hot water hit the grounds, a slight minty scent emerged, but the end product did not taste minty. The coffee was thick, rich, and creamy in texture, and it tasted like the top of a luscious creme brulee. Wow.

Chemex: Less sweet of a cup; this brew had a markedly thinner body (no surprise) and it was a bit bright and acidic.

AeroPress: Lemony flavor and full body. Adding a bit of water smoothed out some of the lemon/acidic flavor and made for a very pleasant cup.

V60: At a 3:00 extraction, the coffee was toasty but otherwise not that remarkable.

Summary: In my notes, I starred both the French press and AeroPress brews, which means that those were my favorites, but honestly, I can’t remember how the AeroPress version tastes now because all I can remember is the sublime, sugary, creme-brulee flavor of this coffee made in a french press. Do yourself a favor and get some!

From the roaster: Toasted sugar. Figs. Soft acidity.

Cultivar Colombia Henry Serrato

Review: Novel Coffee Roasters Ethiopia Idido (Dallas, Texas)

Novel Coffee Roasters is a Dallas-based company that is starting to gain a national presence; their coffees are currently available for purchase in coffeehouses in eight states, as well as online through their website (with FREE shipping!). I did a little googling on Novel and was charmed by the story of how they picked their name. The founders liked the double meaning of the word “novel,” both used as a noun (reflected in their slogan: “Every Coffee Has A Story”) and as an adjective (new, fresh, surprising, unique). The company has only been around since 2013 but have quickly racked up accolades; this Dallas Observer article features them in more depth.

You may have noticed that this is the third Dallas-area roaster I’ve featured in a row on my blog; this was on purpose, as I have a trip to Portland, Oregon coming up and I plan to collect many bags of PDX-area coffee to review! But before I leave, I wanted to show Texas roasters some love. I picked up this bag from Roots Coffeehouse in North Richland Hills.

This is the second Ethiopian coffee I’ve had recently from the Idido region (the first was the Kickapoo Coffee I received from Craft Coffee). I remembered that particular tasting being difficult because I hadn’t sufficiently adjusted my grind settings to compensate for the increased density of heirloom coffee beans, so I made sure to keep this in mind this time (it worked pretty well for the Tweed Staycation blend, which is also comprised of heirloom beans).

Whole bean: Subtle, milk chocolaty aroma combined with a lovely honey fragrance!

Chemex: I deviated from my usual tasting procedure here and started with the Chemex, because this method makes the most coffee and I needed a full travel mug for my 1.5 hour commute this week. I was pretty entranced while sipping this during my drive; the dominant note was of caramelized sugar, like the beautiful top of a creme brûlée. It also reminded me of Earl Grey tea, and the combination of those two flavors was stunning. I was sorry when I drained my mug (though no one can say I didn’t savor it; it kept me company for over an hour).

French press: Clean flavors. A little nectarine tanginess that quickly smoothed out to dark chocolate.

AeroPress: I brewed this at 185 degrees F and drank this as a concentrate. It had the most acidity of the four methods but was paradoxically very smooth going down! Notes of red grape and honeydew melon dominated this cup.

V60: Crazy amounts of sweet honeysuckle aromas wafted from this cup. Light body, bright floral flavors. Sunny day in a cup.

Summary: I enjoyed every single cup that I made with this batch of beans. What a lovely example of a washed Ethiopian coffee!! It had a lot of personality; it had brightness and darkness; it showed new perspectives and flavors over time and in different methods. It tasted like the sort of book that I could happily get lost in for hours. Bravo, Novel! You haven’t seen the last of me, that’s for sure.

From the roaster: The town of Idido is an epicenter of quality in the Yirgacheffe region. Heirloom coffee grown and milled here is so good in fact, that it became famous under more than one name: Idido, Aricha, and Misty Valley are all sourced from among the same farms, all operating at elevations over 2000 meters.

The coffee we selected is fully washed and flawlessly sorted, presenting nectar-like flavors of white peach, summer melon, and honeysuckle.

