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. ūüėČ

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

Review: Novel Coffee Roasters Guatemala Chimaltenango (Dallas, Texas)

I’ve only had Novel Coffee once before (their Ethiopia Idido) but enjoyed it very much, so¬†when I visited Trio Craft Coffee recently and saw fresh bags of this Guatemala Chimaltenango on their shelves, I snapped one up faster than you can say “chemex.”

Whole bean: Bright, lively aroma. HONEY. Really, really strong scent of raw honey. Hint of apple as well, but the overwhelming character of this was honey.

V60: Considering the sweet scent of the beans, this was a surprisingly savory coffee. Hints of cocoa and kelp. Smooth but not very sweet in the cup. 3:30 extraction.

AeroPress: As a concentrate, this had a rich body with the flavor of red apple peels and lemon. Upon adding a bit of water, the lemon flavor dissipated and it became a more generic “coffee” flavor.

Chemex: 4:00 extraction. Very similar to the V60 cup; delicate brew with a hint of kelp. Not very sweet.

French press: Medium-bodied with apple flavor and a hint of kelp.

Summary: This wasn’t a bad coffee, but to me, it was a case of unmet expectations. Since the beans smelled SO sweet and honey-esque, I was expecting something rather different in the cup than I got. Granted, I think most coffees smell different ground vs. brewed, but when you smell raw honey and get kelp? Yeah, not exactly¬†what I was after.

From the roaster: Lively apple, nougat, amber honey

Novel Coffee Roasters Online Store

Review: Klatch Colombia Huila Agustino Forest (Upland, California)

Klatch¬†ranks¬†among my favorite coffee roasters, but I don’t order from them very often because there are just so many roasters I want to try. However, once news broke of their “Overall Champion” award in the Golden Bean Roaster Competition for their Golden Bean Espresso Competition Blend, I knew I had to at least order some of that (that review is forthcoming!), so I threw in this additional bag just because I could.

Whole bean: The aroma was a little creamy, like nougat. After I ground the beans, they opened up to reveal tangerine and cocoa. Ambrosial.

V60: Great depth to this cup. The predominant flavor was of cocoa powder, and it was a little buttery with a nice bit of citrus acidity on the finish to keep it interesting to the palate.

AeroPress: Thick and syrupy as a concentrate. I drank it straight because the dark chocolate + plum flavors in the cup were really gorgeous. It definitely leaned more to the plummy side vs. the chocolate side.

Chemex: Crowd-pleasing cup. I would be comfortable serving this to just about anyone. Notes of cocoa and toffee, not too thick or thin in body.

French press: Slightly syrupy, with a nice medium body. Dark chocolate with a tangerine finish. A slightly more intense version of the V60 cup, which was good in this case.

Summary: There’s something so subtle but lovely about a great cup of Colombian coffee. It isn’t as flashy and colorful as a natural-processed Ethiopian, but it’s not as brooding and dark in character as some Papua New Guinea coffees… it strikes a terrific balance. The french press cup was my personal favorite, but I wouldn’t turn down any of these cups.

From the roaster: This coffee offers a consistent tangerine and lemon-lime acidity. It also provides a well balanced combination of bright red apples with sweet amaretto body, giving a memorable and refreshing finish.

Klatch Colombia Huila Agustino Forest

Review: Flat Track Coffee Roasters Guatemala La Libertad (Austin, Texas)

When I travel, I make a special effort to seek out microroasters. On my recent trip to Austin to see Ride perform at the¬†Fun Fun Fun Festival, I didn’t think that I would have time to visit any Austin-area coffee shops, but to my delight, I spotted this sign on the festival grounds:

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As I stated on my Instagram account, if anyone wants to lure me someplace, this is an effective way to do it.

The coffee tent at the festival was serving up coffee from Heart Roasters and Flat Track, a Austin-area operation. I initially was going to have a cup of coffee from Heart, but it turned out they were only pulling espresso-based drinks with Heart, and I really didn’t feel like a straight shot or a milk drink, so I went with drip from Flat Track (I believe it was an Ethiopian). I also bought a bag of this Guatemalan and they happily told me that I was the first person to buy a bag. Score!

Whole bean: Light scent, a little bit like vanilla wafers and nougat.

French press: Pleasantly tangy. Smells like graham crackers and has a bit of mango and orange flavor. I said out loud, “oh, that’s GOOD.” Yes, I was talking to myself in my kitchen.

Chemex: The scent was like roses and cream. Stunning! There was a bit of lemon on the finish. Less tangy/thick than the press pot version with a drier finish. Nice for those that prefer lighter-bodied cups of coffee.

AeroPress: The concentrate had a lemony bite that was perky but not bitter, and it had a great chocolaty finish. Adding just a bit of water made the finish more powdery.

