Review: Brown Coffee Co. Cottonwood Espresso (San Antonio, Texas)

I ordered this bag of the Brown Cottonwood Espresso at the same time that I ordered their Candy Factory. The Candy Factory was roasted May 24, but the Cottonwood must have been roasted to order because it was roasted May 30 (I ordered May 29). There was a bit of delay in the shipping, but it was fine in this case since the beans showed up in plenty of time and I did this tasting on about day 10, which is right around where I like to be for espresso testing.

Whole bean: I forgot to write anything down for this… sorry! I don’t think anything stood out particularly, which is good. The beans must have looked and smelled fine.

Espresso: I had a hard time personally with this espresso, as I was hoping to get a balanced shot with sweetness and smoothness. Frustratingly, I never quite got what it was I was looking for, though I did get some interesting flavors… chocolate, spicy chiles, lemon. No matter how much I varied the temperature (and I tried shots from 197-206 degrees F), the shots all came out awfully bright for my taste.

With milk: I don’t drink milk anymore so Shutterbug has become my tester in this regard. He liked the latte I made him using the Cottonwood espresso, saying that there was a good amount of coffee flavor to it, so perhaps this is an espresso that is designed to be consumed with milk vs. straight.

AeroPress: Now THIS I really liked. The brew that resulted from this method was deliciously rich like chocolate and marshmallow, yet not boring. It tasted a lot like Nutella and s’mores. I wish I could have gotten this flavor in a straight espresso shot!

Summary: Good with milk, but I found this particular blend to be too bright as straight espresso. It does make a decadent cup in the AeroPress, though. I think this is worth investigating how it brews as coffee!

From the roaster: Cottonwood Espresso. Rich, sweet, deep and fruited with chocolate rasberry (sic) notes that explode in the mouth with succulent crema. It gives your palate what it’s looking for: a classic expression of espresso in the American style. At its best, Cottonwood represents the very best of the world’s major coffee growing regions (12oz/340g bag).

Brown Coffee Co. Cottonwood Espresso

Review conducted 10 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: Sterling Coffee Roasters Guatemala Los Carillos (Portland, Oregon)

I had expected that I would have a streak of five reviews concentrating on Portland-area coffee roasters, but that expanded to seven once I decided to get two additional bags of Sterling Coffee Roasters’ beans. This is the last in the series; the next bag will likely be something local as I plan to attend the sold-out Dallas Coffee Day this Sunday!

Whole beans: These beans gave off a milk chocolate, vanilla bean, and chocolate milkshake aroma. Very inviting.

V60: Nope. This cup was astringent and dry – not pleasant, especially considering the sweet aroma of the beans. Plain water tasted super sweet after drinking this.

AeroPress: There was a bit of marshmallow and some lemon flavor in this concentrate. Adding water made me think of s’mores, and made it a very smooth cup.

Chemex: Clean, light, marshmallow scent and flavor on the finish.

French press: Sweet and full-bodied! This cup was most like a chocolate milkshake.

Espresso: Sterling’s website stated that they pull this as a single-origin espresso in their shops, and that it is best consumed as a straight espresso because the flavor has a tendency to get lost in milk. I only pulled a few shots before I ran out of beans, but I managed to hit their suggested parameters, and the shot was decently tasty but not as good as their Blendo Stupendo in my opinion. As a straight shot, the Guatemala Los Carillos has a somewhat generic chocolate flavor with a note of lemon. Not my favorite flavor combination. Even with a small amount of milk (about 4 oz of milk added to my 2 oz of espresso), the coffee flavor really was muted.

Summary: Based on my previous experience with Guatemalan beans, I had expected that I would enjoy this brewed in a Chemex the most, but while it was delicious in a Chemex, I actually think I preferred this particular bag of beans in the French press, as it brought out the chocolate/vanilla flavor the most. I had limited experience with this as an espresso but from what I did experience, I think this is best served as a coffee. I will say that Sterling is 3 for 3 in impressing me with their beans!

From the roaster: Look for a delicate vanilla bean fragrance when ground, and a cup that smacks of dried Mediterranean fruit, marzipan, and that sublime cocoa flavor so characteristic of Guatemala coffee. Light roasted for drip and press.

Sterling Coffee Roasters Guatemala Los Carillos

Review: Coffee del Rey Guatemala Huehuetenango (Plano, Texas)

Coffee del Rey is a VERY local roaster to me, located less than 10 miles from my house. It is a company that operates on a similar business model to TOMS. For every pound of coffee sold, they provide a pack of non-GMO heritage fruit/vegetable seeds in partnership with training from other organizations to start community gardens in developing countries, to help the people there grow their own food for consumption and as a way to support themselves.

I admire Coffee del Rey’s drive to make the world a better place, but honestly, the main reason I like buying from them is because I like their coffee! I have personally purchased probably about 15 pounds of coffee from this company so far. Most of that has been their Ethiopia Harrar, a natural-processed bean that smells like blueberries. I’ve also enjoyed their Ethiopia Yirgacheffe (citrusy and floral) and their Bolivia Organic (butterscotch and toast). This Guatemala Huehuetenango is new to me.

Upon opening the bag, I sniffed the whole beans (3 days post roast), and they had a subtle scent like cherry and almond. Nothing overwhelming, but pleasant. Once I ground up the beans and started brewing, it was very clear that these beans were extremely fresh because they started degassing like crazy. I should have taken a video… the grounds bubbled up and moved violently up and down like lava. (IT’S ALIVE!!)

V60: This took me 3 tries to get the extraction rate right because my normal grind setting wouldn’t cut it for some reason. I had to go much finer than usual on my Baratza Virtuoso (usually 14, for this: 9). The eventual result smelled like liquefied rose petals with a bit of toffee on the finish as it cooled. Kind of shocking!

Aeropress: Oooh. This still smelled and tasted like roses, but there was a definite note of toasted marshmallow here. Very sweet. Rich and not bitter. I ended up drinking the whole cup!

Chemex: I took a deep breath of the aroma from the Chemex before I poured a cup, and it had a warm glow that for some reason reminded me of matches… the way that matches smell when they are lit? Not like smoke, exactly, just the glow. The taste was a bit bitter right off the bat, but I let it cool for about one minute and the bitterness dissipated. It was sweet, with a scent of graham crackers and toasted marshmallow. As I let it cool, there was bit of milk chocolate in the finish. I enjoyed it as is, but just for fun, I did put a little bit of chocolate syrup in the coffee (no milk). S’mores, intensified!!!

French press: Syrupy body but not that flavorful. Kind of sour. Perhaps I needed to steep it longer than 4 minutes, or change the grind size, but I wasn’t as impressed with this method.

Summary: The finer the grind, the more this coffee smells like roses. But in a relatively coarse method like a Chemex, you can get s’mores. Both the Aeropress and the Chemex made delicious cups but I probably would go for this in a Chemex most often.

Coffee del Rey typically roasts on Tuesdays, but they have also started roasting other days of the week as needed. If you have something specific you want to try, I would recommend contacting them so that you can buy it as freshly as possible. I enjoy trying new things though, so I usually just go in and ask what’s freshest that day.

From the roaster: This Guatemala has subtle nuanced flavors of a syrupy, carmelly cocoa with hints of tobacco and lemony citrus. The lingering finish is pleasant and light.

Coffee del Rey Guatemala Huehuetenango

Edited to add: After I published this review, I got a tip to try these beans as a single-origin espresso. CHOCOLATE BOMB!!! If you like chocolaty espressos (and I do), this makes a delicious shot.