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: Redroaster Coffee Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Aricha (Brighton, England)

I had the great luck and pleasure of being able to spend just over a week traveling in southern England earlier this year. One of my destinations on this trip was the seaside city of Brighton, and the weather really was idyllic during my visit: sunny, breezy, and comfortable. My sunglasses got a lot of use — not something I expected to happen in England!

There were several coffee shops that popped up on my radar to check out, but I was limited on time, so I chose to visit the Red Roaster Coffee House because of the good reputation of their beans, and it happened to be a short walk from the B&B where I was staying. Upon walking in, I felt immediately comfortable – it was an airy, spacious shop, with lovely round tables and antique looking coffee decor lining the walls (including some vintage equipment). I ordered a Colombian coffee made as a pourover, and it was delicious – a nice slightly minty, chocolaty bite prevailed in this brew. My only quibble was that they served the coffee to me in a glass (like the kind of glass that I would get at a pub). It looked attractive, but the coffee cooled down much more quickly when served in a glass vs. when served in a mug/thick ceramic. By the time I got to the end of my cup, it was quite cold.

I opted to get these Ethiopian beans as they were the freshest they had available. There actually was an issue with the stamped roast date; it was stamped as roasted on August 22, but according to the baristas, it was actually roasted on September 1. I opted to trust the baristas on this even though I was a bit nervous about this. I ended up doing the tasting on September 16, so I hope they were correct! The coffee seemed decently fresh, so I am inclined to trust them.

Whole bean: almond, amaretto, licorice, peach

V60: Bitter at the forefront – too long of a brew (at 3:20)? When I tasted it again 5 min later, the coffee had smoothed out some but it was still quite a punch to the face. Assertive. Thick. No fruit flavor; mostly tasted of black licorice.

AeroPress: DARK hot chocolate. So sweet and smooth! Shocking, especially compared to the V60 cup! Peach on finish.

Chemex: Caramel on the front. Amaretto on the finish.

French: I just wrote “complex” in my notes with no other details. I’m gonna guess it was pretty confounding.

Summary: I have had a lot of Ethiopian coffee over the past few years, both natural- and wet-processed. This coffee was unlike any other Ethiopian coffee I’d had before, with its unexpected flavors of licorice and stone fruit combined with almond/amaretto. It was a nice reminder to not just assume all Ethiopian coffees will fit a narrow flavor profile (berry sweetness for natural-processed; floral/citrus for washed varieties).

From the roaster: No flavor notes provided by the roaster.

Redroaster Coffee doesn’t appear to sell their beans online, but you can find them at their cafe in Brighton, England, or contact them about wholesale orders through their website.

Review: MauiGrown Coffee Company 100% Kona (Hawai’i)

Hawai’i is the only state in the USA that grows coffee, and Kona coffee in particular has a reputation for being both very mild in flavor and very expensive. It’s hard to get your hands on 100% Kona coffee on the mainland; finding blends is much more common. Certain roasters do offer fresh-roasted Kona beans (for instance, Peet’s Coffee has 100% Kona available on their website, roasted once a week). However, with so many varieties of coffee available at more reasonable price points, splurging on 100% Kona wasn’t really a priority for me. However, when one of my students told me she was going on vacation with her family to Hawai’i, I couldn’t resist asking her if she would mind bringing back some coffee. Happily, she obliged, and this was one of the two types of coffee she brought back for me. Thanks, K! ūüôā

Whole bean: These beans looked to be roasted to about a Full City level; nice medium roast. There was the barest hint of cherry, but overall the aroma was¬†simply a strong “coffee” scent,¬†the kind that anyone that enjoys coffee would smell and go, “ahhhh.”

French press: Simple flavor of semi-sweet chocolate. One-dimensional, but a good dimension if you enjoy chocolate!

Chemex: This method yielded a sweeter cup, that tasted more of milk chocolate. It had a rather delicate fragrance, that wasn’t as assertive as the whole beans.

AeroPress: Brewed at 175 degrees F, this cup tasted of chocolate-covered almonds. This was the smoothest cup of the four, with no additional water needed (other than what is used for brewing). I do encourage drinking this as a concentrate!

