Review: Brown Coffee Co. Cottonwood Espresso (San Antonio, Texas)

I ordered this bag of the Brown Cottonwood Espresso at the same time that I ordered their Candy Factory. The Candy Factory was roasted May 24, but the Cottonwood must have been roasted to order because it was roasted May 30 (I ordered May 29). There was a bit of delay in the shipping, but it was fine in this case since the beans showed up in plenty of time and I did this tasting on about day 10, which is right around where I like to be for espresso testing.

Whole bean: I forgot to write anything down for this… sorry! I don’t think anything stood out particularly, which is good. The beans must have looked and smelled fine.

Espresso: I had a hard time personally with this espresso, as I was hoping to get a balanced shot with sweetness and smoothness. Frustratingly, I never quite got what it was I was looking for, though I did get some interesting flavors… chocolate, spicy chiles, lemon. No matter how much I varied the temperature (and I tried shots from 197-206 degrees F), the shots all came out awfully bright for my taste.

With milk: I don’t drink milk anymore so Shutterbug has become my tester in this regard. He liked the latte I made him using the Cottonwood espresso, saying that there was a good amount of coffee flavor to it, so perhaps this is an espresso that is designed to be consumed with milk vs. straight.

AeroPress: Now THIS I really liked. The brew that resulted from this method was deliciously rich like chocolate and marshmallow, yet not boring. It tasted a lot like Nutella and s’mores. I wish I could have gotten this flavor in a straight espresso shot!

Summary: Good with milk, but I found this particular blend to be too bright as straight espresso. It does make a decadent cup in the AeroPress, though. I think this is worth investigating how it brews as coffee!

From the roaster: Cottonwood Espresso. Rich, sweet, deep and fruited with chocolate rasberry (sic) notes that explode in the mouth with succulent crema. It gives your palate what it’s looking for: a classic expression of espresso in the American style. At its best, Cottonwood represents the very best of the world’s major coffee growing regions (12oz/340g bag).

Brown Coffee Co. Cottonwood Espresso

Review conducted 10 days post-roast.

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: 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: 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.

Review: Cultivar Coffee Guatemala Diamante (Dallas, Texas)

Ahhh, Cultivar. Over the past couple of years (since I’ve started this blog), I’ve gotten to know quite a few Dallas-Fort Worth area roasters, and Cultivar is consistently one of my very favorites. I don’t drink coffee from them as often as you’d think, since I’m constantly buying coffee from various places around the country (and world!), but they have yet to disappoint. In fact, the very first bag I had from this roaster landed in my Best of 2015 list for its gorgeous plum, chocolate, and spicy sweetness, and the next bag was very memorable as well for its notes of nectarine and creme brulee. I couldn’t wait to crack open this bag of their Guatemala Diamante!

Whole bean: Fresh and clean aroma. Pear, sweet chocolate, cashew.

V60: At an extraction time of 2:20, the coffee had a pleasant, powdery finish. Chocolaty flavor with a hint of nuttiness.

AeroPress. Marzipan. This was awesome!! I enjoyed this as a concentrate – no need to dilute this with water. If I had more of this coffee, I think it would be worth exploring pulling it as a single-origin espresso. Perhaps next time…

Chemex: Bit tangy of a result – I had a hard time pinpointing specific flavors, but it was definitely brighter in the cup than any other method.

French press: This made a really rich, oily cup of coffee, but it didn’t taste “dark” or over-roasted. In fact, compared to the V60 and AeroPress cups, I felt it was a bit lacking in flavor.

Summary: I like Guatemalan coffee for its sweet, nutty characteristics, and getting a cup that tasted like marzipan was pretty freaking delicious. Definitely try this brewed in an AeroPress! It was also very nice, if a little less distinctive, brewed in the V60.

From the roaster: Pear, hazelnut, chocolate

Cultivar Coffee Guatemala Diamante

Review conducted 6 days post-roast.

Review: George Howell Coffee Nicaragua Las Colinas (Boston, Massachusetts)

This was the second bag I recently picked up from Astro Coffee in Detroit (the first being the Andytown Colombia). I had never heard of George Howell Coffee before, but I liked the packaging and the beans were very fresh, so I decided to take a chance.

Once I finished my tasting and I started writing up this review, I realized that I must have been living under a rock, because George Howell is no stranger to the specialty coffee world. It’s worth reading his full story on the roaster’s website, but suffice to say, you don’t get a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Specialty Coffee Association of America just for making cortados. Hats off to you, sir.

Whole bean: Cherry, black tea, bright and refreshing, with a buttery aroma once ground.

French press: Smells like roses and tastes like black tea. Ultra smooth, but kind of hollow in flavor. This doesn’t really taste like coffee at all! This has a thicker texture to it than tea but if I was blindfolded, I might be fooled. Just out of curiosity, I added a splash of milk, but this ended up bringing out different flavors than I was expecting – the milk made the coffee taste more juicy, with notes of lemon and butter.

Chemex: The rose scent and flavor were more on the forefront with this brewing method. Complex, sweet, layered cup.

AeroPress: This had a lovely light, reddish-brown caramel color to it. Much lighter in color than a typical cup of coffee – I think the last time I saw a cup this color might have been the Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters Panama La Milagrosa Geisha. Rich mouthfeel but unlike the OCCR Geisha, it wasn’t super flavorful, even as a concentrate.

V60: This was the best method for these beans, in my opinion. Rose, amaretto, chocolate. Smooth and sweet. This cup was a definite winner!

Summary: Lovely floral notes abound in this coffee. This is quite a light roast and may be strange for people that are used to their coffee tasting “like coffee,” but I really enjoyed it, particularly brewed in the Hario V60 due to the rich flavors and balanced nature of the cup.

