Review: Driftaway Coffee Colombia Huila Finca el Tabor (Brooklyn, New York)

This review will be a both a usual and an unusual review, in that Driftaway Coffee operates as a coffee subscription company with constantly rotating offerings, so while you may not be able to get these exact beans, I wanted to do a full review of the beans I did receive to give an overview of what you might be able to expect from this company.

A recurring trend these days seems to be the personalized subscription… Stitch Fix comes to mind as an example, where you get clothes selected for you each month, you give the company feedback about what you do and do not like, and they adjust their future shipments to reflect your preferences. Driftaway Coffee works like that, where you first receive a tasting kit with four overall coffee profiles (fruity, classic, balanced, bold). Then, you choose your favorite of the four, tell Driftaway what you like or don’t like about the coffee via their website or iOS app, and Driftaway will send you freshly roasted coffees personally selected to reflect your preferences. This takes a lot of the guesswork out of going into a coffee shop and blindly picking out a bag, hoping you’ll like it. In addition, since it shows up at your door at the frequency you choose, you won’t run out of freshly roasted coffee. Great for busy folks!

In my case, rather than sending me the tasting kit, Driftaway simply contacted me to ask what I would like, and based on my answers, they sent me this bag from their “Balanced” taste profile – this Colombia Huila Finca el Tabor. Shipping was very quick, and I believe the coffee was in my mailbox 4-5 days post-roast. Having my name handwritten on the bag was an unexpected but very sweet touch; it really felt like this coffee was personally roasted just for me!

Whole bean: Peanut brittle, butterscotch.

French press: Very sweet. Toffee, nutty, rich flavor and mouthfeel. There’s nothing sharp or sour or off-putting about this coffee – it feels smooth and luxurious in the mouth. Delicious! If you usually take your coffee with cream, I challenge you to try this black and see if it doesn’t convince you that good coffee doesn’t need anything added.

Chemex: Tangy flavor, with a hint of blood orange. Mild citrus taste. Very different from the French press cup!! Sweet and tart at the same time.

AeroPress: Straight up Snickers bar (for anyone that doesn’t have Snickers candy bars where they live, it’s caramel, peanut and nougat, covered in milk chocolate).

V60: Like the Chemex cup in its citrusy character but with more of a toasty finish.

Summary: I was fascinated by how this particular Colombian coffee could have such different results; the immersion methods (French press/AeroPress) created a coffee that was decadent, sweet, and rich. The pourover methods (Chemex/Hario V60) resulted in a light, citrusy brew with a balanced finish. Both flavor profiles were fantastic but I have to say this coffee done in a French press was my personal favorite of the four methods I tried, and I think if I was introducing craft coffee to someone who had not had it before (especially if it was someone who was used to putting cream and sugar in their coffee), this would be a fantastic bean to give them to show what really great coffee can be like, unadulterated.

If the idea of having the equivalent of a coffee sommelier appeals to you, check out Driftaway! I am really impressed by the sample I received — it’s one of the best coffees I’ve tasted so far this year!! — and they couldn’t be nicer people to connect with. Many thanks!

From the roaster: Toffee, turmeric, peanut

Driftaway Coffee

Review conducted 6-7 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: Klatch Coffee Panama Altieri Washed Geisha (Rancho Cucamonga, California)

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a fan of Klatch. I don’t order from them very often, simply because there are so many great roasters out there to try, but I’ve never had a cup of Klatch Coffee that I didn’t like. Some of their roasts have been among my favorite cups of coffee EVER.

I recently got an email alert that Klatch was offering a sale on Geisha coffee, and it took me approximately 0.02 seconds to click the link to start browsing! The price of this coffee has been reduced from $39.95 to $29.95 for 8 ounces… it’s still expensive, clearly, but I thought it would be worth a try. Klatch has clear notes about roast dates for coffees this special – this Panama Geisha is only roasted on Mondays, and I have a feeling it won’t be offered for very much longer. I ordered this coffee the week of May 1, and at the time they were also offering a Panama Altieri Natural Geisha, but that’s no longer on the site. Jump on this ASAP if you want to try it.

Whole bean: Mild nutty fragrance that smelled like macadamia nuts and cashews, with a subtle note of tropical fruit. Papaya?

V60: This had a really mild but pleasant aroma, like just catching the barest whiff of perfume. Whispers of caramel and melon. This cup brewed for 2:30, and I think it could have used a finer grind for a bit more extraction, because the final brew tasted a bit bland and watered down to my palate. Not bad, but I was hoping for more flavor, especially for this expensive of a coffee!

AeroPress: Now HERE is the flavor I was wanting. Don’t you dare dilute this with any additional water! This brew was sugary, with notes of nectarine, and it tasted terrifically vibrant and alive.

