Review: Tack and Jibe Ethiopia Sidama (Newport Beach, California)

I started this blog back in 2015 intending it to basically be my coffee diary. As I delved deeper into the world craft coffee and learned about the subtle differences between origins, roasts, brands, etc., I knew I’d want to have a way to keep a record of everything, and in the back of my mind, I remember thinking, “when I find THE BEST coffee, I’ll just start up a subscription to that roaster so I don’t have to keep searching.”

Well, it’s now been over two years, and at the risk of sounding like a player, I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to settle down and commit to one coffee roaster. I really enjoy seeking out new roasters and being surprised by the great diversity of flavors out there. Is it inconvenient? Yes, at times. I always have to keep in mind when I’m running low on beans so that I can order some online or buy some in-store (which usually means a special trip). Sometimes, I get overwhelmed with work and I realize too late that I’m out of coffee at home. The horror!!

Subscription services, of course, are a great answer to this dilemma, as they will ship freshly-roasted beans straight to your door on a schedule of your choosing so that you will never stumble into your kitchen in a sleep-deprived state only to discover that there is no coffee in the house. Many roasters offer subscription services, but it can be overwhelming choosing between all of the available roasts and origins, especially if you’re new to the craft coffee scene.

Enter Tack and Jibe. I was contacted by this coffee roaster/subscription company and was immediately impressed by several things about their business model:
1) They ship only freshly roasted, whole bean coffee. No pre-ground beans.
2) They have five categories of beans with short initial flavor descriptions to allow for easy selection, especially for newbies.
3) They allow easy changes (bean selection, shipping frequency, etc.).

I chose a sample bag of their Ethiopian beans to review. They roasted and shipped these beans to me on a Friday, and I received them the following Tuesday (that Monday happened to be a holiday, so who knows, maybe otherwise it would have arrived sooner!).

Whole bean: The beans looked very small – similar in size to many of the heirloom varieties of Ethiopian beans I’ve tried. There was no information on the bag other than “Ethiopia” but I would have bet $5 that these were definitely heirloom beans (and I found out later that I was right). The roast level was not as light as I am used to seeing with Ethiopian coffee, but was barely what I’d classify as a medium. Somewhere between medium-light and medium, perhaps. The beans had a creamy aroma but nothing particular stood out. I couldn’t tell for sure how it was processed but my guess was that the beans were washed because I didn’t detect any fruity/berry scent.

V60: At a 2:40 extraction, this brew was smooth on the front, like milk chocolate, and a bit like rum on the finish. Interesting! As this coffee cooled, it started emanating an aroma a bit like scotch – I associate scotch with the smell of shoe leather so it turned me off, but if you’re into that, hey!

AeroPress: Smooth and a little smoky. Pleasant to drink but there’s no way I would have ever guessed this to be Ethiopian coffee.

Chemex: My batch of this was slightly underextracted because I guessed wrong on the grind size, but it was a nice cup. It smelled like sweet vanilla. The taste wasn’t quite as sweet as the smell.

French press: This was my favorite of the four brew methods I tried. Lovely, rich texture and flavors of vanilla with a hint of cherry on the finish.

Summary: This particular Ethiopian single-origin coffee was roasted a bit darker than I am accustomed to, so I didn’t taste a lot of the distinctive flavors that I am used to finding in various washed and dry-processed Ethiopian coffees (floral, berry, citrus, chocolate, etc.). People sometimes complain to me that light roasted coffee tastes sour or weird or too much like stuff other than coffee, so I think this particular roast might be nice and approachable for someone new to single origins. I can’t speak for the other four coffee varieties offered (Brazil, Mexico, Sumatra, decaf), but the Ethiopia was roasted very evenly with lovely heirloom quality beans, they shipped fresh from the roaster, and they can come straight to your door. Worth checking out!