V60: Clean cocoa flavors in this rather light-bodied cup.

Summary: Having now looked at Flat Track’s tasting notes, I really didn’t pick up on the same things, did I? Nevertheless, this is a very pleasant coffee to drink. My vote would be for brewing it either in a Chemex or a french press.

From the roaster: Sugary lemon, lime, and raisin flavors with a smooth mouthfeel.

Flat Track Coffee Roasters Online Store

Review: Eiland Coffee Roasters Ethiopia Sidamo Ardi (Richardson, Texas)

This past Sunday was the first annual Dallas Coffee Day, and by all accounts it was a smashing success. What a great event! Eight fantastic Dallas-area coffee roasters gathered to celebrate their shared collective passion for craft coffee and the steady elevation of coffee culture in Dallas/Fort Worth. There was such a friendly and welcoming vibe to the whole event. I suppose it’s not surprising that a large room of caffeinated people would be in a good mood, but there really was a terrific convivial feel to the whole day.

The featured roasters were (in alphabetical order):
Ascension Coffee Roasters
Avoca Coffee Roasters
Cultivar Coffee
Eiland Coffee Roasters
Noble Coyote Coffee Roasters
Novel Coffee Roasters
Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters
Tweed Coffee Roasters

I’ve been lucky enough to sample coffee from all of these roasters in some capacity (and I’ve even reviewed a number of them on the blog), EXCEPT for Eiland (same pronounciation as “island”), which is ironic since of all the roasters on this list, they are the closest to my house. Eiland (like all of the other roasters present) had small bags (8 oz) available for sale, so I bought this one after asking the helpful associate which he would recommend if I was just buying ONE bag.

Whole bean: Notes of berry and cocoa. There was a nice depth to this aroma. Ground, I smelled buttery richness. I’m already liking this.

French press: Mostly cocoa flavors with some toasty characteristics. Smooths a bit as it cools. Bold, strong flavor. As it sat, I got a rich, buttery mouthfeel in the cup.

Chemex: Yum. Smooth as silk!! This brew had less cocoa and more berry character but it was not overly fruity or tart. I was surprised at the rich mouthfeel in the cup considering the rather thick Chemex filter. Again, as the coffee cooled, I tasted and felt butter on the palate. Decadently delicious.

AeroPress: I drank this as a concentrate and felt it was pretty strong but pleasant. There was a slight tannic presence but it had a nice cocoa note and brightness of strawberry. More butter on the finish! I’m sensing a theme here.

V60: Bright, sharp scent to this cup, with a toasty, nutty flavor. Very little fruit in this cup but once again, in time I tasted a beautifully buttery finish.

Summary: Of the natural-processed Ethiopians I’ve tried thus far, this particular crop has some of the most emphasis on cocoa/chocolate flavors that I’ve encountered. Since I like berry brightness, I enjoyed the Chemex version of this most, but even that batch wouldn’t be a coffee I would classify as fruity or heavy in berry flavor. This coffee is good for people that like deep chocolaty flavors and buttery richness in their brew. Approachable, comforting, and delicious, with just a little hint of interesting character that keeps you thinking about drinking more!

From the roaster: Jam, cinnamon, cocoa nibs, buttery, medium body, strawberry-like acidity, natural (dry) process

Eiland Coffee Roasters Ethiopia Sidamo Ardi Natural Process

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: Publik Coffee Roasters El Salvador Calera Blanco (Salt Lake City, Utah)

Thanks again to my friend Alison for sending me this bag!

Publik Coffee Roasters took their name from the Dutch word for community, with the idea that coffee is something that brings people together. This bag did not have any tasting notes on it, so I went into this with no preconceived notions about what flavors and aromas I would smell (I would later get the info from the company’s website).

Whole beans: Delicate, shy aroma. Not very fragrant. Once ground, however, it definitely asserted itself. I smelled raisin, nectarine, and a whole lot of dark chocolate.

V60: As I was brewing this cup and the water was saturating the grounds, the kitchen started smelling like I was baking brownies. Once I tasted the cup, my immediate thought was, “this tastes almost exactly like chocolate milk.” Keep in mind, I hadn’t added ANYTHING to the coffee other than hot water. It wasn’t a very full-bodied cup, but the flavor was very intensely chocolaty. I couldn’t really taste anything other than chocolate… the fruit flavors I detected in the ground beans were not coming forth.

Just for kicks, I added a splash of whole milk. SO CHOCOLATY. I’m sorry I don’t have more descriptive words for this – what synonyms can there be for chocolate? I felt like I was drinking a glass of Nestle Quik (but less sweet).

