Review: Quills Coffee Blacksmith Espresso (Louisville, Kentucky)

Quills is a new company to me, but I was absolutely floored by the amazing flavors in their Ecuador La Papaya (as you might have seen me raving about a couple of weeks ago). I ordered this bag of their Blacksmith espresso blend at the same time, but life kind of got in the way and I wasn’t able to do a full battery of testing on the beans in my normal time frame (around 7-14 days post-roast). This might have actually worked out though, as the beans proved to have a useful life for longer than I anticipated. Good job, Quills. 🙂

Whole bean: Fresh scent, with notes of cocoa and nuts and a hint of red cherry.

Espresso: I started pulling shots of this bean 10 days post-roast, and did another series of shots at 20 days post-roast. Throughout the first run of shots, the flavor was really bright and verging on sour, but I found that this bean benefited from higher temperatures (for my taste, anyway). The best shot to my palate tasted mostly of bittersweet chocolate, but still had a slight punchiness and acidity to it to keep things lively. There was plenty of crema throughout both tastings.

Favorite parameters for this espresso: 206 degrees F, 19 grams in, 40 grams out at a 25 second extraction time.

With milk: Shutterbug liked the latte I made for him, though to be honest, I think he was inclined to like just about anything I gave him after a really nasty surprise with a bag of Peet’s coffee I brought home (that review will be posted next week).

AeroPress: This was a bit disappointing. The coffee brewed this way tasted strangely watered down, even though I was drinking it as a concentrate. Stick to brewing this as true espresso – it tastes hollow and bland in this method.

Summary: This espresso benefits from high temperatures if you’re looking to get rich, chocolaty flavor with a good balance of acidity.

From the roaster: cherry, honey, toasted almond

Quills Coffee Blacksmith Espresso

Review conducted at 10 days and 20 days post-roast.

Review: Pinewood Roasters Ethiopia Beriti (McGregor, Texas)

Coffee makes a great gift, and I am lucky to be on the receiving end of it from time to time. My lovely friend Jennifer picked this bag up for me from The Foundry while on a work trip to Tyler, Texas. She asked me if I had tried this roaster before, and when I told her I hadn’t, she positively beamed and said how glad she was to find a coffee I hadn’t tried yet! I’m glad I could make her as happy as she made me in that moment. 😉

Sorry about the stain on the bag in the picture; this bag was in the direct path of a bit of espresso slinging in my kitchen!

Whole bean: These are heirloom beans, so they’re smaller and denser than most. Be sure to adjust your grinders accordingly if you’re grinding heirloom varieties – they require a coarser grind than “normal” coffee beans in order to hit the same extraction rate in pourover methods. These beans had a mild berry aroma to them along with a whiff of plastic (which I find common with natural-processed Ethiopian beans). Once ground, the plastic scent was overtaken by intense berry notes.

V60: Floral and thin. Very light cup with character. The bright, flowery notes were okay hot, but I think this might be even better over ice; it seems like it would be quite refreshing.

AeroPress: I couldn’t drink this straight out of the AeroPress – it was too strong for that. Once I added some water though, it smoothed out, though there seemed to be a hint of cleaning product to its aroma. I couldn’t quite place it! (And yes, I am sure it wasn’t soap residue or something like that.)

Chemex: Now we’re talking. This coffee had a honey-like mouthfeel with a lovely aroma of clover honey to the brew. It was not particularly fruity or sweet, but it was pleasant.

French press: This was my favorite method for these beans. I tasted caramel, butter, and berries. Lovely richness that lingered on the palate with a balanced aftertaste.

Summary: I typically expect natural-processed Ethiopian coffees to scream fruit (raspberries, blueberries), and maybe a bit of chocolate. This one didn’t quite fit the stereotype, which was a nice surprise. The french press method yielded the tastiest and most complex coffee for my taste, but it was also good in a Chemex for those that prefer milder and more straightforward coffee.

From the roaster: Blueberry cobbler, floral, viscous

This particular coffee is not available online from Pinewood’s website, but I’ve included a link to their online store.

Pinewood Roasters Online Store

Review conducted 18 days post-roast.

Review: West Oak Coffee Milk and Honey Blend (Denton, Texas)

Every time I visit Denton, Texas, I marvel at how much it’s changed since I was doing graduate work at the University of North Texas in the early 2000s. Denton has always had a counterculture vibe, with people taking pride in their differences and individuality, but the city has grown in the last 15 years and I am now finding all sorts of cool little eateries, record shops, boutiques, and coffee bars that weren’t here back when I was a student. Makes me a bit jealous, to be honest!

