Review: George Howell Coffee Nicaragua Las Colinas (Boston, Massachusetts)

This was the second bag I recently picked up from Astro Coffee in Detroit (the first being the Andytown Colombia). I had never heard of George Howell Coffee before, but I liked the packaging and the beans were very fresh, so I decided to take a chance.

Once I finished my tasting and I started writing up this review, I realized that I must have been living under a rock, because George Howell is no stranger to the specialty coffee world. It’s worth reading his full story on the roaster’s website, but suffice to say, you don’t get a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Specialty Coffee Association of America just for making cortados. Hats off to you, sir.

Whole bean: Cherry, black tea, bright and refreshing, with a buttery aroma once ground.

French press: Smells like roses and tastes like black tea. Ultra smooth, but kind of hollow in flavor. This doesn’t really taste like coffee at all! This has a thicker texture to it than tea but if I was blindfolded, I might be fooled. Just out of curiosity, I added a splash of milk, but this ended up bringing out different flavors than I was expecting – the milk made the coffee taste more juicy, with notes of lemon and butter.

Chemex: The rose scent and flavor were more on the forefront with this brewing method. Complex, sweet, layered cup.

AeroPress: This had a lovely light, reddish-brown caramel color to it. Much lighter in color than a typical cup of coffee – I think the last time I saw a cup this color might have been the Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters Panama La Milagrosa Geisha. Rich mouthfeel but unlike the OCCR Geisha, it wasn’t super flavorful, even as a concentrate.

V60: This was the best method for these beans, in my opinion. Rose, amaretto, chocolate. Smooth and sweet. This cup was a definite winner!

Summary: Lovely floral notes abound in this coffee. This is quite a light roast and may be strange for people that are used to their coffee tasting “like coffee,” but I really enjoyed it, particularly brewed in the Hario V60 due to the rich flavors and balanced nature of the cup.

From the roaster: Passionfruit, chocolate, black tea

George Howell Coffee Nicaragua Las Colinas

Review conducted at 7 days post-roast.

Review: Cartel Coffee Lab Ethiopia Kochere (Phoenix, Arizona)

When you think of airport coffee, you probably think of Starbucks, right? Well, if you ever find yourself in the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, make your way over to Terminal 4 to visit Cartel Coffee Lab’s PHX location. As is typical when I travel somewhere new, when I arrived in Phoenix, I Googled “best coffee roasters in Phoenix” and Cartel was a name I saw come up more than once. It being the holidays, family time was the priority so I didn’t have time to run around all over town to seek out roasters, but I was thrilled to see that Cartel had this airport location and I was hopeful that their beans would be fresh. Happily, they were!

When I took this bag of their Ethiopia Kochere to the register, I asked for a bag to carry the coffee in, because at that point I had my bags of Stumptown Sleigh Ride and Ritual’s Day Drinker seasonal espresso in my purse and I was running out of room. The barista asked what other beans I got and when I mentioned Ritual in particular, I got this reaction:

Nothing like meeting a complete stranger and feeling understood. #kindredspirits

Whole bean: Blackberry, butterscotch, nougat. Incredibly fragrant cofffee.

V60: The first wave of scent that hit me was of dog. Not wet dog, and it wasn’t unpleasant, but it definitely smelled like I was holding a wriggly puppy in my arms! As the coffee sat a bit, I got notes of floral stem, grass, and caramel. I did unintentionally brew this coffee a bit on the long side (3:50 extraction). This is a pretty dense bean – adjust your grinders accordingly.

AeroPress: Quite sweet and sugary! No dog here. I didn’t need to add any additional water to this cup – it had a complex, dry finish that was very enjoyable.

Chemex: Bright, dry, puckery coffee. Caramel and blackberry in this cup. Tart.

French press: Richer and sweeter flavor than the other coffee methods, but still bright in taste. Hard to pinpoint flavors in this cup. I will say though that compared to the AeroPress cup, the french press coffee tasted oddly watered down.