V60: Very similar to the AeroPress cup, with a hint of butter on the finish. Delicious.

Espresso: Based on how much I liked this coffee in the AeroPress, I opted to try this¬†as espresso. It had a lovely reddish-brown color, but the flavor was pedestrian. Admittedly, I didn’t do very many pulls of this bean in my espresso machine before writing this review, but I definitely enjoyed it more when brewed as drip coffee.

Summary: 100% Kona coffee is expensive and difficult to get unless you live in Hawai’i, but if your coffee tastes run to the chocolate/almond/smooth side, it might be worth getting your hands on some as a splurge! I liked this particular coffee best in the AeroPress and V60.

From the roaster: Kona coffee is grown only in the Kona district of the Big Island of Hawai’i. Most Kona coffee is the Typica variety. Not all Konas are alike. Depending on altitude, soil, nutrition, pulping, drying, and roasting, Kona coffees can vary greatly. MauiGrown Coffee Company Store has selected a Kona coffee with what we consider is a Classic Kona Taste.

This 100% Kona is not available on the MauiGrown website (as of press time), but here is a link to their online store: MauiGrown Coffee Company Store

Review: The Missing Bean Unbirthday Blend (Oxford, England)

This tasting is a direct result of me getting to spend a little over a week in a dream destination for me (England) so though I’m going to remain as objective as possible about the coffee, I can’t help but smile when I think about just about everything related to this journey.¬†Rose-colored glasses alert ahead!

This trip¬†was an opportunity to see family in London and to bask in the ephemeral beauty of live music. In between concerts, I got to spend a day and a half exploring the city of Oxford. What a stunning, gorgeous place. I am incredibly envious of all¬†those who¬†get to live in a¬†city¬†that is such a feast for the eyes! I won’t bore you all by recounting every jaw-droppingly beautiful sight I saw on my visit, but there were many. However, my favorite part of my time in Oxford was getting to spend time at a pub with¬†my friends Mark and Katie. Katie had previously¬†tipped me off that¬†I needed to check out a particular coffee shop in Oxford called The Missing Bean, so that was one of my first stops the morning after I arrived. At their cafe, I enjoyed two double espressos that had a lingering, decadent flavor of toasted marshmallows and honey.

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That’s one happy coffee¬†geek pictured. Good grief, my right hand looks HUGE! Am I a fiddler crab??

Later that same evening, Katie and Mark surprised me with a bag of this Unbirthday Blend, which made me so happy because I hadn’t purchased any beans at the shop and the roastery (on the other side of town) had closed before I had an opportunity to get there. I misread the label initially and thought it said Unhappy Birthday Blend, and I got rather excited until I re-read it and realized it wasn’t a Smiths reference. Oops.

(Just a thought to the Missing Bean: I’m sure there are probably copyright issues involved with doing this, but how cool would it be to name your blends after songs by Oxford bands/musicians?¬†OX4. Morning Bell. Hot Fruit.)

When I did this tasting at home, I was a bit under the weather with a head cold, so I probably didn’t get to really experience the full flavor/aroma of this coffee.

(Spoiler alert: It was still massively enjoyable!)

Whole bean: I didn’t look to see what the blend consisted of before opening this bag, but I could pick out the scent of natural-processed Ethiopian beans with no problem. That berry brightness is so distinctive that there is no hiding it! I also smelled caramel, dark chocolate, and blackcurrants, particularly once the beans were ground. What a deliciously intense aroma!

V60: I made this twice, and at both a 2:40 and 3:10 extraction, the resulting brew was a bit less flavorful than I had hoped. The scent of the ground beans was quite sweet, but the coffee had a bit of a flavor like lemon pith (moreso with the shorter extraction time). However, the coffee did smooth out in flavor as it cooled.

