Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mugged: Coffee Bean Direct

Subject: Coffee Bean Direct
Mugged: Ethiopia Yirgacheffe and Nicaragua Organic Fair Trade SHG

Rating: 3+ for both [see key]

A lot of enamor is placed on hand-made products. The fascination with getting a product produced by actual human limbs provides that artisan touch that many consumers love. But from a business perspective, that extra labor only pays off when you can price your products at a higher rate. If you want to get a great product at a lower price, mechanization needs to get involved.

Which brings us to the folks at Coffee Bean Direct who have grown to a point where they chose to take steps to keep their production more efficient and their coffee still affordable. Thus, they have opted to use Kickstarter to help them get a "pouch monster," an $80,000 upgrade to their coffee production. 

To better help paint a more accurate picture of what they have to offer and why you the consumer should pitch in to help this company expand, the folks at Coffee Bean Direct decided to send me out two of their coffees to review: their Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and their Nicaraguan Organic Fair Trade SHG. Both coffees I reviewed via drip, french press and siphon infusions.

The Ethiopian overall produced a coffee with notes of apple, corn, strong cigar, malt and grass, with small differences in each infusion. The drip held strong apple notes with a light lime zest amid a medium body, the french press more corn and caramel with similar body and the siphon was more overt in chocolate notes and with sweeps of vanilla. Overall, a decent coffee though the notes of cigar and akaline elements made this only a fair African coffee.

The Nicaraguan embodied a malty and salty brew across the board, with particular shades of pretzel, pecans and cola. As for minor differences, the drip was thickest with minor notes of spinach and caramel; the french press begot similar notes as the drip though with a lighter and broth-ish flavor; and the siphon held tinges of sassafras and nutmeg. Also a good coffee though it was a little too malty for my liking and the salty aspects didn't pair as well as I would have hoped. 

Thus, while I can't say that their coffee was the best ever, I can say it is substantially better than most coffees you would pay a similar price for at the market. Give Coffee Bean Direct a try and if you feel compelled, help them realize their Kickstarter goal. 

note: coffee was provided free of charge and the above review is objective feedback.   

Sunday, September 23, 2012

CC: Caffe Streets

Subject: Caffe Streets
Location: Chicago, IL
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

In the world of coffeehouses, most shops look pretty much the same. What I mean is that right now most shops (especially in the same city) seem to use very similar layouts and themes. For all the shrinking the world is doing these days, it is still hard to find truly unique interiors. Of course certain staples like counters, tables and chairs tend to gravitate to a certain trendy uniformity, but it's surprising how many shops fail to set themselves apart with a rocking decor simply because they lack or leave out the creative process. 

But some places do their planning well and put together a memorable shop. When I was last in Chicago, I found such a cafe in Caffe Streets. While the exterior didn't scream anything different than a normal coffeehouse would, the interior drew the eye (and eventually the rest of the body) in with its layers of wood, well-placed plants and its one-of-kind counter that boasted not only fine equipment, but also several street lights that loomed becomingly over the baristas. 

As for the coffee, they served me Los Andes of El Salvador, a single origin espresso from Heart Roasters out of Portland, and a pourover of El Trapiche Colombia from Intelligentsia. The espresso, pulled medium-short with a brown crema, issued notes of lime, powdered sugar, a cigar-like sweetness, butter cracker and balsamic vinegar amidst seaweed salad; a delicious extraction that enamored me with its bright front. The pourover tasted of condensed milk, clover honey, bits of grass, some merlot, vanilla and a smidgen of dandelion, overall smacking of a mellow cup of caffeinated nectar. 

Of course no stylish cafe is complete without great coffee, and Caffe Streets held the full package. If you're in the lovely city of Chicago, swing by to the only shop that offers street light both inside and out. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Coffee Fest Seattle

While I usually don't get the opportunity to go to a lot of industry events due to my other non-coffee responsibilities, I'm honored to serve as a judge for the Coffeehouse Competition at Coffee Fest Seattle this coming weekend. 

I look forward to a fruitful weekend and if you happen to be going, I hope to see you there!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Mugged: Ethiopian [Doma Coffee]

Subject:Doma Coffee Roasting Company
Mugged: Ethiopia Organic
Rating: 5+ [see key]

On the east coast, it's not often you hear about Idaho. And having traversed most of the state on several occasions, the hype certainly doesn't mirror the reality. For starters, Boise and Coeur d'Alene are nifty cities, plus you have tons of natural sites all over the place that make it a truly unique part of the west. 