Espresso: Since I liked this coffee so much in the AeroPress, I opted to experiment with making it as a single-origin espresso. I only pulled a few shots, but I got a lovely flavor of lemon and lilac with a sugary aroma.

Summary: Loved these beans brewed in an AeroPress. Also makes a nice single-origin espresso if you’re into bright, floral flavor!

From the roaster: Black tea with subtle tropical fruit and floral qualities

Cartel Coffee Lab Ethiopia Kochere

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: BeanFruit Coffee Co. Kenya Nyeri Chinga Peaberry (Jackson, Mississippi)

I had not heard of BeanFruit Coffee Company until very recently, but upon investigating, I discovered I was clearly behind the times, as they are a 2015 Good Food Award recipient, and they have had their coffees rated at 90+ points on both Coffee Review and The Espresso Vein. When people think of great cities for coffee in the USA, cities like Portland, Oregon come to mind… I doubt too many people think of Jackson, Mississippi! However, I’ve discovered over time that great coffee can be found where you least expect it, and I was eager to try these beans, especially once I caught a whiff of the heavenly fragrance coming from this bag.

Whole bean: Wow!! The whole and ground beans smelled bright and punchy – this is not a shy coffee bean. Sweet smell of juicy nectarine.

V60: Complex, mysterious cup. I taste the nectarine that I smelled in the whole bean form but it also has a syrupy flavor with a hint of black pepper. Loved this! Medium-bodied result with a dry finish. When doing tastings, I normally will brew the usual 12 oz and drink just as much as it takes for me to get my notes down, but for this tasting, I opted to drink all of the coffee I brewed, just because I liked it so much.

AeroPress: WOW. The concentrate blew me away. Nectarine, raspberry, and vanilla. Sweet as pie and smooth as silk.

Chemex: The fruit was muted by this method but it also amplified the vanilla flavor. The coffee also had a cream flavor to it with a hint of lemon on the finish which brightened it up and woke up my palate. So, so good. The brew smelled just like clover honey as it cooled.

French Press: Compared to the AeroPress and Chemex cups, the French Press cup was less sweet and complex; it wasn’t a bad cup by any means, but I was definitely more blown away by having it brewed in the other methods. Still, it was definitely better than a lot of other coffees I’ve had!

Summary: This coffee is a stunner. I am so impressed with the depth and range of flavors! For the sweetest result, go for it in an AeroPress (fruitier) or a Chemex (vanilla-ier). But really, I doubt it’s possible to make a bad cup with these beans. Absolutely lovely.

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. And honestly, I loved this coffee so much that BeanFruit will definitely be making a repeat customer out of me!

From the roaster: Vibrant, sweet melon, nectarine, complex

BeanFruit Coffee Company Kenya Nyeri Chinga Peaberry

 

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: Cultivar Coffee Colombia Henry Serrato (Dallas, Texas)

The last time I reviewed a coffee from Cultivar, it landed in my Best of 2015 list. I happened to be visiting Emporium Pies in McKinney, Texas one weekend and they had fresh bags of this Colombia Henry Serrato on the shelves, so I decided that the time was right to give Cultivar another go.

Whole bean: The beans smelled fragrant like nectarines and caramelized sugar. Delicious!!

French press: When the hot water hit the grounds, a slight minty scent emerged, but the end product did not taste minty. The coffee was thick, rich, and creamy in texture, and it tasted like the top of a luscious creme brulee. Wow.

Chemex: Less sweet of a cup; this brew had a markedly thinner body (no surprise) and it was a bit bright and acidic.

AeroPress: Lemony flavor and full body. Adding a bit of water smoothed out some of the lemon/acidic flavor and made for a very pleasant cup.

V60: At a 3:00 extraction, the coffee was toasty but otherwise not that remarkable.

