Review: BeanFruit Old Route 4 Dark Roast (Jackson, Mississippi)

Hey there, dark roast fans… this one’s for you. I am personally not a fan of dark roasts, but I know a lot of you out there are so I’m taking one for the team! I find that people that have a strong opinion about the roast level of their coffee seem to be generally in one of two camps:

Light-roasted coffee:
Fan: “Delicious! You can really taste the origin of the bean and all the subtle flavors.”
Foe: “Gross! It’s sour and tastes like drinking acid! I want my coffee to taste like coffee, damnit!”

Dark-roasted coffee:
Fan: “It’s so rich and smooth and strong! This is what coffee is supposed to taste like.”
Foe: “Ack, it’s burnt! Charred! It has no character whatsoever! Overroasted!”

Now, I do think there can be a happy medium between these two styles, but even “medium” roast coffee can be too light (meaning, “weird-tasting”) for many dark-roast drinkers, so I wondered if there was a dark roast out there that even fans of lighter roasts could still enjoy. BeanFruit is such a great coffee roaster that I figured if anyone could do this, they could.

Whole bean: Nothing stood out to me other than just a rich aroma of coffee beans. The beans were dark to my eye, but not oily, which is a definite bonus. One thing I really dislike about very dark roasts is all the surface oil and how it gets all over everything, and I feel like it makes the coffee taste rancid. No matter what roast level you like, kids, just say no to oily beans!

French press: Rich and robust cup that tasted a bit like wood and smelled of cedar chips. Smooth.

Chemex: I really wasn’t pleased with the result from this brewing method. The beans are just too darkly roasted for my taste and the coffee came out bitter to my palate. I chased the coffee with a cup of water and the water tasted amazingly sweet to me in comparison!

AeroPress: This is more like it. Consumed straight, I found this brew to be a bit strong but nicely balanced, with flavors of dark chocolate and a hint of cedar. Caramel on the finish. Quite smooth once I added a bit of additional water. As this coffee sits and cools, more chocolate notes come out.

V60: With a 2:40 extraction, this had a really clean “coffee” flavor. No distractions. Less chocolate in the taste but still quite approachable. I would gladly drink this if it was served at a dinner party.

Summary: Perhaps I did something wrong when making this coffee in my Chemex, but I don’t think that brewing method does these beans any favors (which is odd, because Chemexes are known for producing smooth cups of coffee!). However, I do think this coffee is rather nice in a V60 or in an AeroPress. I still prefer lighter roasts, but this is one dark roast I can get behind.

From the roaster: Dark chocolate, cinnamon, dried fruit, cedar

BeanFruit Coffee Company Old Route 4 Dark Roast

Review conducted 6 days post-roast.

Review: Blue Bottle Coffee Bella Donovan (Oakland, California)

My lovely friend Chloé recently made an order from Blue Bottle for two bags of this blend, and she graciously let me have one of them to review. When I started dipping my toe into the world of craft coffee around 5 years ago, Blue Bottle was one of the first craft roasters I tried, and Bella Donovan was one of the blends I tasted at that time (Giant Steps being the other – I’m a sucker for musical references in my coffee naming, and that one evokes John Coltrane AND the Boo Radleys). I remember thinking the Bella Donovan was fine at the time, but that was also back when I brewed almost exclusively in a french press and I still added milk to my coffee (which I don’t do any more). I was looking forward to seeing what I thought of it now!

This probably wasn’t intentional on the part of Blue Bottle, but thanks to the naming, I had Donovan’s “Mellow Yellow” stuck in my head throughout the duration of this tasting, and for a few days afterward. The earworm was reflected in my tasting notes, as you’ll read shortly!

Whole bean: These beans were a medium roast, but with the barest hint of oily sheen to them. I get a little nervous these days when I see oil on the surface of beans, as it generally indicates the coffee is roasted darker than I personally like, but this was such a minuscule amount of oil that I wasn’t too worried. The beans smelled like cedar and clove.

V60: Throughout the tasting, in all brewing methods, even though I occasionally tasted notes of chocolate, the general feeling I got from this coffee is that it’s blended to taste like “coffee.” Since the Donovan track was playing on a continuous loop in my head at this point, I chose to assign treble and bass levels to each brewing method based on what I tasted. This V60 cup had some liveliness to it but was otherwise pretty generic.
Treble: 6 (out of 10)
Bass: 5

AeroPress: No additional water was needed other than what was used for brewing. Nice, fudgy flavor and consistency. Semi-sweet chocolate flavor abounded.
Treble: 4
Bass: 8

Chemex: Not too dissimilar to the V60 cup but a bit on the brighter side.
Treble: 7
Bass: 4

French press: Smoothest flavor but had the least amount of personality. Kind of murky.
Treble: 2
Bass: 7

Espresso: I was kind of underwhelmed with this coffee blend in the pourover brewing methods, but based on the nice result from the AeroPress, I had a hunch that it would make a decent espresso. I was right! The best shot I got from the bag had a lovely chocolaty flavor.

Favorite brewing parameters for this shot: 202 degrees F, 17.5 grams in, 35 grams out at a 25 second extraction.

With milk: Shutterbug tried a latte or two made with the Bella Donovan, and he approved. Not much else to say other than that, though!

Summary: I think this is a good middle-of-the-road coffee, either in drip methods or as espresso. If your tastes run to the more complex, fruity, floral, and distinctive side, you’ll likely be bored with the lack of layers, but this is a coffee that tastes largely like “coffee,” and won’t be offensive to most coffee drinkers. Blue Bottle describes the Bella Donovan as the “wool sweater of our blends – warm, comforting, familiar.” I think they hit the nail right on the head with that description. This may not be marketed as an espresso blend, but I think it shone best pulled as espresso. It also made a delicious fudgy coffee in an AeroPress.

From the roaster: red berries, milk chocolate, caramel

Blue Bottle Bella Donovan

Review conducted 13-14 days post-roast.