Mini review: Slightly Coffee Roasters Guatemala Chochajau (Eugene, Oregon)

When Slightly Coffee’s head roaster, Joe (yes, that really is his name! How appropriate, right?), sent me the sample of his excellent Ethiopia Torea Village, he also included a small bag of this Guatemala Chochajau. It was a bit too small of a quantity for me to do a full battery of tests in my usual brewing methods (Hario V60, AeroPress, Chemex, French press) so I opted to skip the Chemex and to just try the coffee in the other three methods.

Whole bean: There was just the barest hint of oil on these lovely medium-roast beans. The beans smelled nutty with a hint of cocoa. I was reminded of Nutella.

French press: Tangy, rich, delicious cup that had a great balance of tangerine complexity and milk chocolate sweetness.

AeroPress: A really sweet, thick, fudgy cup of coffee. Decadent!

V60: A much more mild cup than the other methods. Clean, light-bodied brew that tasted of semi-sweet chocolate with walnut on the finish.

Summary: This is a really pleasing Guatemalan coffee that should appeal to just about everybody! The rich sweetness of nutty chocolate with the hint of complexity and brightness from the tangerine really tastes great straight out of the French press. However, if citrus isn’t really your thing (but chocolate and nuts are), try this coffee in one of the other brewing methods.

From the roaster: Flowers and spice, everything nice

Slightly Coffee Roasters Guatemala Chochajau

Review conducted 4 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: Stumptown Coffee Roasters Sleigh Ride (Portland, Oregon)

I almost never buy “holiday blends,” but this bag was a nice surprise at a Whole Foods location in Phoenix during the Christmas holidays. Impressively, it was only 4 days off roast when I bought it! That’s exceptionally fresh coffee for retail, especially considering that the nearest Stumptown roasting facility is in Los Angeles. I had to laugh a little when I saw the name of this blend, because for a freelance orchestral musician, there’s just about no other piece that evokes December and holiday craziness better than Leroy Anderson’s classic. Shaq conducting the Boston Pops in this piece is traditional viewing for me every year – I dare you to not grin while watching.

Whole bean: Scent of bittersweet chocolate and a hint of orange filled the room when I opened this bag.

V60: Light-bodied cup that tasted of chocolate but with a pleasant bite to the finish (not overly sweet). I wrote in my notes, “really good with vanilla ice cream.” Take that as you will. 😉

AeroPress: Hint of black cherry along with chocolate. Overall flavor is a bit edgy, not very sweet.

Chemex: Sesame seeds?? This cup smelled like tahini paste. Weirdly savory and confounding flavor – what a left turn from the whole bean and the other methods. And yes, my Chemex was clean…

French press: Smooth scent and flavor of dark chocolate with a bit of powdery brightness on the finish. This was my favorite method for these beans.

Summary: For a blend, I was surprised at the flavor variation produced by the different methods. I think brewing it in a French press produces the best cup, as I like the comforting richness and fuller body of this method (it reminds me a little bit of hot cocoa!), and it seems to feel right for wintertime. However, if you like a “cleaner” cup, try it in a V60. And have a nice dessert with it!

From the roaster: Sleigh Ride will bring warmth and joy to your holidays. This cup will take you on a journey with rich notes of chocolate and cherry accented by a touch of marzipan and baking spice to evoke aromas that remind us of holiday celebrations.

I undoubtedly got this bag of Sleigh Ride at the tail end of its availability (right before Christmas), and it’s not on the Stumptown website. However, here’s a link to their current coffees for sale. I can personally vouch for their Hair Bender!

Stumptown Coffee Online Store

Review: Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters Hidden City Espresso (Dallas, Texas)

I have a confession to make. For quite a while, I was convinced that I didn’t like coffee from Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters. OCCR is a Dallas-based roaster who has a sizable presence in the city, at both coffee shops and restaurants. I am all for supporting local businesses, but I had multiple experiences at local coffee shops ordering espresso and espresso-based drinks made with OCCR’s Hidden City Espresso Blend that resulted in drinks that tasted like cigarette ash. It happened often enough that I figured, “well, this must be how these beans taste, because what are the chances that 4 different baristas at 2 different shops on different days could all be messing up?”

Spoiler alert: Apparently, the chances were good. I need to buy a lottery ticket.

Anyway, I started to change my tune about OCCR when I was introduced to one of their single-origin coffees by a friend, and I discovered that I rather liked it brewed as pourover coffee. I was really blown away by the Geisha coffee I bought from them on Dallas Coffee Day last year. I like their Rosemont Crest Blend and even have given it as a gift! However, I gave their Hidden City Espresso a wide berth until now. I am not an expert on espresso by any means, but I feel like I have decent enough technique and equipment now that I finally would be able to see for myself if what I had experienced from shops is true to the bean’s potential.

Whole bean: Slightly burnt smelling to my nose. This made me nervous. However, the beans weren’t oily or overroasted; they definitely were still in “medium roast” territory.

Espresso: The good news is, at no point did I pull a shot that tasted ashy or burnt. I was pretty happy about this! I got flavors of black currants, orange, spice, milk chocolate, and lilac in the various attempts. The bad news is, I never really feel like I figured this espresso out. I went through the whole bag feeling like I never quite hit upon the right parameters for espresso nirvana. I did start working with this blend a bit early – starting 4 days post-roast and ending 9 days post-roast. Perhaps I would have had different results if I waited longer.

AeroPress: This was actually how I liked this coffee best. In the AeroPress, the coffee was nice and complex in flavor, with a toasty finish and a bit of citrusy zing and spicy punch to wake up the palate. I enjoyed this.

Summary: The Hidden City Espresso has more complexity than I had realized. I might have to give this blend another try in the future, as I don’t feel like I have quite figured it out, but it’s much better than I thought. OCCR, I apologize for not giving your espresso a fair shake sooner.

From the roaster: milk chocolate, strawberry, spice

Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters Hidden City Espresso

Review: Madcap Coffee Roasters Ecuador Pepe Azul (Grand Rapids, Michigan)

I’ve been wanting to try Madcap Coffee for a long time. I’ve seen their name mentioned in multiple “best of” lists over the years, I like their logo, and I like the fact that they’re based in Michigan (as I have fond memories of my time in that state for graduate school). All of the coffees on their website sounded great, but I chose this particular varietal because of the following description. The whole thing is worth reading, but I am copying and pasting this bit for your reading pleasure:

While the process places a heavy emphasis on quality, the real secret in producing such vibrant and unique coffee, according to Pepe Menor, is that the coffee is alive. The coffee experiences the passion of the family as every single seed is individually touched at at least one stage in the process. Each night the coffee listens to classic rock on vinyl (particularly Jimi Hendrix) as it is blasted from the system of their bamboo home located in the center of farm. 

Did you catch that? Each night the coffee listens to classic rock on vinyl. Are these guys after my heart or what?! If reincarnation exists, I don’t think I’d mind coming back as a coffee plant on this farm (at least until harvest time).

For any coffee farmers out there: Please raise a crop of coffee plants on shoegaze records. I would buy the heck out of that.

Whole bean: Subtle, delicate fragrance like white sugar.

French press: Flavors of plum, violets, and sugar. This was a tangy and interesting brew that kept me sipping because I was trying to decipher all the layers. I’m not sure I ever pinpointed all the flavors! Complex and delicious.

Chemex: Raisin and brown sugar.

AeroPress: Brewed straight as a concentrate, the coffee was too intense for my taste. It had floral notes combined with flavors of chocolate syrup and grapefruit. Once I added a bit of water, it helped make the coffee less aggressive and made it sweeter. Still complex, but not harsh.

V60: Brewed at a 3:15 extraction time, this was the sweetest and smoothest of the four cups. It was the most approachable brew but it was still layered and interesting.

Summary: This coffee was worth the wait. Believe the hype, people — I’m pretty impressed with Madcap so far, and I look forward to trying other offerings from them in the future. The French press and V60 were my favorite methods for this coffee, but I found myself returning again and again to the French press because I felt it brought out the most dimension. Did I taste Jimi Hendrix in the cup? Perhaps not exactly, but I certainly tasted something exceptional.

From the roaster: Floral, spice, tangerine, juicy, complex.

Madcap Coffee Ecuador Pepe Azul

Review: Spella Caffe India Chikmagalur Peaberry (Portland, Oregon)

On my previous trip to Portland in September, Spella Caffe was on my shortlist of roasters/cafes to visit, but I ran out of time (and I had to cut myself off after acquiring six other bags of coffee!). Thankfully, I had another chance over the Thanksgiving holiday. Spella is a bit of an anomaly in the crowded PDX-coffee scene, in that it definitely leans more toward a traditional Italian-style espresso vs. the brighter, fruitier shots served in many third-wave coffee shops. Spella even pulls their shots on a lever-style manual espresso machine, rather than the semi-automatics common to most upscale cafes. The proprietor, Andrea Spella, roasts in small batches (eleven pounds at a time) for optimum quality control. Basically, all of these factors combined to make me very interested in trying their espresso beans.