Summary: In my notes, I starred both the French press and AeroPress brews, which means that those were my favorites, but honestly, I can’t remember how the AeroPress version tastes now because all I can remember is the sublime, sugary, creme-brulee flavor of this coffee made in a french press. Do yourself a favor and get some!

From the roaster: Toasted sugar. Figs. Soft acidity.

Cultivar Colombia Henry Serrato

Review: Novo Coffee Roasters Ethiopia Guji (Denver, Colorado)

I spent a lovely 24 hours in Denver recently, and picking up some coffee was high on my priority list. I’ve tried coffee from a number of Denver-based roasters before (Huckleberry, Corvus, Commonwealth, Boxcar), so I was excited to see what I could get my hands on in person. As fate would have it though, I arrived in town on a Sunday afternoon and by the time I was able to hunt for some coffee shops, many of them were closing for the day. My first stop was to Huckleberry, but the location I visited was closed early that day for a staff-only event. 🙁 I next visited a different coffee shop (don’t remember the name), but I left because they didn’t put roast dates on the bags. Third time ended up being the charm though, because I was able to find a Novo Coffee location that was open.

Upon arriving, I was immediately greeted by the staff and a friendly barista named Josh offered to chat if I had any questions about the beans I was looking at. Well, that was probably a mistake on his part because we ended up talking non-stop for the next 20 minutes at least about coffee, music, perfect pitch, more coffee… Sorry for talking your ear off, dude. I do love how excited baristas get talking about their house roaster, though! It’s a good sign that the beans are crafted with pride. My original plan was to buy one bag of coffee at Novo and perhaps one other bag at a different shop, but Josh talked me into buying three bags. Novo, you might want to look into giving this man a raise!

All three of the bags I bought were roasted around the same time, but I opted to start with this Ethiopia Guji because Josh seemed particularly excited about it. I just had a Guji/Sidama from Chromatic Coffee recently, so I was curious about if this would taste markedly different.

Spoiler alert: Yep, it sure does!

Whole bean: The beans smelled a lot like strawberry jam, and once I ground them up, milk chocolate aromas emerged.

V60: On my first try making this, I ended up with a 2:45 extraction time, and it was not nearly enough time. The resulting brew had a smooth aroma but tasted watered down. I was so disappointed!! However, once I tightened up the grind to result in a 3:45 extraction (which is on the long side for me with the V60), the coffee tasted a lot more flavorful, with a nice sweet milk chocolate flavor and a bit of Strawberry Quik character. It really wasn’t what I would call fruity, though.

AeroPress: Fruity/berry + chocolate flavor. It was a bit acidic on the finish with a bright lemony taste. I didn’t add any water to this concentrate, though, because I enjoyed the little bit of zing that came with the acidity.

Chemex: This brew smelled GREAT but tasted like disappointment. Bland. It brewed for 4:05 but based on my experience with the V60, maybe you’d need to brew it longer to get any flavor out?

French press: This method seemed to result in the best flavor of the four methods; the brew was a little thick with a chocolaty flavor. I wished for more fruit flavor though, as I like there to be a bit more dimension in my coffee vs. just chocolate notes.

Summary: I was expecting this to be a pretty bright, lively cup based on my recent Guji experience, but I actually found it to be rather bland when brewed with my standard parameters. Perhaps it had something to do with the change in altitude? I didn’t have any coffee at the shop so I can’t say if it tasted any different there, but if you do buy this, I would recommend using a french press and perhaps try brewing it for longer than 4 minutes if that is your standard (as it is mine). It seemed to be more successful in my opinion in the immersion methods vs. the pourover ones.

From the roaster: Pineapple, milk chocolate, strawberry, cream

This coffee is not currently available online.

Novo Coffee Online Store

Review: Roseline Coffee Kenya Othaya Peaberry (Portland, Oregon)

I went back to Houndstooth Coffee in Dallas recently to see if they had any more bags of the Roseline Ethiopia Limu Gera I reviewed. They did not, but they did have this Kenyan coffee that sounded delicious. I try not to get swayed too much by roasters’ tasting notes (in fact, I try not to read them at all if I can help it) but I looooooove the flavor combination of lemon and raspberry, so it’s like this coffee knew just what to say to get me to hand over my credit card.

