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: Madcap Coffee Roasters Ecuador Pepe Azul (Grand Rapids, Michigan)

I’ve been wanting to try Madcap Coffee for a long time. I’ve seen their name mentioned in multiple “best of” lists over the years, I like their logo, and I like the fact that they’re based in Michigan (as I have fond memories of my time in that state for graduate school). All of the coffees on their website sounded great, but I chose this particular varietal because of the following description. The whole thing is worth reading, but I am copying and pasting this bit for your reading pleasure:

While the process places a heavy emphasis on quality, the real secret in producing such vibrant and unique coffee, according to Pepe Menor, is that the coffee is alive. The coffee experiences the passion of the family as every single seed is individually touched at at least one stage in the process. Each night the coffee listens to classic rock on vinyl (particularly Jimi Hendrix) as it is blasted from the system of their bamboo home located in the center of farm. 

Did you catch that? Each night the coffee listens to classic rock on vinyl. Are these guys after my heart or what?! If reincarnation exists, I don’t think I’d mind coming back as a coffee plant on this farm (at least until harvest time).

For any coffee farmers out there: Please raise a crop of coffee plants on shoegaze records. I would buy the heck out of that.

Whole bean: Subtle, delicate fragrance like white sugar.

French press: Flavors of plum, violets, and sugar. This was a tangy and interesting brew that kept me sipping because I was trying to decipher all the layers. I’m not sure I ever pinpointed all the flavors! Complex and delicious.

Chemex: Raisin and brown sugar.

AeroPress: Brewed straight as a concentrate, the coffee was too intense for my taste. It had floral notes combined with flavors of chocolate syrup and grapefruit. Once I added a bit of water, it helped make the coffee less aggressive and made it sweeter. Still complex, but not harsh.

V60: Brewed at a 3:15 extraction time, this was the sweetest and smoothest of the four cups. It was the most approachable brew but it was still layered and interesting.

Summary: This coffee was worth the wait. Believe the hype, people — I’m pretty impressed with Madcap so far, and I look forward to trying other offerings from them in the future. The French press and V60 were my favorite methods for this coffee, but I found myself returning again and again to the French press because I felt it brought out the most dimension. Did I taste Jimi Hendrix in the cup? Perhaps not exactly, but I certainly tasted something exceptional.

From the roaster: Floral, spice, tangerine, juicy, complex.

Madcap Coffee Ecuador Pepe Azul

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: 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: Case Coffee Roasters Ethiopia Mogeyes (Ashland, Oregon)

This review covers my other bag that I received from Case Coffee Roasters in my recent shipment. I like a lot of different kinds of coffees, but I really do enjoy Ethiopian coffee so I was pretty excited to see what would come of this bag.

One detail I neglected to mention before is that Case’s bags are 10.5 ounces. Most coffee companies offer bags in either 12 ounce or 16 ounce sizes, but we are seeing more specialty roasters offering bags in smaller sizes. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of these smaller bags are being carried by companies that offer free shipping.

Whole bean: Fruity scent that is reminiscent of mango. Ground, it smelled like pie crust.

V60: Sweet, moutherwatering aroma. Light to medium bodied. Mango. Floral aroma and flavor on the finish that reminded me of lilies.

AeroPress: Too strong to drink straight. This tasted like I had taken a mixed bouquet of flowers and spun it in a Vitamix. Once I added water, the flavor was much more subtle and delicate; nothing stood out in particular but it tasted like a sunny spring day. Delicate and pleasant. As it cooled, the coffee revealed a scent like grapefruit.

Chemex: Light brew with a little lemon flavor. Bright, lovely, and demure coffee. This drink curtesyed in my mouth!

French press: The heavier body to this cup made for a vanilla-esque flavor and character in addition to the other flavors I noted in the previous cups. Beautiful.

Summary: All of these cups were very nice (just make sure you add water to the AeroPress brew!) and would be a lovely choice for anyone that enjoys washed Ethiopian coffees or prefers subtle, delicate coffee. Not a good choice for anyone that likes dark, assertive coffee or adds cream to their cup – I think that milk + flowers and grapefruit and mango would be weird…

From the roaster: Mango, peach, fresh

Case Coffee Roasters Ethiopia Mogeyes

Review: Rival Brothers Rwanda Dukunde Rawa (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Recently, I started a subscription to Craft Coffee, a company based out of Brooklyn, NY. Craft Coffee describes themselves as the Pandora of coffee, where you can tell them what you’re currently drinking and they’ll send you coffees that they think you’ll love based on your preferences. After answering their short questionnaire, it determined that I would be best pleased with their Purple Label (lightest roast), Reserve category ($$$$ – their most expensive coffee). Hahaha. Do they know me or what?