Fate, however, had other plans for me, as when I visited the shop, they were out of espresso beans. My sister was outside the shop, and apparently she could tell exactly what was wrong when she saw the interaction between me and the woman behind the register as she watched through their plate-glass window.

“SPELLA!!!!!”

However, all was not lost, as they had a fresh batch of this India Peaberry on hand. The barista told me that this particular bean lent itself well to pourover methods, so I was intrigued enough to purchase it. I suppose I should have had an espresso shot in the shop, but I was in a bit of a rush, so I didn’t. Perhaps another time!

Whole bean: Earthy, buttery, and rich aroma. This isn’t a dark roast (the beans are medium at most, with no oily sheen), but it has a depth to it that I haven’t experienced in a while.

V60: If I was given a cup of this while blindfolded, I would have sworn it was a Sumatran coffee. It actually reminded me quite a lot of the “Eeyore coffee” I reviewed earlier in the year: a bit spicy like cloves, with a medium body.

AeroPress: The concentrate was full in body and tasted a bit like toasted marshmallow. However, the finish was brighter, like cranberry and star anise.

Chemex: This was a pleasant cup to drink; it was delicate and nutty, with a little bit of a buttery and spicy finish.

French press: Thick, satisfying, full-bodied and buttery cup. Smooth.

Summary: I haven’t explored a lot of coffees from this area of the world, but with winter coming, it almost seems like the right time to expand my horizons again. I used to drink a lot of Sumatran coffee before I got bored of it and decided to explore other regions, but this coffee (while not a Sumatran) reminded me of how good coffee from this general part of the world could be – it had very clean flavors and was meticulously roasted. I would recommend this either in a Chemex or a French press, depending on how you like your coffee (light/medium-bodied or full-bodied).

From the roaster: No tasting notes

Spella does not currently sell coffees online, but they are available in multiple retail outlets in Oregon.

Guide to Spella from Portland Food and Drink

Spella Caffe Home

Review: Cultivar Colombia La Esperanza (Dallas, Texas)

During my last trip to Los Angeles, I had a little time to kill before returning my rental car, so I decided to try out Cognoscenti Coffee on my way to LAX. They had coffee from multiple roasters offered that day, none of which I had tried yet (Commonwealth and Four Barrel among them), and I opted to go with the featured pourover coffee from Ritual Roasters. Since I had to get to the airport, I got my coffee to go.

Let me tell you, I was walking to my rented silver Volkswagen Beetle and I took a sip of this coffee and stopped in my tracks (luckily for me, this wasn’t New York, so no one ran into me from behind while cursing me for being a stupid tourist!). I was so surprised by the flavor of the coffee… a little plummy, with semi-sweet chocolate and warm spice. Complex. Medium-bodied. Sweet and satisfying.

Once I got through LAX security, I called up Cognoscenti and demanded (nicely) to know exactly what it was that I was served that morning. They told me that it was Ritual’s La Esperanza microlot from Colombia. I thanked them and resolved to order a bag online once I got home. However, I soon discovered that it was not available online. Coffee is a seasonal product and my timing was both lucky (because I was able to try it at the shop) and unlucky (because I couldn’t buy more).

Dismayed, I’ve been checking Ritual’s website regularly ever since April to see if I could get my hands on some. No luck yet.

THEN….

On a recent trip to Denton, TX I remembered that Cultivar Coffee has a shop there, so I went to grab a bag. Cultivar is a regular on “best of” Dallas lists for their superb coffee, but their two locations (East Dallas and Denton) are both pretty far from my home, so I rarely have a chance to get to their shops. I got very excited when I saw this bag of Cultivar coffee with the words: Colombia, La Esperanza. It’s a pretty appropriate name for the coffee farm, really — I’ve been waiting for this coffee for what feels like a long time! Obviously, Cultivar may not roast in exactly the same manner that Ritual does, but I hoped that the fact that these beans originated from the same farm would lead to a similar cup.

Whole beans: Rich aroma. Buttery and spicy (like baking spices).