Chemex: This method produced a coffee that was even more mild than the V60 cup. It had a hint of floral aroma, and it was sweet, but rather bland and plain. I don’t think I particularly care for this coffee in filtered pourover methods. With that said, I served this brew on a couple of occasions to Shutterbug (who usually drinks coffee with milk and sugar added) and he was able to enjoy this coffee with just a bit of sugar added (no milk). It is quite smooth.

Yes, I probably committed some kind of crime letting someone add sugar to a Geisha coffee, but everyone’s gotta start somewhere, right?

French press: Smooth, sweet, with lovely body and a delicious tangy finish. It reminded me a bit of nougat and brown sugar with a touch of tangerine. This was my second favorite method after the AeroPress.

Summary: $60/lb + shipping is quite the splurge for coffee, and I don’t think too many of my readers would be crazy enough to do this, but if this coffee sounds appealing to you, I’d encourage you to act now before it’s gone. I loved this coffee in the AeroPress, as it really brought out exciting flavors, but other methods produce smoother, more balanced cups. You won’t get a bad cup of coffee with this stuff. Is it worth the cost? I’d say for an occasional treat, yes.

From the roaster: “It offers a sweet fusion of melon, floral and raspberry aromatics. An enchanting sense of sweet floral aromatics. The flavors in the cup bring out notes of cantaloupe, peach, sugar cane, marshmallow, and a beautiful finish of floral nectar.”

Klatch Panama Altieri Washed Geisha

Review conducted at 4 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: 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: Flat Track Coffee Roasters Guatemala La Libertad (Austin, Texas)

When I travel, I make a special effort to seek out microroasters. On my recent trip to Austin to see Ride perform at the Fun Fun Fun Festival, I didn’t think that I would have time to visit any Austin-area coffee shops, but to my delight, I spotted this sign on the festival grounds:

tn_IMG_1873

As I stated on my Instagram account, if anyone wants to lure me someplace, this is an effective way to do it.

The coffee tent at the festival was serving up coffee from Heart Roasters and Flat Track, a Austin-area operation. I initially was going to have a cup of coffee from Heart, but it turned out they were only pulling espresso-based drinks with Heart, and I really didn’t feel like a straight shot or a milk drink, so I went with drip from Flat Track (I believe it was an Ethiopian). I also bought a bag of this Guatemalan and they happily told me that I was the first person to buy a bag. Score!

Whole bean: Light scent, a little bit like vanilla wafers and nougat.

French press: Pleasantly tangy. Smells like graham crackers and has a bit of mango and orange flavor. I said out loud, “oh, that’s GOOD.” Yes, I was talking to myself in my kitchen.

Chemex: The scent was like roses and cream. Stunning! There was a bit of lemon on the finish. Less tangy/thick than the press pot version with a drier finish. Nice for those that prefer lighter-bodied cups of coffee.

AeroPress: The concentrate had a lemony bite that was perky but not bitter, and it had a great chocolaty finish. Adding just a bit of water made the finish more powdery.

V60: Clean cocoa flavors in this rather light-bodied cup.

Summary: Having now looked at Flat Track’s tasting notes, I really didn’t pick up on the same things, did I? Nevertheless, this is a very pleasant coffee to drink. My vote would be for brewing it either in a Chemex or a french press.

From the roaster: Sugary lemon, lime, and raisin flavors with a smooth mouthfeel.

Flat Track Coffee Roasters Online Store

Review: Sterling Coffee Roasters Kenya Nyeri Gachatha AA (Portland, Oregon)

This post begins a streak of 5 reviews of Portland-based roasters, and I couldn’t be happier about it! My trip to Oregon was sheer delight; I enjoyed gorgeous sunny weather with a nice cool breeze, mouth-watering food, and of course superb coffee. I’m starting with Sterling partly because it’s the “oldest” coffee in the bunch (which is still not very old at all, at only 10 days old when I reviewed it), and partly because I have a rather special story to go along with it.

Spoiler alert: EXEMPLARY customer service!!!

First, let’s talk about the coffee.

Whole bean: aromas of red wine, dark chocolate, and red fruits (strawberries, raspberries).

V60: My mouth started watering immediately upon taking a sip of this brew. It was more than simply sweet – it had a beautiful complexity to it. I tasted strawberry, lemon, and lychee flavors with a lovely dry finish. Sort of like a fancy strawberry lemonade. I could not stop savoring this cup. What a way to begin!!!

AeroPress: The concentrate was very acidic and lively with a citrusy pop. Once I added some water, it smoothed out. Still perky but more approachable. Nice depth!

Chemex: So smooth. Yum! Great balance in this cup. Light-bodied but with a juicy, creamy finish. The dominant flavors were of tangerine and nougat.