I opted to get a three-coffee sampler to start, and I received three 4-oz bags from different roasters. All the coffee in this shipment happened to be from Africa, but Craft rotates roasters and countries of origin quite regularly so every box is a surprise. So far, over two shipments, 5 of the 6 roasters have been new to me so it’s pretty great to be able to try coffee from small roasters that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

V60: Lots of vanilla in this method with a puckery bit of citrus fruit. Very interesting. I could see this mix of flavors being a Bath and Body Works product – vanilla/lime/grapefruit.

AeroPress: Lovely!! I really like this rendition. This actually smells a lot more like a delicate, mild tea than a coffee. Everything is well-balanced; the subtle richness of vanilla blends nicely with the personality of the fruit. No bitterness or overwhelming tannins. I think I would really like this as an iced coffee – light and refreshing. It has an uncommon elegance to it.

Chemex: Bright, vibrant brew. It tasted like lime juice at the forefront, but once I started slurping and aerating the coffee, I got a lot more apricot flavor. The aroma was pretty light and mild.

French press: Full-bodied and intense. I actually didn’t care for this – it tasted overwhelmingly sour and bitter at the same time. Assertive and rather rude to the palate! I felt like the coffee was a surly teenager.

Summary: My preference is to brew this coffee in an AeroPress – it felt like it had the best balance of flavors and it was the smoothest brew by far of the four methods. The V60 will give you more vanilla; the Chemex will give you more citrus. The French press will sass you.

From the roaster: Vibrant, Lime, Sweet, Vanilla

Rival Bros. Rwanda Dukunde Kawa

Review: Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters El Rio honey processed El Salvador (Dallas, Texas)

I like to support local businesses, and DFW has a number of local roasters I enjoy (and I do plan to cover them all in due time!). OCCR has a sizable presence here in Dallas; Davis Street Espresso (the shop next door to the OCCR roasting facility) is a popular destination and their beans are served in many coffee shops around the Metroplex. I admit that I have not visited Davis Street Espresso yet so I may not have gotten a full profile on what these beans are capable of. Thus far, however, I’ve been less than thrilled with OCCR coffee when I’ve had it at other shops. Drip and pourover coffee have been unbalanced in flavor, and the espresso (both straight and in milk) tastes to me like I am licking an ashtray, which makes no sense to me because I know these beans aren’t THAT dark roasted.

I read a thread on a coffee forum recently regarding ashy espresso and the consensus was that the espresso shot was likely overextracted. This made me wonder if I would enjoy OCCR more if I brewed it at home and had more control over the variables. I opted not to try this particular roast as an espresso since I’m not generally into single-origin espresso, but I will plan to try their Hidden City Espresso in the future.

First impressions:

The roast date on the bag is March 4, and I bought the beans on March 7, so it’s very fresh. For this fresh of a coffee, I expect there to be a noticeable amount of degassing. I love seeing my new bags of coffee inflate and squeezing them to release the aromas full of promise for a delicious cup. This bag had none of that, which disappointed and concerned me a bit. Even after I cut open the bag and put it into a zipper storage bag (after pressing out the air), there was minimal degassing by the next day. The coffee did bubble and release some CO2 when hit with hot water, so it doesn’t appear to be stale. The aroma from the beans was very mild – I was a bit congested so I thought perhaps my nose was faulty, but I opened up the remainder of the Three Ships that I still had and got punched in the face with strawberries, so it wasn’t my nose.

Chemex: The coffee reminded me most of the Mango Black Tea from Trader Joe’s, but more like tea and less like mango. I’m generally not a fan of tea, as I don’t care for the flavor of tannins. As soon as I smelled this coffee, my throat started constricting like it does when I smell black tea.

V60: This coffee was the deepest in color of any of the preparation methods. It also struck me as quite tannic, and I tasted little to no fruit flavor. There were tobacco notes on the finish, which I dislike.

Aeropress: This was my favorite of the four. It had a citrusy flavor that was light and bright, yet smooth and rounded. As it cooled, I tasted caramel and vanilla along with the citrus.

French press: Richest body of the four, which is not surprising. Right off the bat, it tasted sort of like plastic and grapefruit, but as it cooled, it improved significantly – by the time it was cold, I tasted a lot more depth.

Summary: I like this coffee best when it has oil in the cup. It is a bit astringent and would probably be excellent as an iced coffee, or perhaps as a cold brew? For consuming hot, I would go with Aeropress.

From the roaster: The cup is juicy and thick with notes of mango, candied orange and honey.
Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters