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: BeanFruit Coffee Company Ethiopia Sidama Guji (Jackson, Mississippi)

This is the second of two bags of coffee I had the pleasure of receiving from the BeanFruit Coffee Company, based in the Jackson, Mississippi area. Their Kenya Nyeri Chinga Peaberry really knocked my socks off, and I was excited to see how this washed coffee from Ethiopia compared; I do have a soft spot for African coffees!

Whole bean: These beans had a sweet scent like clementines. Lovely!

V60: Brewed at a 3:00 minute extraction, this was a balanced and not overly sweet coffee that had a nice, bright, lively citrus tang.

AeroPress: Pure joy in this cup. As a concentrate, it was sweet, floral, and full of fruity/citrus flavor, with no bitter or unpleasant flavors whatsoever. It was like drinking the sort of sunshine you feel on a beach vacation!

Chemex: This coffee had an rich aroma reminiscent of heavy cream (though not the flavor of cream). Delicate flavor of honeysuckle with an orange-juice finish; beautifully balanced and complex. I loved this.

French Press: Slightly less sweet of a coffee than what resulted from brewing it in a Chemex; more tart, piquant flavor with a fuller-bodied texture.

Summary: Another winner from BeanFruit! If you enjoy citrus flavors in your coffee, this will definitely be your bag. These beans were especially outstanding brewed in the AeroPress and the Chemex.

Disclaimer: I received this product gratis in exchange for a fair and honest review. Even though I received this for free, I treat and test it the same way as if I had paid for it out of my own pocket.

From the roaster: Juicy, tangerine, caramel

BeanFruit Coffee Company Ethiopia Sidama Guji

Review: Corvus Coffee Peru Satipo Finca Tasta (Denver, Colorado)

This is the second coffee I’ve tried from Corvus; the first was their Everyman Espresso, which had nice chocolate and blueberry notes. Thanks to Method Coffee in Dallas for having fresh bags in stock!

One thing I noticed last time but didn’t mention is that Corvus seems to employ unusually long bags to package their beans. Because I have multiple beans at any given time at my house, I keep the coffee in its original bag so that I don’t mix them up or forget what I am drinking. I will typically use a long-handled coffee scoop to transfer the beans from the bag to my scale for weighing and brewing. However, the height of Corvus Coffee’s bags is significantly higher than average, and my coffee scoop just isn’t long enough to reach the beans without my arm having to go halfway into the bag. It’s a minor annoyance, since I can just pour the beans out instead, but if I were able to change the length of their bags, I’d ask them to shorten them by just a few inches (or to glue the bendy-tab thingie a few inches lower so that we could cut the inches off ourselves).

tn_IMG_4656

(A comparison of the length of Corvus Coffee’s bags next to bags from Chromatic Coffee and Roseline Coffee.)

Whole bean: Bright, robust scent with a creamy finish. Ground, I smelled yellow cake and cinnamon.

V60: Nice bright flavor on the front, but there was a strange cardboard flavor on the finish. However, the brew got creamier and sweeter as it cooled.

AeroPress: This was my favorite of the bunch. Thick, rich, spicy coffee that was bright but smooth on the tongue. I drank this as a concentrate (no additional water added) because I really loved the warm cinnamon flavor along with the citrusy notes.

Chemex: Dark chocolate. Overall it was a bit dry on the finish, and not very complex.

French press: This cup smelled just like a Creamsicle (orange and cream)! Creamy mouthfeel, but not very sweet. It had a taste of tart mandarin orange on the finish.

Summary: I particularly enjoyed this coffee made in an AeroPress, as I felt that method brought out the most interesting and lively flavors. The French press was a close second.

From the roaster: Creamy orange, cinnamon, buttery, ripe blood orange, almond brickle

Corvus Peru Satipo Finca Tasta

Review: Wrecking Ball Coffee Ethiopia Classic Yirgacheffe (San Francisco, California)

This is my first experience with Wrecking Ball Coffee. I had initially heard about them through this article on Sprudge, and found their approach to coffee interesting (iced cappuccinos?? I’m not big on iced drinks, but kudos to them for trying something new). Plus, I love that their house espresso blend is named “Pillow Fight“! Someday I will try that blend, but for this particular order, I wanted to go with a single-origin coffee.

Whole bean: Smells a lot like jasmine tea. Once ground, it became SUPER bright and fragrant. I was overwhelmed (in a good way).