West Oak Coffee Bar is located in the Square (downtown Denton), which is also home to the fantastic Recycled Books and Records (I’ve spent many a pretty penny here — their classical vinyl selection is AMAZING) and Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream (Gah, I’m getting nostalgic). West Oak is one of the only places I know of in Texas that has Intelligentsia coffee on rotation, and I’ve purchased several bags of their Black Cat Classic here (all very fresh). On my most recent trip, they were featuring several different origins of their own house-roasted coffee. I opted to go with this Milk and Honey Blend due to its freshness (and really, doesn’t milk + honey sound good?).

Whole bean: Sweet chocolate and blueberry aroma.

V60: Rich mouthfeel to this medium-bodied coffee. There is a chocolatier a few miles from me called Sublime Chocolate that sells a dark chocolate bar with dried blueberries. This coffee tasted just like that. What a wonderful flavor to this brew!!

AeroPress: Buttery, semi-sweet chocolate notes. This was really delicious as a concentrate – no need to add additional water.

Chemex: This coffee had a mild, smooth flavor like milk chocolate. There was just a hint of berry brightness to it that was interesting but not obvious. Tasty and approachable. I feel like this particular method would be how I would brew this for a crowd.

French press: This had a bit of a chalky mouthfeel. The overall flavor was of semi-sweet chocolate but the overall flavor profile was unbalanced and a bit harsh. Not recommended this way.

Summary: I would absolutely recommend this coffee to anyone that might be looking to dip their toe into the waters of craft coffee but isn’t sure where to start. Blends often are more approachable than single origins, and this coffee is no exception. It has a lovely chocolaty flavor to it with just enough berry/fruit flavor to pique your interest and keep you wanting to drink more, without verging into sour/off-putting flavors for the uninitiated. My personal favorite brew method for this was in the Hario V60, because it brought out the berry flavor the most, but it’s also quite good in an AeroPress and Chemex.

For added feedback, I took multiple batches of this coffee to share with colleagues at a multi-week gig. I think I brought in this coffee (brewed in a Chemex) three times during that run, and of the coffees I brought for them to taste, this one seemed to win the most hearts. Granted, since the other option was pre-ground Folgers, I think my friends were already inclined to like whatever I provided, but this really did seem to be the most crowd-pleasing of the beans!

From the roaster: Buttery, honey, velvety, balanced

West Oak Coffee Milk and Honey Blend 

Review conducted 7 days post-roast.

P. S. – I stole the photo of the coffee bag from the West Oak website. I usually take photos of the bags myself, but I must have thrown my bag away before I had a chance to take the photo – these beans went FAST. Which, really, is a good thing!

P. S. #2 – In looking at the West Oak website, I realized that this is their espresso blend!! I never got a chance to try this as an espresso because the beans disappeared so quickly, but if I have a chance to get my hands on more, I’ll do so and update this review later. Just goes to show though that you don’t need to limit yourself to just brewing espresso beans as espresso… they can be good in multiple methods.

Review: Andytown Coffee Roasters Colombia Las Planadas (San Francisco, California)

A quick trip recently to Michigan found me seeking out local shops/roasters in the Detroit area. I had about 10 minutes to decide where I was going, and luckily for me, I found a terrific little shop called Astro in the Corktown area of Detroit. I saw several shelves of roasters, notably Heart and Kuma, but I was more interested in trying roasters I hadn’t yet tried before, so I was happy to grab a bag from George Howell Coffee and this bag from Andytown.

I first heard about Andytown via reviews from the excellent blog The Coffee Concierge. Andytown is a San Francisco-area company that bakes, serves coffee, and roasts beans all from their 600-square-foot space. Their “About” page is warm and charming, and certainly makes me want to visit the next time I’m in that area!

I also enjoyed this, printed on the bag behind the information card:

It brought to mind “I Like Birds,” by Eels. 🙂

Whole bean: Smells sweet like honey! Super fragrant.

French press: The dominant flavor was of chocolate/cocoa powder. It was less sweet than the aroma of the beans promised, but it had a lovely citrusy tang on the finish, like tangerine. Really tasty.

Chemex: Easy drinking cup that tastes like cocoa powder but it’s missing the tangerine element of the press pot cup. Not bad, but I felt this cup had less personality.

AeroPress: The citrus flavor was the most present in this cup, with a nice thick texture and bright flavors.

V60: Bittersweet chocolate flavor that had a bite to it, but it smoothed out as it cooled.