Whole bean: I’ll be darned. To my nose, these beans did smell like lemon pound cake and raspberry jam.

V60: A creamy and rich aroma wafted from this cup. The flavor was hard to pin down and didn’t finish sweet – it actually had a little bit of a cardboard/paper flavor. Hmm. I didn’t do anything differently than normal (I used bleached Hario filters and rinsed them thoroughly with hot water before brewing), so I don’t think the papery taste would have come from the filter.

AeroPress: The concentrate was DELICIOUS. I actually wrote that word in all caps in my review notebook as well! The flavor was complex and joyous. My mouth was so happy – there were flavors of rose, cream, lemon, and vanilla in this coffee. I didn’t add any water to this concentrate because I felt like it would be a crime.

Chemex: Lovely, lovely cup. Full bodied and full flavored. Creamy and sweet with a lingering complexity. For some reason, all I could think of when I drank this was the opening to Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe. Fellow musicians will understand that a flutist comparing a coffee to this masterwork by Ravel is a pretty big deal.

French press: Bright and lemony. I wasn’t as impressed with the coffee in this method for some reason. It wasn’t bad, but it lacked the balance that it had in other methods.

Summary: Compared to the Roseline Ethiopia Gera, this coffee is brighter, sunnier, and more extroverted. I really adored it brewed in an AeroPress and in the Chemex.

From the roaster: lemon curd, raspberry tart

Roseline Coffee Kenya Othaya Peaberry

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: Commonwealth Coffee Panama Carmen Estate (Denver, Colorado)

I’ve had my eye on trying Commonwealth Coffee for a while, since I saw that Oak Lawn Coffee in Dallas carries their beans along with Heart Coffee (one of my favorite roasters). Commonwealth is a young company (it’s only been around for a little over two years), and when I read the “About Us” section on the company’s website, the word that kept coming into my head was “inclusive” (though it was not a word used). These guys do NOT sound like snobs, that’s for sure!

Whole bean: These smell awesome. Creamy and complex aroma.

V60: I admit, my very first impression immediately after brewing this cup was off-putting because it smelled to me like cherry cough syrup. However, that scent dissipated very quickly and there was no trace of that flavor in the cup (thank goodness)! This was a bright, deceptively smooth cup that was reminiscent of cherry limeade (but definitely weighted more toward lime than cherry). Rich, creamy finish.

AeroPress: Butterscotch sweetness and richness, plus bright lemon flavor. This was a satisfying cup that needed no additional water to dilute the concentrate – I was quite happy to drink this straight.

Chemex: This was a complex cup that had a dry finish reminiscent of a Bordeaux. Very nice!

French press: Of the four cups, I had the hardest time pinning down the flavors here. Delicious syrupy body with rich flavors of toffee, cherry, and rose. This cup really made me slow down and have to think about what it was I was drinking. Great if you’re already awake, but I don’t know that I would be able to handle this at 6:00 am on a weekday — it might be too complicated for my fuzzy, sleep-deprived brain to fully enjoy! I feel like this coffee would be a combination of the overtly chipper voice of morning-show radio DJs plus the thought-provoking content of NPR/public radio. Nothing wrong with either of these things, but I would have to be in the right mood to not be overwhelmed and/or irritated by the combination. 😉

Summary: A pleasantly complex bean that will please people that like bright flavors. I wasn’t able to pick out most of the flavors in the roaster’s notes, but I did enjoy this brewed in a French press. I’m looking forward to trying other offerings from Commonwealth in the future.

From the roaster: Peach jam, cinnamon, kaffir lime, vanilla ice cream

This coffee is not currently sold online.

Commonwealth Coffee Online Store