V60: A rather flowery-smelling brew with flavors of green grape and dark chocolate.

AeroPress: The concentrate was quite strong, full of grassy/floral flavor. I added just a touch of water and it balanced the coffee for the better. The brew became a little chocolaty with a hint of lavender.

Chemex: For me, this method was the star of the show. Somehow, brewing this coffee in a Chemex made the resulting coffee completely different in character than in the other three methods. It was quite light in color and light-bodied. Ultra easy-drinking brew, with notes of caramel, shortbread, butter, and a hint of lavender. Delicate. Delicious.

French press: Intense aroma of almond and flowers. This was a flavor explosion in the mouth.

Summary: Get your hands on this coffee and brew it in a Chemex for a really superb flavor experience!

From the roaster: Floral, citrusy, clean, complex, balanced.

Wrecking Ball Coffee Ethiopia Classic Yirgacheffe

Review: Chromatic Ethiopia Guji Sidama (San Jose, California)

Chromatic Coffee is where I get one of my favorite espresso blends. I figured it was high time I tried some of their other offerings, so I added a bag of this Ethiopia Guji Sidama to my most recent order.

Whole bean: mild, light, sweet, and fragrant. Reminded me more of perfume than coffee.

V60: At a 2:40 extraction, this coffee was quite floral, like I was walking through a garden. Bright and sunny. It packs quite a punch in flavor!

AeroPress: Brewed as a concentrate, this tasted like lemon pith and flower stems – bitter and grassy. I added some water and it was better, but whoo! This brew made my mouth pucker. The flavor was brighter than neon!

Chemex: Very floral and acidic. Tastes like lemon, grapefruit, and flowers. Springtime in a mug.

French press: This brew had the most body and depth, which combined with the citrus/floral notes, made for a weird combination. It tasted confusing to my mouth – kind of like if there was a chamber music piece consisting of glockenspiel, piccolo, triangle, and trombone.

Summary: This washed Ethiopian coffee reminded me a lot of the Case Coffee Ethiopia Mogeyes, which tasted like I had taken a “mixed bouquet of flowers and spun them in a Vitamix.” Very floral in aroma and flavor, with notes of grapefruit and lemon.

From the roaster: Citrus, floral, round

I JUST ordered this at the end of March but at writing time (early April), it’s already disappeared from the website! Guess I caught them right before they changed their menu.

Chromatic Coffee Online Store

Review: Tweed Coffee Foxtrot Blend (Dallas, Texas)

I usually buy bags of Tweed from Houndstooth Coffee in Dallas (their home cafe), but I happened to come across fresh bags for sale while visiting Oak Lawn Coffee, so it was a win-win situation. For anyone not familiar with Tweed Coffee, they are a major player in the local craft coffee roasting scene here in Dallas; their roastery hosted the first annual Dallas Coffee Day that took place back in October 2015. I have reviewed a few of their other offerings and have been pretty pleased with their beans so far.

Whole bean: Smells like chocolate and candied oranges. Sweet and fresh!

French press: Perky, orange-flavor laden cup with the flavor and body of dark chocolate. As it cooled, the coffee became very smooth and creamy with a vibrant orange flavor – it was vaguely Creamsicle-esque.

Chemex: This had less chocolate flavor; it was a brighter and more acidic cup. The aftertaste was definitely more sugary.

AeroPress: This cup tasted like a combination of orange fruit and orange pith (the white stuff that tastes bitter). Rich body but the flavor was unbalanced. Adding water didn’t really help matters – it just watered down the flavor.

V60: This cup smelled like sugar and orange marmalade. Thin body but very fruity and enjoyable.

Espresso: I opted to experiment a bit with this as an espresso since it is a blend and I was curious if the chocolate/orange flavors would be intensified. Unfortunately, my initial testing was not that promising. The espresso wasn’t bad, but it lacked any notable flavor so I stopped after three rounds.

Summary: I enjoyed this coffee the most in the French press (for the chocolate + orange flavor combination) and the V60 (for the straight up sweet orange flavor).

From the roaster: Chocolate, citrus, balanced

Tweed Online Store

Review: Kuma Coffee Ethiopia Reko (Seattle, Washington)

I’ve reviewed Kuma Coffee before, back when I received a bag through my former subscription with Craft Coffee. That time around, I sampled their Guatemala Finca La Folie, which unlike some Guatemalans I’ve tried in the past, was less about chocolate and more about a pleasant acidity (Riesling wine, grapes, citrus). On a recent visit to Shift Coffee in Denton, the barista pointed me toward this bag after I told him that I was looking for something that wasn’t chocolaty.