From the roaster: Roasted on the lighter side. Hibiscus, marshmallow, and herbal notes. Bright, juicy, and floral

Tack and Jibe Ethiopia

Tack and Jibe Home Page

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: 1818 Farms Celebration Blend (Mooresville, Alabama)

I would classify myself as an inquisitive coffee drinker. Coffee has become a rather serious hobby of mine, and all of my delicious “research” has given me a huge level of appreciation for the work that goes into bringing millions of people around the world their daily cup. I like being pushed and stretched and challenged by the coffee I drink most days – it’s exciting to me to encounter unexpected surprises in my mugs. But, not everyone wants this from coffee! Lots of people out there want a coffee that they can count on, that will be consistently delicious, and that will be a bright spot in an otherwise challenging, stressful, and unpredictable day. For these folk, I definitely recommend that you check out blends. Good blends combine the attributes of multiple origins to ideally give you the best of all worlds in a cup, and good roasters/blenders know how to make that flavor consistent from year to year, even with all the changes that can happen to coffee crops.

I was contacted through this blog by the lovely folks at 1818 Farms about reviewing their private label coffee. 1818 Farms is not a coffee roaster; they appear to be much more than that. Their motto/tagline is “Life the way it used to be,” and as I read up on them on their website, they’re not kidding. For a city girl like me, it’s hard to imagine a place like 1818 Farms, where “residents” refer to sheep and goats and hens and pigs! Read more about them here. 

Note: For consistency and objectivity, I make it a rule to only buy from roasters that put roast dates on the bags, and I taste coffee within two weeks of roasting. 1818 Farms doesn’t have roast dates on the bags, so I don’t know when these beans were roasted. Based on the bloom and behavior of the beans while brewing, I’m going to guess they were around 12-18 days old when I got them – not completely stale, but not at peak freshness.

Whole beans: Chocolate ice cream. I could definitely get behind this! Once ground, the beans smelled like dark chocolate and marshmallows. Quite sweet.

AeroPress: Nice blend of flavors! Rich taste and texture without tasting burnt. Smooth enough to go down easy but not boring. There’s no need to add water to this concentrate assuming you like a nice strong coffee. To me, this cup tastes like the best possible version of an old-fashioned cup of coffee. I can’t tell from drinking it what the bean origins are or how it was brewed, but I really don’t care. If I was traveling and staying in a bed-and-breakfast and was served this coffee, I’d be pretty thrilled. It tastes comforting yet invigorating.

Chemex: Slightly brighter brew. Since I had tasted the deeper, richer flavors that these beans were capable of, I was a tiny bit let down by this method because I really think it benefits from the thinner filter, but it was a perfectly pleasant cup of coffee.

French Press: Thick, fudgy brew, with just a hint of bitterness at the end. Not quite as smoothly flavored as the AeroPress or Chemex cups, but I bet this would be awesome with a touch of half-and-half.

V60: This ended up being the last brew method I tried (about a week after receipt), and for some reason, while brewing, the odor of rubber/car tires made itself present. Strange! Thankfully, the coffee itself didn’t taste like rubber, but it was a bit bitter, even with just a 2:40 extraction. I don’t know if the beans were too old at this point, or if it was the brewing method, but I’d plan to stick with a different brew method.

Summary: I think this blend’s goal was to be a humble, uncomplicated, good coffee that would be rich and satisfying, and it succeeds quite well! It evokes a simpler time, before the coffee industry got so complex and scientific. If you’re looking for old-fashioned coffee, but better, give this a try, particularly if you have an AeroPress. This is also an excellent coffee if you choose to add cream and/or sugar.

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.

From the roaster: Frolick like a lamb throughout the day with the help of our Medium Roast Blend.

1818 Farms Online Store

Review: Novo Coffee Roasters Espresso Novo (Denver, Colorado)

For the last of my three selections from Novo Coffee, I brought home their house espresso blend that is served in their shops, Espresso Novo.

When I opened up the bag and measured out beans to pull my first shot, I noticed a green (unroasted) bean hanging out among all of its roasted brethren. A good reminder to keep an eye on your beans!

IMG_4449

Notice how much larger the roasted bean is compared to the unroasted bean.

IMG_4450

Whole bean: Smells bright and tea-like, with a fruity character. I was having a hard time putting my finger on what it was I was smelling – I knew it wasn’t a berry scent, and I wrote “mango, maybe” in my notes. Later on, it hit me – banana!