Novel Coffee Roasters Online Store

Review: Tweed Colombia Los Naranjos (Dallas, Texas)

Tweed Coffee is a Dallas-based roaster associated with Houndstooth Coffee (locations in Austin and Dallas). I admit, I picked up this bag solely due to the name “Los Naranjos,” hoping that I would get some orange notes in the coffee (since the name was so close to “naranjas” – oranges).

Spoiler alert: I was wrong about the oranges, but the coffee made up for it!

First impressions: the whole beans had a nice light aroma of caramelized sugar. After the extreme funk of the Victrola Kenyan beans, this was a refreshing change.

French press: My first thought when I sniffed the aroma coming out of the cup was “sticks!” It smelled a little wooden. It also carried over that caramelized sugar scent, and it was a bit tart on the finish. This was not a fruity or super juicy cup; the dominant flavor seemed to be sugary wood.

Chemex: A very faint scent of lilies greeted me as I went to take my first sip. It didn’t taste like flowers, though. Very clean cup, and I underlined the word SUGARY in my notes… quite sweet. Delicate and balanced. Again, not very fruity, but this didn’t bother me at all — I didn’t want to stop drinking this!

AeroPress: What a change. This was an extremely juicy tasting cup with a rich body. The flavor was like black tea + pineapple juice.

V60: Honestly, I didn’t taste much at all with this cup. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it wasn’t memorable… seemed pretty generic.

Summary: I think this coffee shines most in the Chemex (for the sugary notes), but it was good in the AeroPress too (for the fruity notes).

From the roaster: Juicy, tropical fruit, brown sugar

Tweed Coffee Roasters

Review: Porch Culture El Salvador Finca Santa Emilia (Tyler, Texas)

A recent work trip to East Texas introduced me to Porch Culture Coffee Roasters, which is a microroaster based in the city of Tyler. (Fun fact: for local subscribers, they deliver via bicycle!) I picked up this bag at The Foundry Coffee House, and also sampled a cup of Porch Culture’s Colombian beans brewed in a Kalita Wave (rich and full-bodied with a clean finish, with strong cocoa and orange zest notes. Delicious!). The only reason I didn’t get a bag of the Colombian beans was that they didn’t have any on the shelf, but I was more than happy to give these beans from El Salvador a try, especially since they were just two days post roast.

First impressions: These smelled eerily similar to the Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters El Salvadorean beans I reviewed a while ago. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, considering that both varieties are honey-processed and from the same country. There wasn’t any fruit aroma that I could detect; these coffee beans smelled like burnt sugar and tea leaves.

French press: The coffee tasted pretty plasticky right off the bat, so I let it cool for a couple of minutes. Once it did, I could taste other flavors, like black tea. It is not as sweet or fruity as the African coffees I’ve had recently. The finish had my mouth puckering like grapefruit would, but without the fruity flavor.

Chemex: Less acidity than the French press version. It felt medium-bodied with a caramelized sugar flavor on the finish. This was pretty pleasant to drink but I honestly think I would prefer it with just a bit of sugar added to mitigate the tannic quality. I didn’t try it with sugar, though.

AeroPress: This coffee had a nice body to it. The aroma was like clover honey, though the coffee itself wasn’t sweet. As it cooled, it got more complex. I kept drinking it trying to place all the flavors and before I knew it, my mug was empty. Always a good sign. 🙂

V60: Clean, light mouthfeel. The honey aromas were more orange blossom vs. clover here.

Espresso: Just on a whim, I decided to try these beans as a single-origin espresso. I admit, I only pulled two doubleshots so I may not have unlocked the full potential of these beans, but I tasted candied orange peel, honey, and cocoa. Quite tasty! It had a nice refreshing finish to it that reminded me of my favorite espresso, Stumptown Hair Bender, but without quite the flavor complexity.

Summary: My favorite cup of this coffee was in the AeroPress, but it makes a pretty nice single-origin espresso as well. Less sweet and juicy/fruity than African coffees, but if you prefer less fruit and more toasty flavors in your coffee, this is a nice one indeed!

From the roaster: Toasted sugar, cocoa, graham cracker, medium acidity, full body.

Porch Culture Coffee El Salvador Santa Emilia