Whole bean: Red cherries, citrus, brightly floral notes.

V60: This cup smells sweet and smooth. It wakes up your mouth with the flavor of grapefruit.

AeroPress: Very bright flavors of papaya and grapefruit as a concentrate. Once I added water, it was smoother and less distinctive so I might not be inclined to add too much if I planned to brew it this way again; I like its personality.

Chemex: Sweet and tart cup which puzzled me for a few minutes because it made me think of something I couldn’t put my finger on from childhood. After a bit, I realized it tasted like flat 7-UP soda, with a bit of grapefruit. You see, I used to add fruit juice to lemon-lime soda when I was a kid, and this was very reminiscent of that (without the carbonation, of course).

French press: Not as sweet as the other cups. The thicker body with the bright flavors is really confusing to my palate. I don’t like this. Coffees that have a fairly high acidity level need filtered methods in order to bring out the bright flavors, in my opinion. This would be like having a light, crisp Vino Verde wine but with an oaky Chardonnay body – it just doesn’t match. Love the French press, but not for this particular coffee.

Summary: A nice, lightly roasted coffee that will really capture your interest brewed in a Chemex if you dig these sort of flavors.

From the roaster: Grapefruit, lavender, lemon-lime soda

This coffee is not currently available on Kuma’s online store. Here is a link to their current selections: Kuma Coffee Online Store

Review: Sterling Coffee Roasters Kenya Nyeri Gachatha AA (Portland, Oregon)

This post begins a streak of 5 reviews of Portland-based roasters, and I couldn’t be happier about it! My trip to Oregon was sheer delight; I enjoyed gorgeous sunny weather with a nice cool breeze, mouth-watering food, and of course superb coffee. I’m starting with Sterling partly because it’s the “oldest” coffee in the bunch (which is still not very old at all, at only 10 days old when I reviewed it), and partly because I have a rather special story to go along with it.

Spoiler alert: EXEMPLARY customer service!!!

First, let’s talk about the coffee.

Whole bean: aromas of red wine, dark chocolate, and red fruits (strawberries, raspberries).

V60: My mouth started watering immediately upon taking a sip of this brew. It was more than simply sweet – it had a beautiful complexity to it. I tasted strawberry, lemon, and lychee flavors with a lovely dry finish. Sort of like a fancy strawberry lemonade. I could not stop savoring this cup. What a way to begin!!!

AeroPress: The concentrate was very acidic and lively with a citrusy pop. Once I added some water, it smoothed out. Still perky but more approachable. Nice depth!

Chemex: So smooth. Yum! Great balance in this cup. Light-bodied but with a juicy, creamy finish. The dominant flavors were of tangerine and nougat.

French press: Hello, marshmallow! This was a surprise because I had detected no hint of marshmallow before this. The citrus evident in the other cups was quite muted here. This cup was the sweetest of the four, with a bit of acidity to brighten and enliven things up.

Okay, now for storytime!

I perused the Portland Eater’s 20 Best Coffeeshops and Roasters list and plotted out where I could walk/take transit to in an afternoon. Based on that list, I wandered into Coffeehouse Northwest in Portland and went straight for the bags of Sterling across from the register. There were two people behind the counter and they greeted me with offers to answer any questions I might have. Quickly, I realized that I did indeed have a question: the bags were labeled with a “best by” date, not a roast date. This normally sets off alarm bells in my head because I associate “best by” dates with huge coffee conglomerates and grocery store bags, but clearly Sterling is a small company devoted to quality, so I inquired. Turns out the “best by” date is dated one month after the roast date. My bag of this Kenya Gachatha AA was dated October 14, which meant it was roasted September 14. My visit to this shop was on September 20 (nearly one week post-roast). I knew that I would be buying a LOT of coffee on this trip and I was slightly uncomfortable about buying coffee that was already a week old (since I wanted to consume everything within two weeks of roasting and I didn’t know if I could physically do it), but after hemming and hawing for probably 10 minutes by the bags, I plunked down some cash and bought this bag.