Straight shots: I was amazed at the variation of flavor that I got while adjusting the parameters. Here are my notes, verbatim (minus all the dosages, temperatures, grind settings, etc.):
1) ristretto: not bad, but very tangy like bananas
2) between normale and lungo: bland, tastes like nothing.
3) normale: rare steak??? Really meaty. Weeeeiiiiirrrrrdddd
4) normale: creamy, balanced, and smooth.
5) normale: crisp, fruity, acidic. Slight berry flavor.

Favorite parameters (#4): 18 g in, 37 g out, 200 F, 23 seconds from first drip

With milk: I totally forgot to taste this with milk (as I almost never drink milk drinks these days). Sorry!

AeroPress: The resulting brew was thick and fairly smooth at the start, with a little bracing acidity on the finish. Odd aftertaste. Overall, I was underwhelmed with the coffee brewed this way – I would stick to drinking it as espresso.

Summary: This espresso can lead to some crazy tastes (seriously, rare steak??) but it’s not bad at all once you find that little window of balanced flavor!

From the roaster: medium body, caramel, blueberry, banana

Novo Coffee Roasters Espresso Novo

Review: La Colombe Torrefaction Nizza Espresso Blend (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

This is the second bag of La Colombe coffee that I’ve had in recent months, and this was the reason I wanted to order from them in the first place: I had heard that this company is known for their espresso. If you read my other La Colombe review, you know that I was a little taken aback that the coffee I received wasn’t roasted to order. The same was true for this bag. Mind you, the coffee wasn’t OLD… just not as fresh as it could have been.

When I buy coffee, I follow two general rules as best as I can:

  1. Don’t buy coffee that is more than a week old.
  2. Don’t buy coffee that doesn’t have a roast date on the packaging.

I ordered my coffee on February 7, and received both bags on February 11. This bag of Nizza was labeled, “Best by April 3, 2016.” Uh oh. No roast date??? A “best by” date can mean just about anything!! However, I did a little digging on Google and determined that La Colombe uses a two-month window to determine “best by” dates, which means that this bag of coffee was roasted on February 3. Still not roasted to order, but I probably would have waited a week to crack open a bag of espresso anyway, so it worked out. I slightly resent feeling like I HAVE to open a bag immediately though.

Whole bean: Medium roast, no oil sheen on the beans. Good sign so far.

It took me 4 passes before I had dialed in the grind and dosage enough to get what I considered to be a decent double espresso shot, and I kept experimenting for another 6 (not all in the same day!). I am not an expert on Italian-style espresso, as I’ve only had it a handful of times at cafes, but this blend tastes much like what I would expect from an Italian-style espresso: dark, rich, with notes of caramel and dark chocolate and a pleasantly bitter aftertaste. It made for some beautiful-looking shots, with loads of crema and very attractive mottling. At its best, it reminded me of a Milky Way candy bar.

Favorite parameters for this blend: 17 g in, 34 g out, 200 degrees F, 24 second extraction.

With milk: I think this is where this espresso blend really shines. The nutty, caramelly notes in the coffee stand up extremely well in a cappuccino, latte, etc., and made for a pretty decadent drink.

Summary: If you’re looking for a classic-tasting espresso roast, I think this would be right up your alley. Personally, I drink more straight shots vs. milk drinks, and I prefer American-style espresso that has a bit more flavor complexity, but this is a crowd-pleasing espresso blend that would be an ideal cafe workhorse and a good template for adding additional flavors if you’re into that sort of thing. I can’t speak for if it’s actually good for two months like the “best by” date claims (I try and drink all my coffee within 2-3 weeks of roasting!), but in the week or so that I experimented with it at home, I got good results.

From the roaster: Nutty, caramel, renowned

La Colombe Torrefaction Nizza Espresso Blend

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: Avoca Coffee Roasters Mogwai Blend (Fort Worth, Texas)

When I visit Fort Worth (usually for work), I make an effort to stop by Avoca Coffee when I get the chance. I’ve tried a couple of their single-origin coffees before and have been very pleased both times. They also pull a fantastic shot of espresso in their shop! This is the first blend I’ve tried from Avoca, and I picked this particular bag up at RE:defined Coffee House in Grapevine, TX.

