Review: Cuvée Coffee Guatemala Hunapu (Austin, Texas)

Cuvée Coffee is regularly featured at my local Whole Foods market, but I don’t buy it very often because the beans aren’t often on the shelf within two weeks of the roast date (which is a common situation when you buy coffee at retail outlets like markets). However, I lucked out recently when I spotted this bag of their Guatemala Hunapu, and I realized it had been a LONG time since I had reviewed any Cuvée (the last time was their Decaf Spicewood 71, back in May 2015!). So, into my basket went this bag.

Whole bean: White sugar, cherries.

V60: Strong and nutty. There was a bit of flavor like almond skin. A tad overwhelming taken black – I expected more sweetness, given the sweet aroma of the beans.

AeroPress: Very thick and smooth brew with a bit of floral character. Not very sweet.

Chemex: Much better in my view vs. the V60 cup. Something about this method took away the strong bite. Sugary and light-bodied coffee but very smooth flavor like marzipan. Bit of cherry on the finish.

French press: Best of the four in my view. Fudgy, sweet, floral, nutty. Tasted like almond butter with some complexity, and it only got better as it cooled.

Espresso: On a hunch, I tried these beans as a single-origin espresso. I only pulled four shots or so, but it produced a really promising result that convinced me that these beans would be great in this method. Even over 2 weeks post-roast, there was an outrageous amount of crema, and the espresso tasted sweet and smooth. Delicious stuff.

Summary: Taken as a coffee, I like this brewed in a French press best, with the Chemex a close second. Works arguably even better as a single-origin espresso!

From the roaster: Nutty, orange zest, dried cherry

Cuvée Coffee Guatemala Hunapu

Review conducted 12 days post-roast (coffee), 16 days post-roast (espresso).

Mini review: Slightly Coffee Roasters Guatemala Chochajau (Eugene, Oregon)

When Slightly Coffee’s head roaster, Joe (yes, that really is his name! How appropriate, right?), sent me the sample of his excellent Ethiopia Torea Village, he also included a small bag of this Guatemala Chochajau. It was a bit too small of a quantity for me to do a full battery of tests in my usual brewing methods (Hario V60, AeroPress, Chemex, French press) so I opted to skip the Chemex and to just try the coffee in the other three methods.

Whole bean: There was just the barest hint of oil on these lovely medium-roast beans. The beans smelled nutty with a hint of cocoa. I was reminded of Nutella.

French press: Tangy, rich, delicious cup that had a great balance of tangerine complexity and milk chocolate sweetness.

AeroPress: A really sweet, thick, fudgy cup of coffee. Decadent!

V60: A much more mild cup than the other methods. Clean, light-bodied brew that tasted of semi-sweet chocolate with walnut on the finish.

Summary: This is a really pleasing Guatemalan coffee that should appeal to just about everybody! The rich sweetness of nutty chocolate with the hint of complexity and brightness from the tangerine really tastes great straight out of the French press. However, if citrus isn’t really your thing (but chocolate and nuts are), try this coffee in one of the other brewing methods.

From the roaster: Flowers and spice, everything nice

Slightly Coffee Roasters Guatemala Chochajau

Review conducted 4 days post-roast.

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.

 

Review: Trader Joe’s Colombia Geisha (Monrovia, California)

Despite me listing Monrovia, California as the home base, the Trader Joe’s chain of markets can be found all over the United States, in 41 states and in the District of Columbia. It’s a place I enjoy shopping for groceries, as they have products available no place else, and I’ve appreciated their range of items and their quality, especially in the cheese, wine, and gluten-free categories. I used to buy coffee in their signature store brand canisters, because the price was low compared to other stores, but eventually started buying directly from roasters since there’s no real way to tell exactly how fresh Trader Joe’s coffee is (no roast dates are printed on the packaging). I’ve also heard anecdotal evidence of rocks being found in the beans and ruining grinders, so keep an eye on your coffee beans, kids!