AeroPress: This was my favorite method for these beans. I actually “ooooh”ed¬†in the kitchen when I took my first sip of this brew! Beautiful caramel/butterscotch flavor in the cup, with a lovely touch of blackberry flavor to brighten up the brew¬†and keep it multi-dimensional. This cup highlighted what I like about good blends – making a good coffee blend is like adjusting the treble/bass levels until you get just the right balance of sound out of your stereo. Don’t dilute this AeroPress concentrate with water, as the coffee was perfectly balanced and richly flavored straight out of the brewer. I tried this the way I always brew with the AeroPress (regular method) but I suspect if you use the inverted method, it would be even better.

Chemex: Clean, sweet aroma at a 4:00 extraction, but this method had the same issue for me as the Hario V60 – I think it’s just tricky using a pourover method in this case to extract all the full flavors this blend is capable of. I was left wishing for a bit more dimension.

French press: After tasting the AeroPress cup, I had high hopes for this brewing method, and it didn’t disappoint. It was a delicious blend of tastes – I couldn’t pick out any one predominant note but it was lively and kept me sipping to try and figure it out. Dangerously addictive, all these layers of flavor. It’s like one of those songs that you can listen to repeatedly without getting bored.

Summary: This blend shines beautifully in immersion methods. Caramel and berry flavors are the main highlights, and it’s an absolute stunner in the AeroPress.¬†Thanks to The Missing Bean¬†for adding to the list of things I adore about Oxford… the architecture, the history, the music scene, the people… and now, the artisan coffee. I hope¬†to have a chance to return in the future to try some of your single-origin coffees!

From the roaster: No tasting notes on the bag or the website, but the bag does state that the Unbirthday Blend is a combination of Ethiopia Sidamo Guji, Guatemala Fedecocagua, and El Salvador El Engenio.

Sadly, The Missing Bean does not sell their beans online,¬†so you’ll have to trek to Oxford to get their beans. I wish I didn’t live so far away!

The Missing Bean

Review: 1818 Farms Celebration Blend (Mooresville, Alabama)

I would classify myself as an inquisitive coffee drinker. Coffee has become a rather serious hobby of mine, and all of my delicious “research” has given me a huge level of appreciation for the work that goes into bringing millions of people around the world their daily¬†cup. I like being pushed and stretched and challenged by the coffee I drink most days – it’s exciting to me to encounter unexpected surprises in my mugs. But, not everyone wants this from coffee! Lots of people out there want a coffee that they can count on, that will be consistently delicious, and that will be a bright spot in an otherwise challenging, stressful, and unpredictable day. For these folk, I definitely recommend that you check out blends.¬†Good blends combine the attributes of multiple origins to ideally give you the best of all worlds in a cup, and good roasters/blenders know how to make that flavor consistent from year to year, even with all the changes that can happen to coffee crops.

I was contacted through this blog by the lovely folks at 1818 Farms about reviewing their private label coffee. 1818 Farms is not a coffee roaster; they appear to be much more than that. Their motto/tagline is “Life the way it used to be,” and as I read up on them on their website, they’re not kidding. For a city girl like me, it’s hard to imagine a place like 1818 Farms, where¬†“residents” refer to sheep and goats and hens and pigs! Read more about them here.¬†

Note: For consistency and objectivity, I make it a rule to only buy from¬†roasters that put roast dates on the bags, and I taste coffee within two weeks of roasting. 1818 Farms doesn’t have roast dates on the bags, so I don’t know when these beans were roasted. Based on the bloom and behavior of the beans while brewing, I’m going to guess they were around 12-18 days¬†old when I got them – not completely stale, but not at peak freshness.

Whole beans: Chocolate ice cream. I could definitely get behind this! Once ground, the beans smelled like dark chocolate and marshmallows. Quite sweet.

AeroPress: Nice blend of flavors! Rich taste and texture without tasting burnt. Smooth enough to go down easy but not boring. There’s no need to add water to this concentrate assuming you like a nice strong coffee. To me, this cup tastes like the best possible version of an old-fashioned cup of coffee. I can’t tell from drinking it what the bean origins are or how it was brewed, but I really don’t care. If I was traveling and staying in a bed-and-breakfast and was served this coffee, I’d be pretty thrilled. It tastes comforting yet invigorating.