At this point, I sat down to figure out where I was going to go next, and I kept agonizing about this purchase. Is the coffee too old? Should I just order online? Maybe I should visit another shop (there was a Sterling Coffee Roasters shop less than a mile to the north)? What if the other shop doesn’t have this Kenyan (which sounded delicious)?! Will I have time to drink all this??? Argh!!!

I sat at that table for probably another 10 minutes before I walked up to the counter and said, “I know you probably think I’m crazy, but…” I then proceeded to blab about how I’m neurotic about my coffee and I was worried that the coffee would go stale before I had a chance to truly appreciate its potential, I know I’m probably overthinking all this and I completely understand if I can’t return the bag of coffee, but I would feel better about ordering a bag off the website so that I could get one that was closer to the roast date, since I wouldn’t be getting home for another 4 days and possibly not able to even open the bag for another 3-4 days past that, blah blah blah….! The bemused man behind the counter smiled understandingly, and proceeded to inform me that he could tell that I was having a hard time with this, and that he appreciated how much I wanted to experience the coffee at its peak, because…. HE IS THE ROASTER FOR STERLING COFFEE ROASTERS.

At this point I didn’t know if I should be even MORE embarrassed that I let the man who personally roasted this coffee see how nuts I was, or happy that of all people, this man would understand!!! I was a little bit of both. Mostly embarrassed, though. I believe I covered my face in my hands.

Here is where the exemplary customer service comes in. I didn’t catch this man’s name, so I’m just going to refer to him as Mr. Awesome. Mr. Awesome proceeded to refund me for my purchase, but he would not take the beans back. He wanted me to have them, because he felt that I would enjoy them even outside of the two-week window (I believe he said these particular beans maintained peak flavor as far as 20-25 days post-roast), and because he could tell I would really respect the product. He then suggested that if I did like what I tasted, then I could order from the website at a later date as a thank-you. At this point I informed him that I’m a coffee blogger and that he’d be getting a STELLAR write-up about how he went the extra mile to make me happy, and it was his turn to cover his face in HIS hands. Haha!

Summary: This coffee rocks. Purely from the final product in the cup, I can see why Sterling made the list I saw of the best coffee roasters in Portland. I loved it brewed in a Hario V60 in particular for the gorgeous flavors that it coaxed out of this cup, but all of the brew methods tasted outstanding. Sterling offers free shipping, and I can vouch that the people behind this operation are the kind of people I want to give my business to. I’m placing an order for another bag very soon… look for another Sterling review in the next few weeks. 🙂

Thanks, Mr. Awesome!!! (A bit of sleuthing revealed that Mr. Awesome is actually named Adam McGovern. Surely, Awesome could be his middle name, though?)

From the roaster: This Lot #006 Gachatha AA Nyeri Kenya is one of the finest coffees we have ever tasted, full stop. The smell of peaches and strawberry jam fills the room when it’s ground. In the cup you’ll find flavors across the spectrum, everything from oranges to apricots, cherries, and red currants. Seriously, folks, this is one of the ones. Light roasted for drip and press.

Sterling Coffee Roasters Gachatha AA Kenya

Review: Counter Culture Kenya Kamavindi (Durham, North Carolina)

In the 6 months thus far that this blog has been around, the coffee review with the most page views has been the Counter Culture Hologram Espresso. I figured it was high time I revisit Counter Culture’s offerings, but this time I opted to try a single-origin versus one of their blends.

Kenyan coffee has a reputation as being coffee for coffee connoisseurs. It’s not a coffee that has mass appeal, or one that people are likely to appreciate without a certain level of knowledge and experience with coffee. Obviously, there is no Billboard Top 40 chart for coffee, but if there was such a chart, it’s unlikely that any of the top sellers would have much cachet among “coffee snobs.” Music that is marketed toward a mass audience will have a wide appeal and will translate to lots of sales, but may not inspire the same kind of vocal, passionate, devoted following the way that “indie” artists might. There is a Brian Eno quote about the lackluster sales of the Velvet Underground’s debut album, saying that it only sold 30,000 copies in the first five years after its release, but “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” Now, I’m not necessarily saying this coffee tastes like “Venus in Furs,” but it’s not easy listening/easy drinking compared to some other coffees!

My first experience with Kenyan coffee was this Victrola Kenya Nyeri Tambaya Peaberry, which, frankly, I really didn’t like. It was too swampy and savory and off-putting for my taste. I certainly am used to “sweeter” coffees, so tasting something that had so much funk/mushroom/seaweed in it was a shock. However, I did actually rather enjoy the Kenya Kirinyaga from thirty-thirty Coffee, and trying it made me resolved to research more Kenyans. I am not necessarily trying to make myself like Kenyan coffee because I should — I more want to expand my horizons and discover what others see in it.