Anyway, when I recently popped into a Trader Joe’s in Dallas, I had no intention of buying coffee, but I happened to catch sight of the display that held these canisters of Geisha coffee. Geisha coffee? At a TJ’s? I was skeptical about the quality. Past purchases of Geisha coffee for me have run anywhere from $30-40 per 8 oz, and Trader Joe’s was selling theirs for $20 per 8 oz. Much cheaper, but there was no roast date (just a “best by” date of March 22, 2018)… Ordinarily I would have walked away, but I was curious enough to try it (call it professional curiosity), to see if it was worth the chance. Plus, the “limited edition” packaging was a little hard to resist, as they numbered their cans and made it feel like an accomplishment to get one of the 48 cans allotted to this particular store location. Naturally, I searched until I got can #1. Felt almost as good as getting copy #1 of a piece of limited edition vinyl!

Geisha coffee, while originating in the village of Gesha in Ethiopia, can now be sourced from various places around the world. It produces a comparatively small amount of crop relative to other coffee plants, and the flavors are remarkably complex and floral. I’ve reviewed several varieties of Geisha coffees (three from Panama, one from Ethiopia) and all have been different but all have been markedly more layered than a standard coffee.

Trader Joe’s packaging didn’t make it clear what country this Geisha originated from, and it was only after reading the small print down the side of the can that I found out it came from Colombia. With the lack of roast date (just a “best by” date), I was seriously concerned that any complex/floral notes might be completely absent from the coffee… these things are best experienced when the coffee is extremely fresh (less than 3 weeks old at the max!). Was this a case of a money grab just off the back of the Geisha name?

Whole bean: hint of rainier cherry, but not much else. Mild. Not a bad start but not much character yet.

French press: Oh, this was a disappointment. My notes read:
“So bland. WTF?”
This tasted like a really weak cold brew. The flavor was that of marshmallow fluff, but without the sugar. Rich texture to this cup but no real flavor.

Chemex: Minimal bloom in the brewing, which just confirmed to me that this coffee was way past its peak of freshness. The extraction was quite fast and unbelievably, there was even less flavor in this cup vs. the French press cup. There was a bit of acidity on the finish but overall this coffee just made me mad because of its wasted potential.

AeroPress: Best of the lot. Fudgy texture and a flavor that had a hint of rose and nuts. This is only tolerable as a concentrate; as soon as you add even a little bit of water, it becomes bland.

V60: I purposely ground this quite fine to give the coffee as much extraction time as I dared. After 3:40, I tasted the brew. Nothing. It tasted like water!

Summary: If you want to splurge on a Geisha coffee, get a Geisha from a roaster that does it right, in small batches roasted to order. Cut-rate, stale Geisha is a waste of time and money. I love many things about you, Trader Joe’s, but this to me is a clear attempt to jump on the specialty coffee bandwagon and get people to part with their hard-earned cash on a product that is not worthy. Given the large reach of TJ locations around the country, there’s no real way to source enough of one crop of Geisha for all of your stores (even with limited cans) or to do proper quality control on a product that has such a short shelf life. Perhaps these beans were more delicious when fresh, but that time passed long ago, and I can’t recommend that anyone interested in coffee purchase these.

From the roaster: Full body with citrus notes

Trader Joe’s homepage

Review conducted at ????? days post-roast (who the hell knows?)

 

Review: MauiGrown Coffee Maui Mokka (Hawai’i)

This is the second of two varieties of coffee that one of my students brought me from Hawai’i (the other was the MauiGrown 100% Kona I wrote about last week). Unlike the Kona, which came in a blue opaque bag, the Maui Mokka came in a bag which had a clear front to it, so you could easily see the quality of the beans. The first thing I noticed was that the roast level looked to be on the lighter side of medium – lighter than the Kona beans, but still definitely in “medium” roast territory. The second thing I noticed was how small the coffee beans were. When green (unroasted) coffee beans are roasted, they expand in size, so the green beans for the Maui Mokka blend must be miniscule!

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MauiGrown 100% Kona bean on the left; MauiGrown Maui Mokka bean on the right.