French press: Hello, marshmallow! This was a surprise because I had detected no hint of marshmallow before this. The citrus evident in the other cups was quite muted here. This cup was the sweetest of the four, with a bit of acidity to brighten and enliven things up.

Okay, now for storytime!

I perused the Portland Eater’s 20 Best Coffeeshops and Roasters list and plotted out where I could walk/take transit to in an afternoon. Based on that list, I wandered into Coffeehouse Northwest in Portland and went straight for the bags of Sterling across from the register. There were two people behind the counter and they greeted me with offers to answer any questions I might have. Quickly, I realized that I did indeed have a question: the bags were labeled with a “best by” date, not a roast date. This normally sets off alarm bells in my head because I associate “best by” dates with huge coffee conglomerates and grocery store bags, but clearly Sterling is a small company devoted to quality, so I inquired. Turns out the “best by” date is dated one month after the roast date. My bag of this Kenya Gachatha AA was dated October 14, which meant it was roasted September 14. My visit to this shop was on September 20 (nearly one week post-roast). I knew that I would be buying a LOT of coffee on this trip and I was slightly uncomfortable about buying coffee that was already a week old (since I wanted to consume everything within two weeks of roasting and I didn’t know if I could physically do it), but after hemming and hawing for probably 10 minutes by the bags, I plunked down some cash and bought this bag.

At this point, I sat down to figure out where I was going to go next, and I kept agonizing about this purchase. Is the coffee too old? Should I just order online? Maybe I should visit another shop (there was a Sterling Coffee Roasters shop less than a mile to the north)? What if the other shop doesn’t have this Kenyan (which sounded delicious)?! Will I have time to drink all this??? Argh!!!

I sat at that table for probably another 10 minutes before I walked up to the counter and said, “I know you probably think I’m crazy, but…” I then proceeded to blab about how I’m neurotic about my coffee and I was worried that the coffee would go stale before I had a chance to truly appreciate its potential, I know I’m probably overthinking all this and I completely understand if I can’t return the bag of coffee, but I would feel better about ordering a bag off the website so that I could get one that was closer to the roast date, since I wouldn’t be getting home for another 4 days and possibly not able to even open the bag for another 3-4 days past that, blah blah blah….! The bemused man behind the counter smiled understandingly, and proceeded to inform me that he could tell that I was having a hard time with this, and that he appreciated how much I wanted to experience the coffee at its peak, because…. HE IS THE ROASTER FOR STERLING COFFEE ROASTERS.

At this point I didn’t know if I should be even MORE embarrassed that I let the man who personally roasted this coffee see how nuts I was, or happy that of all people, this man would understand!!! I was a little bit of both. Mostly embarrassed, though. I believe I covered my face in my hands.

Here is where the exemplary customer service comes in. I didn’t catch this man’s name, so I’m just going to refer to him as Mr. Awesome. Mr. Awesome proceeded to refund me for my purchase, but he would not take the beans back. He wanted me to have them, because he felt that I would enjoy them even outside of the two-week window (I believe he said these particular beans maintained peak flavor as far as 20-25 days post-roast), and because he could tell I would really respect the product. He then suggested that if I did like what I tasted, then I could order from the website at a later date as a thank-you. At this point I informed him that I’m a coffee blogger and that he’d be getting a STELLAR write-up about how he went the extra mile to make me happy, and it was his turn to cover his face in HIS hands. Haha!

Summary: This coffee rocks. Purely from the final product in the cup, I can see why Sterling made the list I saw of the best coffee roasters in Portland. I loved it brewed in a Hario V60 in particular for the gorgeous flavors that it coaxed out of this cup, but all of the brew methods tasted outstanding. Sterling offers free shipping, and I can vouch that the people behind this operation are the kind of people I want to give my business to. I’m placing an order for another bag very soon… look for another Sterling review in the next few weeks. 🙂

Thanks, Mr. Awesome!!! (A bit of sleuthing revealed that Mr. Awesome is actually named Adam McGovern. Surely, Awesome could be his middle name, though?)

From the roaster: This Lot #006 Gachatha AA Nyeri Kenya is one of the finest coffees we have ever tasted, full stop. The smell of peaches and strawberry jam fills the room when it’s ground. In the cup you’ll find flavors across the spectrum, everything from oranges to apricots, cherries, and red currants. Seriously, folks, this is one of the ones. Light roasted for drip and press.

Sterling Coffee Roasters Gachatha AA Kenya

Review: Chromatic Coffee Gamut Espresso (San Jose, California)

I have a new favorite espresso blend!!!

With a name like Chromatic, this is clearly an espresso blend after my own heart. This coffee company has been on my list of must-try roasters for some time now. I was very much hoping to get my hands on a bag of Chromatic Coffee during my recent trip to San Jose, but when I found out that their flat rate shipping is only $2.00, I decided that I could wait since the shipping is so affordable. Props to Chromatic for getting the beans to me in just two days (roasted on a Tuesday, received on Thursday!).