Chemex: Slightly brighter brew. Since I had tasted the deeper, richer flavors that these beans were capable of, I was a tiny bit let down by this method because I really think it benefits from the thinner filter, but it was a perfectly pleasant cup of coffee.

French Press: Thick, fudgy brew, with just a hint of bitterness at the end. Not quite as smoothly flavored as the AeroPress or Chemex cups, but I bet this would be awesome with a touch of half-and-half.

V60: This ended up being the last brew method I tried (about a week after receipt), and for some reason, while brewing, the odor of rubber/car tires made itself present. Strange! Thankfully, the coffee itself didn’t taste like rubber, but it was a bit bitter, even with just a 2:40 extraction. I don’t know if the beans were too¬†old at this point, or if it was the brewing method, but I’d plan to stick with a different brew method.

Summary:¬†I think this blend’s goal was to be a humble, uncomplicated, good coffee that would be rich and satisfying, and it succeeds quite well! It evokes a simpler time, before the coffee industry got so complex and¬†scientific. If you’re looking for old-fashioned coffee, but better, give this a try, particularly if you have an AeroPress. This is also an excellent coffee if you choose to add cream and/or sugar.

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: Frolick like a lamb throughout the day with the help of our Medium Roast Blend.

1818 Farms Online Store

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).

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(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: Novo Coffee Roasters Rwanda Bufcafe (Denver, Colorado)

After reviewing the Novo Ethiopia Guji, I was a little apprehensive about cracking open the next bag. I didn’t hate the Guji, but it wasn’t quite what I had hoped. This bag from Rwanda promised to be pretty different, so I sliced it open and dove in.

Whole bean: The scent was earthy with notes of maple syrup, blackberry, and seaweed. Hmmmm…

French press: Smooth, a little bland but sweet with a medium body. I was starting to get concerned about this trend of “bland” that I was noticing but maybe I just didn’t steep the coffee long enough (I opted for my usual 4 minutes here).

Chemex: Though the coffee smelled syrupy sweet, the resulting brew was not quite as sweet in flavor and had a interesting bit of smokiness to it. It finished with a flavor like caramel.

AeroPress: Thick and rich cup – I didn’t add any water. It had a nice toffee flavor to it, with some brashness on the finish, but the brashness kept things interesting.

V60: Deep dark flavor of brown sugar, maple, and toffee. Simple but satisfying.

Summary: I think this coffee will please fans of flavors like toffee/caramel. Unlike the same roaster’s Ethiopia Guji, I think I liked this coffee brewed in the pourover methods best. Opt for a Chemex if you like a bit of smokiness; go with the V60 if you want just sweetness.

From the roaster: Grape, dark chocolate, almond butter

Novo Coffee Roasters Rwanda Bufcafe

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: Commonwealth Coffee Colombia Carlos Mu√Īoz Nari√Īo (Denver, Colorado)

When I visited Oak Lawn Coffee¬†in Dallas and purchased¬†beans recently, I got a free to-go cup of drip coffee. That cup of drip was so tasty, I turned right around and walked back into the shop to demand (nicely!) to know what it was, and it turned out to be this roast from Commonwealth. On a later visit, I was finally able to pick up a bag and I couldn’t wait to try it at home!

Whole bean: mild aroma with orange notes.

French press: Citrus/orange flavor that predominates through a thick texture and flavor of milk chocolate.

Chemex: Light body with a mild milk chocolate flavor. Less orange in this cup.

AeroPress: Straight up, it was toasty, thick, and rich. It was a little much for me as a concentrate so I would recommend adding water to lighten things up.

V60: Dark chocolate flavor; less sweet than the Chemex cup, but still quite pleasant. Arguably more pleasant!

Summary: Chocolate and orange flavors combine for a very easy-drinking, smooth cup. I happen to really like the orange notes so the french press version was my personal favorite.

From the roaster: I mistakenly threw out the bag before writing up this review so I don’t have the full tasting notes from Commonwealth, but there was definitely chocolate and orange listed! Oops.

This particular coffee is not offered currently on Commonwealth’s website.

Commonwealth 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