Whole bean: toasty aroma of dark chocolate.

V60: I made this twice. The first time, at a 2:15 extraction time, I felt it was rather bland. The beans were so tiny that I figured they would be rather dense, so I set my grinder to a coarser level than usual, but apparently that was the wrong thing to do. The second I made this, at a 3:00 extraction time, I felt it came out a bit bitter but still plain tasting. Not a fan of these beans in this brew method.

AeroPress: Now THIS was better. Straight-up fudgy goodness in the cup. No need to add any water to dilute the concentrate, as this went down super easy!

Chemex: This had a bit of bite on the finish, but it was too close in character to the V60 cup. Pass.

French press: Much better! This cup had a rich mouthfeel, with a lovely amount of body and sweetness. It had a delicious comforting flavor of chocolate throughout.

Summary: Try this particular coffee in immersion methods like the AeroPress and French press for best flavor.

From the roaster: MauiGrown is famous for our Maui Mokka variety which we refer to as our Champagne of coffee. The seed stock for the Maui Mokka originated in Yemen and was planted on the Ka’anapali Estate in the 1980s. MauiGrown Coffee Co. is the only commercial grower of this variety in the world.

MauiGrown Coffee Maui Mokka

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: 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

Review: Ah Cacao (Playa del Carmen, Mexico)

When Shutterbug and I found out we would be heading to Mexico for the destination wedding of some friends, I started doing a little research regarding where to buy coffee beans. Though Playa del Carmen does have a local coffee roasting company (Cafe Kaawa), they are unfortunately closed on Sundays, and the specialty grocery store in Playa that carries Cafe Kaawa is ALSO closed on Sundays, so that thwarted my plan. Instead, we opted to visit town and just explore, and this is how we ended up at Ah Cacao.

Ah Cacao appears to be a local chain of chocolate/coffee shops, where the focus is on the chocolate. They carry chocolate bars, cocoa powder, chocolate body products, chocolate ice creams… it’s a chocoholic’s paradise. Their coffee menu looks similar to what you might find at any second-wave coffee shop in the USA, complete with iced blended drinks. Most of the beans on the shelf were pre-ground, but there were a few bags of whole beans, so I grabbed the freshest one I could find, which was dated 21 Feb 2016 (My hope is that they packed the beans 21 Feb 2015, which means they were about 9 days old when we purchased them). The beans were still degassing and the bag was releasing delicious aromas of chocolate-almond goodness. I put the bag of coffee on my nightstand at the hotel, which made sleeping simultaneously pleasant and torturous!

This was my first experience with Mexican coffee. There was no origin listed on the bag, but based on my tasting notes, I am guessing these beans are mostly or completely sourced from Oaxaca, which is known for chocolaty flavors in their coffee. I suppose it’s only natural that a place called Ah Cacao would go that route.

French press: This was my favorite preparation method for this coffee. The coffee was chewy, thick and viscous with a fudgy flavor. It had a hint of nut flavor as well (peanut/almond), and it was like a brownie without all the sugar. No fruit flavor whatsoever. Smooth and satisfying if you’re looking for a very comforting cup!

Aeropress: This also made an enjoyable cup. If you don’t care for grit or the thicker mouthfeel of French press coffee, I would go this route. It was thinner in texture, with pronounced chocolate sauce and caramel flavors. Reminded me of a Milky Way bar.

V60: I love pour-over methods for some coffees, but I don’t think these beans benefit from the filtering. In the cup, although it smelled pleasant, the coffee tasted very flat and dull, especially compared to the earlier incarnations. With that said, it would provide an excellent base for adding milk/sugar/flavored syrups. I have since found out that Mexican coffees are often used as the base for flavored coffee beans because they are mild and sweet. However, as a black coffee drinker, I was kind of bored with this preparation method.

Summary: If you like cocoa flavors, this coffee will be right up your alley (though I don’t think you can buy Ah Cacao online). Brew it in a French press.

Ah Cacao‘s site (English)