From the roaster: Passionfruit, chocolate, black tea

George Howell Coffee Nicaragua Las Colinas

Review conducted at 7 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. 🙂

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: 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: Ritual Coffee Roasters Day Drinker Seasonal Espresso (San Francisco, California)

I had my first experience with Ritual Coffee Roasters while visiting Cognoscenti Coffee in the Los Angeles area, and I was really impressed with the quality of the beans and the flavor that I received in that cup (chocolate, plum, spice). However, I have yet to order online directly from Ritual because 1) their coffee is on the pricey side and 2) their shipping is also on the pricey side. I’m not averse to paying a premium for great-quality beans, but with so many great roasters out there (many of whom offer free or significantly lower shipping costs), ordering from Ritual had fallen lower on the priority list. No roasters local to me carry Ritual, but while in Scottsdale, Arizona, I happened to walk into Maverick Coffee and they were carrying Ritual’s Day Drinker seasonal espresso. When I asked about buying beans, they kindly broke open a 5 lb bag of this stuff and put it into an unmarked 12 oz bag for me. We had a nice chat about brewing methods and tasting notes. I think the staff was kidding, but thanks for the job offer…! 😉

Here’s the espresso I was served in their shop. It took me a little longer than I would have liked to get the photo taken, so you can see that the crema on the espresso is starting to dissipate. Still tasted lovely, like milk chocolate and oranges with a slightly spicy bite to it. I couldn’t wait to experiment more with it at home, as I had a hunch that there would be even more flavors awaiting me. I was right.

Whole bean: Fresh and sweet. I was reminded of the smell of clean laundry. Dryer sheets. Sunshine. Odd but pleasant scent for a coffee!

Espresso: Lots of brightness to this blend at lower temperatures – I got a lot of orange pith in the cup until I cranked my machine up to 204 degrees Fahrenheit. Once I did that, the flavor in the cup smoothed out but still remained wonderfully complex. Sweet, chocolaty, floral, with that same note of laundered freshness that filled up my nose when I smelled the whole beans. I’ve rarely experienced an espresso like this – it reminded me quite a bit actually of Klatch Coffee’s Golden Bean Espresso that was a winner in my “best of 2015” list. This isn’t a normal espresso – I’m actually pretty impressed that Maverick was pulling this as their espresso that day since it isn’t what I would consider to be a “workhorse” sort of espresso. It’s quite special!

Favorite parameters for this blend: 204 degrees F, 17 grams in, 32 grams out, 26 second extraction.

With milk: I don’t typically have espresso with milk anyway, but I was especially averse to adding milk to this espresso. Something this complex needs to be enjoyed on its own! But, I did make a couple of lattes for Shutterbug with this stuff. His comment was that it didn’t taste like coffee. Good flavor, but definitely not a “normal” latte.

AeroPress: This was a surprise. I had expected this cup to taste like a muted version of the espresso, but the main flavor I got in the cup was of toasted marshmallow. The finish was of sweet orange, but the overall taste took me to a campfire. Not what I expected at all but hugely enjoyable!

Summary: Lots of surprises in this cup for adventurous palates. If you’re used to nutty, dark, moody espresso, this brew will be perplexing to you, but don’t knock it ’til you try it! I don’t think this is an espresso you can quaff mindlessly – it’ll make you think. And I sure enjoy thinking. 🙂

From the roaster: Rum-soaked pears, candied ginger, star anise, chocolate covered oranges

(Damn, I need to up my game in the tasting department!! I can definitely see the pear and candied ginger now that they mention it.)

Ritual Coffee Roasters Day Drinker Seasonal Espresso

 

Review: Stumptown Coffee Roasters Sleigh Ride (Portland, Oregon)

I almost never buy “holiday blends,” but this bag was a nice surprise at a Whole Foods location in Phoenix during the Christmas holidays. Impressively, it was only 4 days off roast when I bought it! That’s exceptionally fresh coffee for retail, especially considering that the nearest Stumptown roasting facility is in Los Angeles. I had to laugh a little when I saw the name of this blend, because for a freelance orchestral musician, there’s just about no other piece that evokes December and holiday craziness better than Leroy Anderson’s classic. Shaq conducting the Boston Pops in this piece is traditional viewing for me every year – I dare you to not grin while watching.

Whole bean: Scent of bittersweet chocolate and a hint of orange filled the room when I opened this bag.

V60: Light-bodied cup that tasted of chocolate but with a pleasant bite to the finish (not overly sweet). I wrote in my notes, “really good with vanilla ice cream.” Take that as you will. 😉

AeroPress: Hint of black cherry along with chocolate. Overall flavor is a bit edgy, not very sweet.

Chemex: Sesame seeds?? This cup smelled like tahini paste. Weirdly savory and confounding flavor – what a left turn from the whole bean and the other methods. And yes, my Chemex was clean…

French press: Smooth scent and flavor of dark chocolate with a bit of powdery brightness on the finish. This was my favorite method for these beans.

Summary: For a blend, I was surprised at the flavor variation produced by the different methods. I think brewing it in a French press produces the best cup, as I like the comforting richness and fuller body of this method (it reminds me a little bit of hot cocoa!), and it seems to feel right for wintertime. However, if you like a “cleaner” cup, try it in a V60. And have a nice dessert with it!

From the roaster: Sleigh Ride will bring warmth and joy to your holidays. This cup will take you on a journey with rich notes of chocolate and cherry accented by a touch of marzipan and baking spice to evoke aromas that remind us of holiday celebrations.

I undoubtedly got this bag of Sleigh Ride at the tail end of its availability (right before Christmas), and it’s not on the Stumptown website. However, here’s a link to their current coffees for sale. I can personally vouch for their Hair Bender!

Stumptown Coffee Online Store