I was a little surprised to find this Kenya Kamavindi sold in a box rather than a bag, but apparently Counter Culture recently started packaging their single-origin coffees this way. The bag inside the box still has a one-way valve to let air escape, but can’t be resealed; I ended up putting the remainder of the beans in an Airscape canister to keep them fresh.

Whole bean: heady, rich aroma that smelled like molasses and red wine. Ground, it smelled just like blackberry cobbler.

V60: Not too sweet – this cup had a savory, tangy character that reminded me of cherry tomatoes. The finish had some lovely meyer lemon notes.

AeroPress: Sipped as a concentrate, it tasted like straight lemon juice (but thicker-bodied). Once I added water, it added enough sweetness to make the cup pleasantly tart. The lemon-custard flavor and body lingered pleasantly on the tongue.

Chemex: Medium-bodied but surprisingly rich and sweet flavor of lemon and cream with a hint of berry. Delicious stuff! The finish tasted like brown sugar. This might be the “hit single” of the album – the most accessible track that hooks the new listener. Hey there, Sweet Jane.

French press: Raisin aromas in the cup. This particular cup was thick and not very sweet. It most reminded me of red wine (probably something like a Shiraz); complex flavors with a dry finish.

Summary: I am constantly evolving. If I revisit this coffee in a couple of years, maybe I’ll be all about cherry tomato and wine flavors! But at the moment, I like the Chemex itieration the best. I do appreciate the layers and the multi-dimensional character of this coffee. It’s a cup that reveals layers over time, for those who take the time to “peel slowly and see.” (Sorry, couldn’t resist! I’ll stop with the VU references now.)

From the roaster: Blackberry, currants, citrus fruits

Counter Culture Kenya Kamavindi

Review: Stumptown Ecuador Cariamanga Organic (Portland, Oregon)

This bag of Stumptown beans was an impulse buy; it ended up being the final bag of coffee beans I purchased while in Seattle. I had never tried beans from Ecuador before but the description on the bag sounded good, and the beans were extremely fresh.

Incidentally, almost all of the cafes I bought beans from on this trip offered me a free drink with purchase of a bag of beans. Great… except I bought 4 bags in the same day. Even I can’t stomach that much coffee in 8 hours! Stumptown did let me have a small sample (about 2 oz) of their nitro cold brew on tap as my freebie, since I told them I couldn’t handle a full drink. Refreshing stuff. I’m not big on cold brew, but this was nice on a sunny, warm day. It reminded me of a craft beer in texture.

Anyway, back to the Ecuador Cariamanga…

Whole beans: Tannic like tea… my throat tightened up once I smelled the beans. However, there was also a light, sweet note to these beans. You know those orange-slice jellied candies that are covered in granulated sugar and sold in bags at drugstores for 2/$1? These beans smelled like those candies.

orange_slice

French press: Sweet but tart brew with plenty of tannins. Light golden color, even after 4 minutes of brewing. I was most reminded of orange juice with just a touch of honey, along with black tea. Pretty refreshing, actually! The tannins were bothering me enough that I wondered if adding just a bit of sugar would mitigate them. It did – but even just 1/4 tsp of sugar made this brew much too cloyingly sweet for my taste. Blech.

Chemex: Light body. Kind of bland. Where’s the orange character? This coffee was much subtler overall with almost no citrus. It smelled like almond shortbread.

AeroPress: Ahhhh, here’s the orange flavor. Quite tart and brash. Full-bodied and assertive. I made this the traditional way as a concentrated coffee, and ended up not adding any hot water at all.

V60: Super smooth and balanced in the cup. Sweet and citrusy and a little buttery. Much less tart than any of the other methods.

Summary: Not bad at all! This is a very bright, lively coffee. It actually made 4 very different cups of coffee to my taste: French press – tea; Chemex – almond cookie; AeroPress: orange juice; V60: marmalade. Which is best? I liked the AeroPress and V60 versions best; I would probably opt for the V60 most days because I liked its balanced nature but the AeroPress kind of knocked me over with its intense flavors.

From the roaster: Tangerine, butterscotch, almond

This coffee does not appear to be sold online at the moment.

Stumptown Coffee