A nice touch: My coffee came packaged with a piece of Werther’s Original butterscotch candy. Thus far, Chromatic and Red Bird are the only roasters that I’ve ordered from who send candy (Red Bird sends hard candy during the summer months and chocolate in the winter). Not necessary, but a welcome treat. 🙂

Typically, I start pulling espresso shots around 6-7 days post-roast, but I broke into this bag 4 days post-roast because I couldn’t wait. I actually hadn’t pulled any espresso shots at home for a few weeks prior to this, so I figured I would need some practice to dust off my skills.

Whole beans: Mmm. Creamy fragrance that was mild but full of promise.

The first pass choked the machine due to too fine of a grind, so I adjusted the settings on my Vario. The second pass was still a bit slow (ristretto territory) but I started making noises in the kitchen of shock and delight. This espresso had a luxurious texture and a complex but eminently comforting flavor of chocolate and caramel with just a hint of red cherry. I was astounded at how good it was! I continued adjusting the grind and extraction time/volume to play with getting more/less fruit and more/less chocolate in the shot. All were tasty.

After six shots (and yes, I drank them ALL) I made a latte for Shutterbug to test how well this espresso stood up in milk. He added about 1/2 tsp of sugar before I had a chance to taste the drink. When I did have a sip of his drink, my jaw dropped because it tasted like I had put the best butterscotch sauce in the world into the cup. I have never had a latte that tasted as much like dessert as this one.

The next day, I made myself a latte (no sugar). Blissful. Obviously not as sweet as the sweetened version from the previous day, but the same butterscotch flavor notes were there. Very, VERY easy to drink!

I continued to experiment with temperature and extraction rate. My personal favorite was a ristretto shot pulled at 18.5 g in a double basket, 201 degrees F, 15 gram output. This espresso was equally enjoyable straight and in milk. Straight, it was smooth yet complex with beautiful layers of caramel and nougat flavor that lingered for a long time on the palate. In milk, it simply screams butterscotch.

I kept putting off trying this in the AeroPress because I loved it pulled as espresso SO MUCH, but I felt I needed to see how it fared without the 9 bars of pressure. It had a sweet, rich, smooth chocolate flavor. No particular fruity or floral notes. There was an earthiness to the aroma while I was brewing the cup, but it dissipated pretty quickly. Overall, it was less interesting in the AeroPress vs. as an espresso shot (which is to be expected, really) but it makes a really enjoyable cup in the AeroPress, especially for someone that doesn’t like bright flavors in their coffee. This would be something I would be comfortable serving to a dark roast drinker; it had delicious toasty flavors with a nice depth.

Obviously, my home is not a cafe and there’s really no such a thing as a “house” espresso around here, but if I was running a cafe, THIS would be my choice. For the first time in 6+ months and innumerable espressos and coffees, Shutterbug actually asked me to order more of a particular coffee. In fact, it was more like he implored me! I was quite happy to oblige.

Summary: Get your hands on this. Now. But leave some for me!

From the roaster: Chocolate, butterscotch, creamy

Chromatic Coffee Gamut Espresso

Review: Verve Coffee Roasters Guatemala Los Santos (Santa Cruz, California)

Verve. This might not be a word I associate strictly with music, but it’s the name of a once-legendary record label, as well as a pretty good now-defunct band from the UK (who later had to change their name to “The Verve,” which still sounds odd in my head… it’s like saying “The Vivacity” or “The Happiness”).

Verve Coffee Roasters is one of the most respected coffee roasters in the United States; they regularly make “best of” lists like this one from Thrillist of the 10 best coffee roasters in America. They offer free shipping with no minimum purchase, which is definitely a plus! I spotted this bag at B2 Coffee during a recent trip to San Jose and did a little happy dance; my friend who was with me died laughing. I’m not apologizing, though!

Whole beans: Hints of mango, tea, and rose petals.

V60: This cup had sweet citrus flavor with a tropical note. I tasted tea-like tannins on the finish, as well as the richness of nougat.

AeroPress: Juicier brew with a smoother feel. Flowery aromas dominated, with less fruit flavor/aroma.

Chemex: Marshmallow and nougat flavor, with orange on the finish.

French press: Overwhelming nougat flavor and aroma. Richest texture. No fruit/flowers.

Summary: A light, delicate cup that has a lot of natural sweetness. The immersion methods had more nougat flavor while the pourover methods had more fruity flavor. All were tasty!

From the roaster: Zesty and tropical in nature with flavors of navel orange, mango and chewy nougat. Los Santos delivers a punch and has a lengthy finish of caramel sweetness.

Verve Coffee Roasters Guatemala Los Santos