Summary: I liked this coffee in the French press best, as I felt it brought out the best balance between the chocolaty depth and the citrusy brightness. I was a tiny bit disappointed that the coffee smelled sweeter in bean form than it actually ended up in the cup, but it’s nothing a drop of honey wouldn’t cure if you swing that way!

From the roaster: Lightly floral, full-bodied, honey sweet

Andytown Coffee Roasters Colombia Las Planadas

Review conducted 6 days post-roast.

Review: Bird Rock Coffee Roasters Nebula Nectar Espresso Blend (San Diego, California)

Here’s a roaster I was pretty excited to check out (again). I had received a couple of bags of Bird Rock Coffee from my sister as a birthday present a few years back (pre-blog), and I remembered the coffee being delicious, so when I had the chance to visit San Diego recently, I made sure to stop and get a bag of beans from Bird Rock. In fact, it was the first stop I made after landing at the airport. Don’t judge me too hard, it was only 2.2 miles from the terminal!

Whole bean: Sweet, syrupy scent. I wrote “melon??” in my notes – I was thinking honeydew but it was hard to pinpoint. Once I ground the beans, it smelled pretty strongly of graham crackers.

Espresso: I feel like I didn’t get quite as much time to experiment with these espresso beans as I would have liked, simply because I had a lot of coffees to try. But, the espresso I pulled with these beans definitely lived up to the notes on the bag in that it was very, very complex. Ristretto shots came out with notes of s’mores, graham crackers, honey, and cantaloupe. Normale shots (how I ended up preferring this espresso) came out with loads of complexity and notes of mango. For anyone that’s had the Asian candy Hi-Chew, one particular shot tasted just like the mango flavored Hi-Chew.

Favorite parameters: I don’t feel like I really discovered all the secrets of these beans, but for anyone wanting mango Hi-Chew espresso: 199 degrees F, 18 g in, 29 g out.

AeroPress: Smooth, round flavors. Not quite chocolate – more like flat Coca-Cola, which actually was a bit more pleasant than it sounds. Floral scent.

With milk: I think I made one latte with these beans for Shutterbug, and he wasn’t super enthused. It was drinkable, but I imagine this particular espresso shines best when consumed without dairy. Adding milk to something that tastes like cola/s’mores/melon/mango all rolled into one? Yeah, that sounds odd to me too.

Summary: Very complex, multi-layered espresso that should be consumed straight or as an Americano. I would be interested in trying this bean again sometime as I don’t feel like I unlocked all of its potential, but I sure had fun trying!

From the roaster: Maple, honeydew, rose, root beer

Bird Rock Coffee Roasters Limited Edition Nebula Nectar Espresso Blend

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: Ascension Rwanda Cyimbili Gold (Dallas, Texas)

This bag was a sweet gift from my friends Julee and Brian. Thanks to one of my favorite couples! 🙂

Ascension has a pretty strong local presence here in Dallas, and their Peruvian Silk blend made it into my top 10 list for 2015. I’m always happy to review a bag of their beans.

Whole bean: Strong berry aroma. Very sweet fragrance that was an amalgam of red wine and honey.

French press: Awesome rich blackberry flavor with a thick body in the cup. Enjoyable. I wrote down “Pinot Noir” in my notes, but that isn’t a great descriptor since not all Pinot Noirs taste the same.

Chemex: This cup was quite fragrant. Deliciously sweet, fruity aroma. The blackberry flavor in the cup was both tart and sweet with a dry finish. It brought back memories of a summer I spent in Maine, and having the experience of picking and eating fresh blackberries straight off the bushes.

AeroPress: I wasn’t a fan of this cup. Initially, I thought this cup smelled like bug spray! Thankfully, the smell went away quickly but I didn’t find much about this cup to like. It was too strong and overwhelming to drink as a concentrate, but when I added water, it tasted bland.

V60: Ho-hum in the cup. Not sweet. This ended up a little bit metallic tasting, so I tried again with a slightly finer grind. The second time, I got a bit of toasted marshmallow and peach flavor in the coffee but it was a bit bitter as well, even at only a 2:45 extraction time.

Summary: A blackberry-heavy coffee that tasted best to me in a french press, but I think it would also be delicious brewed in a Chemex and served slightly sweetened over ice – sort of like blackberry iced tea but in coffee form.

From the roaster: Blackberry, peach, smooth body

This coffee is not currently available online.

