Review: Has Bean Coffee Malawi Msese Wetmill (Stafford, England)

I had a whirlwind trip earlier this summer to the north of England, and I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days in Manchester. As a fan of bands like the Smiths, Joy Division, New Order, the Stone Roses, and James, the city of Manchester is a place I had long wanted to visit, and it surpassed all of my expectations. I hope to return someday to explore it further!

Now, coffee wasn’t the cornerstone of my visit by any means, but I knew I couldn’t leave without bringing home something from a local roaster. However, despite the fact that Manchester is not lacking for coffee shops (I found 5 or 6 independent cafes within an easy walk of each other in the city center, not even including “chain” coffee shops), the beans that were available for sale were largely not fresh enough for my liking… most were a month or more post-roast. This bag of Has Bean Coffee was dated 13 days post roast, I believe, so I snapped it up, knowing that it was the freshest I was likely to find! Stafford is not terribly close to Manchester (around 60 miles away), but considering where I had flown from (Dallas!), yes, I considered Stafford to be “locally roasted” relative to Manchester. I picked up these beans from North Tea Power, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

Whole bean: Even before I opened the bag, I had to giggle at the clever brand name. Plus, in all my years of drinking coffee, I had never tried a coffee from Malawi before! I liked this company already. Once I opened the bag, the beans smelled sugary and light.

French press: Thick, tangy, but not sour. Nice body to the brew, with a lovely smooth finish. Satisfying to drink. It gets more complex as it sits and cools, obtaining a note of tropical fruit.

Chemex: Nice spicy finish. Clean taste – not many layers to this cup, but it was pleasingly straightforward and simple. Very easy to drink, with a taste of brown sugar.

AeroPress: Similar in flavor to the French press cup. The kiwi flavor really comes out in this method.

V60: Sweetest of the four cups. Sugary and light-bodied coffee. There was a bit of a floral note on the finish.

Summary: This was a nice, complex, multi-dimensional coffee that is lovely brewed any way you can get it, but I think I liked it best in the Hario V60 for its sweetness. However, it has its merits in all four of my usual brewing methods.

From the roaster: Floral, kiwi, chocolate milk

Has Bean Coffee Malawi Msese Wetmill

Review conducted 18 days post-roast.

Review: Blue Bottle Perfectly Ground for Pour Over (Oakland, California)

When I bought Blue Bottle’s Kenya Embu Gikirima in whole bean format, I placed an order at the same time for the same coffee in Perfectly Ground, ground for pourover. Perfectly Ground is the name for Blue Bottle’s new line of coffee which has been ground and then directly sealed in individual oxygen-free bags so that the coffee will taste just as fresh as freshly ground coffee once you tear open each bag. On their website, Blue Bottle has a short video introducing the concept, featuring their founder James Freeman. In it, he claims that despite his own skepticism (he called pre-ground coffee an “abomination”), in multiple cuppings, he and his staff could not taste the difference between the Perfectly Ground and freshly ground coffee, and I was intrigued enough to give it a shot.

You can choose to buy Perfectly Ground pre-ground for AeroPress, French press, pourover, or auto drip machine (coffee maker). I chose to get Perfectly Ground in pourover since I find that pourover is the trickiest of the manual methods to get right, as both the grind size and freshness of the coffee really make a difference in how the coffee flavors are extracted. Immersion methods like the AeroPress and french press are more forgiving because the grind size isn’t quite as critical to the brewing process. If this pre-ground coffee gets good results as a pourover cup, that bodes quite well for all of the other grind sizes.

The Perfectly Ground coffee arrived a couple of days before my whole bean coffee, but unlike the whole bean coffee, I didn’t have to worry about consuming them within a two-week window; this pre-ground coffee will reportedly remain fresh until April 10, 2017. It came in an attractive box which housed 5 packets.

This booklet is the first thing you see when you open up the box.

I have to say, this box is quite sturdy. Yes, there was a bit of wasted space, as the five packets don’t take up the whole box and they had to add that light blue cardboard buffer to keep everything snug, but the packets arrived in perfect shape. Nothing is going to crush this box, especially since it was shipped inside another box!

The back of each envelope has step-by-step instructions on how to brew pourover coffee for anyone new to the process. For each packet (22g of coffee), they recommend 350g of water. My usual Hario V60 proportions are 25g coffee to 400g water so the ratio is the same (1:16).

During the brewing process, the first thing I noticed was that the bloom was notably absent compared to when I brewed fresh beans. Usually, the bloom will start to settle down around the 30 second mark, but with this cup of the Perfectly Ground, the bloom was poor and the bit of water I used for the bloom sifted right through the beans within 15 seconds. Visually speaking, this was not a great sign of freshness. But, the total brewing time, start to finish, took 3:10, which is right in the ballpark of where I usually end up with this method. A promising sign, as this means the grind size was correct.

How did it taste? Well, I was stunned by how complex the coffee was in the cup. I tasted sweet white wine, green grapes, and caramelized sugar. It was pleasantly tart and vibrant, with notes of lychee and kiwi on the finish. What a powerhouse of flavor!! I may not have been impressed with how the bloom looked, but I sure was impressed by the taste of this coffee. This is like no other pre-ground coffee I’ve ever encountered – I definitely think I would have been fooled in a blind tasting.

Interestingly, despite being the same varietal, the tasting notes for this bean differ on the Perfectly Ground box (Riesling, marmalade, candied ginger) vs. the bag of whole beans (cacao nibs, tea, citrus). I do think the notes on the box were a very fair representation of what was in the cup. I DID taste a difference between this and the whole bean version of this coffee in that the Perfectly Ground cup was more tart and the freshly ground cup I made in the V60 was more sweet/bitter, but both tasted fresh. If I was served the Perfectly Ground cup in a coffee shop, I would have no complaints.

This box of 5 single-serving packets of Blue Bottle’s Perfectly Ground coffee is $17.50 with free shipping, which averages out to $3.50 per bag. Is it worth it? Well, if you’re someone that enjoys craft coffee but doesn’t want to spend money/counter space on a grinder, this could be one way for you to get your Blue Bottle fix anywhere you like that has hot water (and a brewing device). It’s convenient, portable, and long-lasting (6 month shelf life). Now, if you consumed this particular coffee weekly (Monday-Friday at a packet a day, $17.50 a week), it would certainly add up quickly! I personally would recommend investing in a quality grinder before spending $70/month on pre-ground beans, even ones of this quality. But, for the right circumstance, this is a terrific option to have on hand. You can take great coffee on your travels without packing a hand grinder. You can keep really good quality decaf around for guests (or for those times when you might want an occasional cup yourself!). Perfectly Ground isn’t something I’d choose to have regularly, since I have two great grinders and I intend to use them, but I could easily see myself ordering another box of Perfectly Ground, this time for AeroPress, so that I can have fresh-tasting craft coffee with me anywhere I might travel. Hats off to you, Blue Bottle!

Summary: It defies all logic and just about everything I thought I knew about coffee, but this pre-ground coffee from Blue Bottle is not just good for pre-ground, it’s a coffee that’s worthy of the Blue Bottle name. This changes my whole perception on what pre-ground coffee can be!

The Story of Blue Bottle Perfectly Ground

Blue Bottle Perfectly Ground – Online Store