AeroPress: Not a bad cup, but I didn’t detect anything particularly distinctive about this coffee brewed this way. It tasted like coffee. Smooth, but pretty one-dimensional. I didn’t even taste chocolate.

Chemex: Light, milk-chocolate flavor with just a hint of raisin.

French press: The most full-bodied of the bunch (not surprisingly), it tasted more like dark chocolate vs. milk chocolate, with a really creamy flavor. As it cooled, slight notes of nectarine and caramel started coming forth in the cup.

Summary: Here’s another coffee that will please chocolate fans. The V60 makes the¬†coffee¬†so sweet, you’d swear it was chocolate milk (especially if you actually add milk). The french press makes a richer, more complex chocolaty brew.

From the roaster: Aromas of cherry, cocoa powder, and nougat give way to flavors of dark chocolate and soft caramel in the cup. As it cools, the cup anchors in a juicy peach acidity and clover honey sweetness.

Publik El Salvador Calera Blanco

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

Review: Kaladi Brothers Coffee Costa Rica San Pablo (Anchorage, Alaska)

When I visited Seattle, my intention was to pick up as many locally-roasted Pacific Northwest coffees as I could feasibly drink in the next few weeks. This bag of Kaladi Brothers was the sole exception I made, mostly because I didn’t think I’d ever get another chance to try coffee from an Alaskan roaster without paying for shipping from Alaska, and because the coffee promised to be unlike anything I had ever tried before based on the processing description on the packaging.

(Maybe Alaska can be considered FAR Pacific Northwest?)

Walking into the Kaladi Brothers cafe reminded me a bit of the old TV show¬†Northern Exposure. It felt pretty rustic, with lots of wood. Hardly the sterile, gleaming, glass/metal facade that you see at so many modern cafes. I didn’t see any bags of beans for sale, so I asked a barista and she went in the back and got me some. Here is where I broke one of my cardinal rules of coffee bean shopping. There was no roast date on the bag, but the barista assured me that the beans were very fresh (roasted within the past week), and she also said that this Costa Rica was her favorite. Ordinarily, I don’t buy beans without a roast date clearly labeled, but again, this was probably my one chance to try this brand, so I decided to go for it.

What makes this coffee different from other roasters? Their website has more information, but the major difference between this brand and other specialty coffee roasters is that Kaladi FREEZES all of their roasted coffee within 18 hours of roasting, which “ensures our coffee is absolutely ‘roaster fresh’ when you purchase it” (quote taken from the packaging). Freezing coffee is a hot (sorry, couldn’t resist!) topic in the coffee world, as some people swear it ruins the flavor and others claim there is no difference. I plan to be conducting my own experiment this month regarding freezing and brewing roasted beans, to see if there is a degradation of flavor. From a practical standpoint, shipping from Anchorage takes such a long time that I’m not surprised they freeze their beans to try and extend its shelf life.

Before I started my tasting, I accidentally knocked the bag over and some beans spilled onto my counter. Check out these whole beans (a truly random sample – these four beans were the ones that spilled out):

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Notice the varying bean sizes and degrees of roast? The entire bag was like this. According to the packaging, Kaladi uses a hot air roaster vs. a traditional barrel roaster, which “results in a clean, uniform roast, that’s free of the bitter-tasting tars left behind in traditional roasters.” I will concede that the final product was not bitter, but the bag was full of different sized beans (some of which I swear are peaberries!), which would make it impossible to achieve a truly uniform roast.

The aroma of the whole beans had a smokiness to it, with buttery shortbread and just a hint of bittersweet chocolate. A few days after I opened the bag, the beans started smelling like gasoline. (!)

French press: This produced a cup that tasted like toffee and cocoa powder. Very dark and rich coffee.

Chemex: This coffee was quite sweet with a butterscotch flavor.

AeroPress: Extremely smooth with a chocolate fudge flavor.

V60: Nothing memorable in this method. I wrote “meh” in my notes.

I typically gravitate toward lighter roasts than this; this Kaladi coffee seemed like it was roasted a¬†notch below Starbucks in roast level; fairly dark, but not burnt or oily. This particular coffee is one-dimensional to my palate, but if you like butterscotch/chocolate flavor, you might want to try this out. I have no way of comparing this coffee of course to an unfrozen batch, so I can’t say if the freezing hurt the flavor at all, but I was a little unnerved by the gasoline scent after the bag had been opened for about 3-4 days.

Summary: Filtered methods seem to bring out the best in this coffee: AeroPress for chocolate fudginess; Chemex for butterscotch sweetness. The inconsistent bean size and roast level, as well as the lack of¬†transparency¬†about how fresh the coffee truly is, makes it unlikely that I’ll choose to purchase this particular brand again.

From the roaster: No tasting notes provided

Kaladi Brothers Coffee