V60: From the first swallow, I was hooked. THIS is what I’ve been missing! It was perhaps a touch less flavorful than I remembered from my cup in Los Angeles, but the flavor profile was all there: semi-sweet chocolate. Dark stone fruit. Spicy and satisfying. Delicious!!! I brewed this at a 2:45 extraction time. When I adjusted the setting one notch finer on my grinder, it made it a 3:15 extraction time which happened to result in less fruit flavor and more bitterness. I’ll stick with 2:45.

AeroPress: Very dark and smooth. No fruit flavor. Somehow, this method makes the beans taste like a very dark roast coffee as opposed to the medium roast that it is. Rich, buttery body that coats the inside of the mouth. I mostly got a flavor of bittersweet cocoa here. I did not try it with milk and sugar, but it seems like it would be delicious.

Chemex: Brighter yet less interesting to me than the V60 or AeroPress versions. There was not as much sweetness and this cup had a powdery finish to it.

French press: More fruity/plummy than any other method. Delicious intensity of flavor, along with a thick, syrupy body. This had the flavor that I was missing (just slightly) in the V60.

Summary: At long last, I found the coffee I had been looking for. Thank you, Cultivar! The flavor of the french press was exactly what I wanted, but I also want it with the cleaner finish from the V60. Maybe a Clever Coffee Dripper will get me the result I want? I will continue experimenting to find my perfect balance. In the meantime, I think it’s very safe to say La Esperanza was worth the wait. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have another cup to brew!

From the roaster: Syrupy. Baking spices. Berries.

Cultivar Coffee Colombia La Esperanza

Review: Red Bird Sumatra Permata Gayo (Bozeman, Montana)

I used to drink a fair amount of Sumatran coffee, before I started branching out to explore other flavors and lighter roasts. I haven’t had a cup of Sumatra in at least a year (probably longer), so I thought it might be nice to revisit it with a new roaster.

Red Bird Coffee, based in Bozeman, Montana, is a small batch roaster that seems to be best known in coffee forums for its Red Bird Espresso blend, which reportedly tastes like Snickers bars. I ordered a pound of the espresso blend at the same time as this Sumatra Permata Gayo, and I can confirm that the USPS Priority Mail box definitely smelled like Snickers!! Heavy on the peanut and chocolate/caramel aromas.

First impressions: The Sumatra whole beans didn’t really smell like chocolate, but they had depth to them. Red Bird classifies this as a “Rich Medium” roast. “Medium” doesn’t really signify anything, as different roasters will define it different ways, but these beans are a bit darker than what I’m used to seeing vs. other “medium” roasts. The coffee was roasted long enough that oils were starting to come to the surface. The aroma strongly reminded me of the Sumatra from Peet’s Coffee, which also tends to be roasted darker than what is typical nowadays amongst craft roasters.

A “medium” bean on the left*; Red Bird’s “rich medium” on the right.

IMG_0971

 

(*I’m not sure what bean this is. It’s either from Coffee del Rey or Blue Bottle!)

French press: Dark but mild flavor. No fruit or flowers. Nutty taste, but in contrast to the Coffee del Rey Mexican Chiapas beans I had recently, no chocolate flavor… tastes more earthy but thankfully not gamey/off-putting.

Chemex: Thinner in texture but otherwise has the same flavor notes as the French press cup. This coffee is sort of moody and brooding. Is it going too far to call this “Eeyore in a cup”?

AeroPress: This method brought out a little spice in the finish – livened up the cup a small bit with toasty flavors.

V60: Tasted kind of plasticky right off the bat but it smoothed out and I tasted toasted almonds along with the earthiness.

Summary: I think this coffee is great for dark roast fans, who want to try something a bit lighter than what they are used to if they usually drink stuff like French Roast. Sumatran coffee has a reputation for being kind of funky, but I didn’t find that with these beans – they definitely had an earthiness to them but they didn’t taste or smell weird or anything.

From the roaster:  This coffee has a smooth deep body, a cleaner taste than most Sumatras, with mild spice, remarkable sweetness and a hint of almond and berries in the finish.

Red Bird Sumatra Permata Gayo

Review: Stumptown Hair Bender espresso (Portland, Oregon)

My first experience with Stumptown beans came years ago during a trip to Portland, Oregon for an audition. Those who know me know that I have a habit of cutting out coffee/caffeinated beverages for a couple of weeks prior to an important audition, so the first cup of coffee I have after the audition is over is typically HEAVENLY. I imagine I look something like Michael Scott as I approach my first cup:

(Coffee would totally look like Jim Halpert if it was in human form, right?)