Ascension Coffee Roasters Online Store

Review: Klatch Golden Bean Espresso Blend (Upland, California)

TL;DR: If you love espresso, GET YOUR HANDS ON THIS ASAP!!!

I’m actually finding it a little hard to organize my thoughts on this espresso. How do you explain the beauty of a sunrise? How can you put into words what happens to you when you hear your musical soulmate? That’s what tasting this amazing roast from Klatch did to me.

This was the roast that prompted me to make my recent order from Klatch; I’ve already been a fan of their coffee for some time and I knew that anything worthy of the Klatch name would make me happy, but something that won top honors from the Compak Golden Bean was something I definitely had to try.

Whole bean: Fresh aroma! A little floral and creamy. Very inviting scent.

Espresso: I experimented with various grind settings and dosages, and I don’t think I pulled a single bad shot. This was a surprisingly forgiving blend to work with. The overall flavor of the straight shots to me was dark chocolate with lavender – absolutely alluring! Higher temperatures (203 F) brought out a little bitterness, and I found the best result to be at 201-202 F, 18.5 g in. This blend was delicious pulled both as a ristretto and as a normale shot – it had a gorgeous refreshing finish that just made me want to drink more. The rich chocolate notes combined with the lovely floral perfume really captured my attention right from the start, all the way until the last drop. I can only imagine what this would be like pulled with higher-end equipment.

With milk: I don’t drink milk drinks very often, but this blend did make a delicious latte. It had a subtle floral aroma that was so inviting. I did prefer this pulled as straight espresso, as I felt the milk muted some of the really special notes, but that could be just my personal preference speaking. I would be over the moon if I did order a milk drink and got this in the cup.

AeroPress: I was particularly curious about how this blend would fare in the AeroPress, and WOW. It was unimaginably complex. Brewing this revealed a wonderfully rich cup with layers and layers of flavors. I can’t even describe them all. I drank this as a concentrate. Don’t add water to this – it’s smooth as silk and it would be a crime to dilute this.

Summary: I don’t know how long this will be available, but I am definitely ordering more. This is a really special espresso and if your tastes run to the complex and layered, you will really like this. I looked at the blend information after finishing the tasting, and this is composed of coffee from Panama and Ethiopia – two of my favorite origins. I suppose it makes perfect sense why I love this so much. Thank you for sharing this amazing espresso with us, Klatch!

From the roaster: The judges comments were: Tons of sweetness, distinct but subdued stone fruit, plum, berry and honey notes, balanced acidity and a round, creamy body.

Klatch Golden Bean Espresso

Review: Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters Panama Geisha La Milagrosa (Dallas, Texas)

Buckle your seat belts, coffee lovers — here comes another Geisha tasting! When I attended Dallas Coffee Day last Sunday, I stopped at Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters’ booth first and my eye was immediately drawn to these beautiful canisters (there were three of them). Knowing that there were to be an insane amount of people attending the event, I basically went, “I WANT THAT” and snapped up a can before I lost my chance. Perhaps I freaked out for no reason, because when I passed by the booth again on my way out three hours later, they still had two cans on the table. Ah well. Better safe than sorry!

Coincidence: I paid $36 for 8 oz of this coffee and opened it on my 36th birthday. Happy birthday to me, indeed! 🙂

I don’t often get coffees in cans, so I had some funny moments while trying to figure out how to get into the can. I took off the top lid and puzzled over the black and white sticker. I thought I was supposed to peel it off and I almost did peel it off completely, but I then realized that it was just decorating a second lid I was supposed to pry off. Oops. Haha!

inner lid open

Whole bean: Milagroso/a in Spanish means miraculous or marvelous. This sounded like a good omen to me! The beans smelled like a fascinating dichotomy of Sara Lee Pound Cake and chinese restaurant tea. There was also a vague tropical fruit note that I couldn’t quite identify. However, when I ground the beans, the fragrance got super strong with lime, green apple, and sweet floral aromas emanating from the grinder bin!

V60: At 3:15 extraction, this cup had an overwhelming complexity. As is my custom, I was listening to music while brewing and I actually had to go shut it off so I could focus on what I was tasting. Granny Smith apples. Butter. Just a little tartness on the finish, with a lovely medium body. I did not want to stop drinking this cup, which made me write, “Uh oh. I’m in BIG trouble with this coffee!” in my notes.

AeroPress: This coffee is lightly roasted, and it was evident in this cup, as the finished concentrate had the color of caramel sauce. Not the deep brown that most people think of when they think of coffee!

aeropress

This concentrate was a bit tart, with lots of personality. It smoothed out as I sipped it. Definite notes of green apple and butter. I didn’t end up adding any water to this, because it was great as it was and I didn’t want to water down the big flavors.