(I will admit, 95% of the reason I chose this bag was the fact that it shares its name with the band Mogwai. The other 5% was that it was very freshly roasted!)

Whole bean: When I opened the bag and took a whiff, all I could initially smell was plastic. I’m guessing it had something to do with the bag itself, because once I took the beans out and ground them, they smelled like cocoa and cinnamon.

V60: This was not a very sweet cup of coffee; it tasted rather savory and spicy. Nutty and a little grassy, like green bell pepper.

AeroPress: Oof, this smelled like a nail salon. Thankfully, this tasted a lot better than it smelled. The coffee was smooth and dark with a bit of kick on the finish, like someone put a touch of cayenne pepper in the cup.

Chemex: This cup was dominated by dark chocolate flavor. It had a pretty thin texture (no surprise in this application) and overall was a pretty simple, crowd-pleasing cup.

French press: Smooth, chocolaty, and easily approachable. Slightly more enjoyable to me than the Chemex version because I liked the thicker body.

Summary: The Chemex and French press cups lacked the complexity of the other cups, but I think that was a good thing in this case. The French press would be my vote for how best to prepare this coffee, unless you prefer a more savory cup – then the V60 might float your boat. I also have it on good authority that this coffee is quite helpful when recovering from a hangover!

From the roaster: Pecan, cacao nibs, and serrano pepper flavors with a medium acidity and a dry lingering finish. A consistent everyday coffee with soft flavors and silky body.

Avoca Coffee Roasters Online Store

Review: Summer Moon Organic Sweet Hearth (Austin, Texas)

My dear friend Julee brought me this bag from a recent trip to Austin, knowing I would be intrigued by the workings of this roaster. Summer Moon Wood-Fired Coffee Roasters is a company that does everything old-school. They built their brick hearth by hand, one brick at a time. They use no electricity or modern technology in the roasting process; just a wood fire (oak) and a hand-turned roasting drum. They know the coffee’s done when the coffee tells them it’s done, via sight, smell, and sound.

This coffee was labeled as a medium roast on the bag. When I opened it up, I raised an eyebrow because I felt that the contents of the bag had bypassed “medium” and were beginning to venture into what I would consider a medium-dark stage, due to the sheen of oil on the beans. There are no official standards for “light” or “medium,” so every roaster is free to define it as they wish, but it was a bit past what I would consider to be a medium roast. I would be afraid to see what a dark roast from this roaster looks like.

From left to right: a light roast from Joe’s Coffee, a medium roast from Stumptown, and a “medium” roast from Summer Moon. Note the deeper color and oily sheen to Summer Moon’s medium vs. Stumptown’s.

IMG_1124

Whole beans: Smoky. Nutty. No trace of any origin characteristics to my nose. The bag says the beans come from Honduras but I would never have known that from the smell – to me, it just smells like dark-roasted coffee.

V60: Notes of toffee with a medium-bodied finish.

AeroPress: Consumed via the traditional brewing method as a coffee concentrate, it was smooth and had a nice fullness to the body. This would be a good canvas for adding milk/sugar and flavorings.

Chemex: Strong note of roasted peanuts. Light body (the filter likely caught most of the natural oils). Reminds me of a PayDay bar but not as sweet.

French press: Fullest in body, with a smooth finish and a smoky taste.

Espresso: I tried pulling this coffee as an espresso shot at a couple of different temperatures to see what would happen. Luckily, I got the right grind size right off the bat but the flavors ranged from bitter (at 201 degrees) to just okay (at 199). I didn’t see too much potential in this as a straight espresso, as it was rather one-dimensional for my taste, but I’m pretty sure with a bit more experimentation I could get a smooth, “comfort food” espresso shot out of it that would work fine in a milk drink.

Summary: This coffee was definitely roasted on the dark side of medium. It “tastes like coffee,” and would be pleasing to anyone looking for a smooth, uncomplicated brew that is not acidic.

From the roaster: Traces of almond and sweet brown sugar finish.

Summer Moon Sweet Hearth