Anyway, I took the MAX light rail to the nearest Stumptown location I could find at the earliest possible opportunity, and I chose to get a latte to go that day. As I’m drinking it, instead of getting feelings of YES, I had feelings of ????. Keep in mind that at the time, I mostly drank milk drinks and typically favored medium-dark roast coffee that had chocolate/nut flavors. Stumptown was quite confusing for someone that wasn’t prepared for it – I kept sipping the latte trying to pinpoint what I was tasting. I kept thinking plum sauce, which is NOT what I was expecting. I didn’t like it, yet I kept drinking trying to figure out what I didn’t like about it. Before I knew it, my drink was gone and I was left even more confused! Was it “good”? What happened??

I’ve only had Stumptown coffee a couple of times since that time 5-6 years ago, so when my friend Julee brought me a bag of Hair Bender, I was ready to experience it anew.

Brew parameters: 199 degrees F, 19 g in a double basket, 30 sec shot.

I was jumping up and down with anticipation because the aroma coming from the bag was so buttery and spicy and rich. As a straight espresso shot, I was floored. It had such a sweet, almost candied flavor to it, with a thick and ridiculously decadent crema. The finish was refreshing and had a little heat/spice – the warmth at the back of my throat reminded me of brandy. So good! Complex and layered and rich but not cloying.

Interestingly, the same shot at 198F was unbalanced in flavor and at 200F was bitter to my taste. Perhaps this is a fairly unforgiving blend that needs to have the temperature JUST RIGHT for espresso nirvana… or maybe I just lucked out.

With milk: No plum sauce this time! I didn’t taste any discernible fruit flavors but overall the cup seemed “fruity” to me, compared to something like the Dunn Bros. which was more smoky. The milk muted the slight brashness of the brandy notes and made for a smooth, well-rounded cup.

Summary: I love this espresso! It takes some patience but whooo is it good when you coax the flavors out.

From the roaster: Tasting notes: Cherry, Toffee, Fudge

Stumptown Coffee

Review: Klatch Belle Espresso (Upland, California)

Finally! Time to review Klatch Belle. I will say upfront that I am still learning about what makes a “good” espresso, and I am not as experienced with tasting espressos as I am with coffees. However, this was a very enjoyable tasting for me, and I do think that the espresso shots I made at home have been better than some I’ve gotten at coffee shops!

My Vario grinder is still quite new and I’ve only gone through around 1 pound of beans, so the burrs are still being broken in. I had to play with the grind settings quite a bit before I was able to dial in the right size grind for Belle. Once I found it, my espresso machine poured some delicious looking shots. The streams were slightly redder than I had ever seen before – definitely on the red side of reddish-brown. Very syrupy in consistency.

Stats for espresso geeks: 201 degrees F, 16g in a double basket, 27 seconds from first pour.

IMG_0788

I really liked these shots. Great crema! The flavor of the shot was wonderfully balanced – bittersweet cocoa and a bit of fruitiness (cherries?). Not sour or bitter in any way – very complex and rich.

My latte art is laughable, so I will not be posting pictures of my milk drinks yet. However, I did make a few lattes and flat whites with these beans and they were absolutely delicious; the flavor of the espresso stands up well in milk with no burnt/sour/off flavors… just creamy silky balanced goodness. Shutterbug is a man of few words when it comes to coffee, but when he tried the latte I made for him this morning, he commented, “Wow, this is really good!” Good on you, Klatch.

I also chose to try these beans in an Aeropress, just for kicks. I had a bad experience once with using the inverted Aeropress method (and by bad, I mean hot water and coffee grounds EVERYWHERE), but I faced my fears and did it for this review. After having mostly single-origins lately, my palate was confused by the Aeropress brew: I was drinking it and thinking, “I can’t tell where this is from!” But, it didn’t really matter. It was strong and flavorful; smooth with a touch of spiciness that added character. It was VERY easy to drink. Definitely a winner, though I would prefer using these beans strictly for espresso.

From the roaster: Intense, sweet aroma of brandy, chocolate and caramel as well as a smooth taste and understated complexity. Described by Coffee Review as “crisply pungent yet caramelly sweet.”

Klatch Coffee Roasters