Chemex: Sadly, this cup for me was underwhelming. It had the lightest body (which was not unexpected since the Chemex filter is the thickest of the filters), but the flavor was pretty muted. It was close to chinese restaurant tea in flavor; the fruit was barely present. This had the least amount of personality of the four cups.

French press: Jasmine tea aroma and flavor on the front. Green grapes with a toffee-like finish (sugary, buttery). Rich mouthfeel with a hint of vanilla. Deliciously complex.

Summary: A nice birthday treat. Would I pay $72/lb for this coffee again? I liked it a lot, but I don’t think this is a coffee I would regularly purchase, no. It’s hard to justify that sort of price when there are other lovely coffees out there with similar flavor notes without such a high price tag. However, it was a very, VERY enjoyable cup, and I would certainly drink this again if offered! I think the french press version was my personal favorite, but it was awesome in a Hario V60 and AeroPress as well (if you like more Granny Smith apple flavor).

From the roaster: On the slopes surrounding Volcan Baru, this vibrant, floral, tea-like varietal displays heirloom flavors of the best African coffees although it is grown halfway around the world. This special lot comes from the Alto Jaramillo region of Boquete.

This coffee is not currently available online.

Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters

Review: Novel Coffee Roasters Ethiopia Idido (Dallas, Texas)

Novel Coffee Roasters is a Dallas-based company that is starting to gain a national presence; their coffees are currently available for purchase in coffeehouses in eight states, as well as online through their website (with FREE shipping!). I did a little googling on Novel and was charmed by the story of how they picked their name. The founders liked the double meaning of the word “novel,” both used as a noun (reflected in their slogan: “Every Coffee Has A Story”) and as an adjective (new, fresh, surprising, unique). The company has only been around since 2013 but have quickly racked up accolades; this Dallas Observer article features them in more depth.

You may have noticed that this is the third Dallas-area roaster I’ve featured in a row on my blog; this was on purpose, as I have a trip to Portland, Oregon coming up and I plan to collect many bags of PDX-area coffee to review! But before I leave, I wanted to show Texas roasters some love. I picked up this bag from Roots Coffeehouse in North Richland Hills.

This is the second Ethiopian coffee I’ve had recently from the Idido region (the first was the Kickapoo Coffee I received from Craft Coffee). I remembered that particular tasting being difficult because I hadn’t sufficiently adjusted my grind settings to compensate for the increased density of heirloom coffee beans, so I made sure to keep this in mind this time (it worked pretty well for the Tweed Staycation blend, which is also comprised of heirloom beans).

Whole bean: Subtle, milk chocolaty aroma combined with a lovely honey fragrance!

Chemex: I deviated from my usual tasting procedure here and started with the Chemex, because this method makes the most coffee and I needed a full travel mug for my 1.5 hour commute this week. I was pretty entranced while sipping this during my drive; the dominant note was of caramelized sugar, like the beautiful top of a creme brĂ»lĂ©e. It also reminded me of Earl Grey tea, and the combination of those two flavors was stunning. I was sorry when I drained my mug (though no one can say I didn’t savor it; it kept me company for over an hour).

French press: Clean flavors. A little nectarine tanginess that quickly smoothed out to dark chocolate.

AeroPress: I brewed this at 185 degrees F and drank this as a concentrate. It had the most acidity of the four methods but was paradoxically very smooth going down! Notes of red grape and honeydew melon dominated this cup.

V60: Crazy amounts of sweet honeysuckle aromas wafted from this cup. Light body, bright floral flavors. Sunny day in a cup.

Summary: I enjoyed every single cup that I made with this batch of beans. What a lovely example of a washed Ethiopian coffee!! It had a lot of personality; it had brightness and darkness; it showed new perspectives and flavors over time and in different methods. It tasted like the sort of book that I could happily get lost in for hours. Bravo, Novel! You haven’t seen the last of me, that’s for sure.

From the roaster: The town of Idido is an epicenter of quality in the Yirgacheffe region. Heirloom coffee grown and milled here is so good in fact, that it became famous under more than one name: Idido, Aricha, and Misty Valley are all sourced from among the same farms, all operating at elevations over 2000 meters.

The coffee we selected is fully washed and flawlessly sorted, presenting nectar-like flavors of white peach, summer melon, and honeysuckle.

Novel Coffee Roasters Online Store