As far as coffee roasters that call Idaho home, Doma is probably the one that has reached many ears across the globe. It might be because of the press received but I think good coffee, like cream, rises to the top. 

I had the delightful opportunity to recently sample Doma's Ethiopian Organic, a light-roasted coffee that from first waft had promise of being excellent. I sampled the coffee via drip, french press and siphon.

The drip delivered notes of blueberry, milk cocoa, little grass, apple strudel and a tinge of maple syrup and cinnamon. A light and bright coffee with lots of flavor.

The french press was consistent in taste, with resolute blueberry, milk chocolate, apple strudel, nutmeg, a little grass, a smidgen of maple syrup and caramel. Also light and fruity with a light body.

The siphon finished off the infusions with a cup heavier with milk chocolate and less blueberry, but with similar notes of grass, apple strudel and maple syrup. A chocolatey and juicy coffee. 

While Ethiopians tend to be delicious, not every roaster can capture a great coffee and roast it well. Give Doma a try whether you're looking for a good African coffee or something a little different.

note: coffee was not provided free of charge and the above review is objective feedback. 

Sunday, September 09, 2012

CC: Pure Fare

Subject: Pure Fare
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

Coffee has always seemed to have a love/hate relationships amongst nutritionists. Over the years, I've heard from the mouths of experts that coffee will eventually kill me and then out of other seasoned oral cavities of others, I hear that coffee is one of the best foods I could ingest. Since studies never seem to agree, I have taken the time-tested stance of keeping my intake moderate and my outlook positive. 

But it certainly helps the positive image of coffee when venues that emphasize healthy and sustainable habits also encourage regular consumption of quality coffee. One such outfit in the fair city of Philadelphia is Pure Fare, a cafe and market where folks can grab a fit lunch and cup of Blue Bottle coffee amidst their busy schedule. 

I made my way over to Pure Fare one day when I was in the neighborhood for an errand. I headed to their 21st St location which has a minimal sign and store presence, with nice open windows leading your gaze into the long cafe. Within, the venue has a large communal table in the middle, a cozy atmosphere that felt like a cross between Reading Terminal Market and a small cafe, complete with two counters on each end: one for coffee and the other for food. 

Not in the mood for food, I silently approached the coffee counter and ordered an espresso of Blue Bottle's Hayes Valley Espresso blend and a pourover of their Bella Donovan. The espresso held notes of cocoa, ginger, lemon zest, deep prune, a touch of vanilla and sage, all in a heavy body. Overall, I was pleased with the shots, having a sweet and voluptuous manner about it. The pourover sang of juniper berries, grapefruit, wheat, cornflakes, lettuce and subtle blueberry within a medium body. Also a delicious infusion well worth the wait for the careful pour. 

While their food also looked visually scrumptious, I can heartily vouch for a good showing of their coffee. If you happen to be in Philly and in need of a meal and some great coffee, make your way to one of Pure Fare's locations. 


Monday, September 03, 2012

CC: Outerlands

Subject: Outerlands
Location: San Francisco, CA
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 5+ [see key]

There are few earthly delights that compare to a nice Sunday brunch with the sea air in your nostrils and a good cup of coffee in your hand. Years ago, this could prove to be a tall order purely based on the minimal use of good coffee at brunch spots but slowly, great eateries, both coastal and land-locked are coming round.

Out by San Francisco's western limits near the sea sits a couple of establishments by the shore, one of them aptly called Outerlands. Specializing in sustainable and organic local fare, their menu has received accolades and the crowds one Sunday afternoon reinforced said claim. There's a bustling counter amidst the inside and outside seating where folks can gaze at much of the menu, and if you can only stay for a spell, there's options for a quick bite as well. 

Sadly, I was not able to stay for brunch that day (they had stopped seating folks when I arrived) and since the only non-espresso coffee they offered was via large chemex for dine-in customers, I had to settle for (just) an espresso of Sightglass' Owl Howl. The shots were pulled short, held a brown crema and exuded flavors of 5 spice, lime, kalamata olive and thick black tea. The drink proved delicious and heavy, with a nice balance. The chemex coffee was also Sightglass.

Thus, the only reason Outerlands gets a 5+ is because of my circumstances in not being able to try the a chemex of their non-espresso coffee. Believe me that everything points to a 6+ and I feel a bit silly holding it back but, even though my observation of them brewing and serving it to a nearby table leads me to postulate that they certainly do a bang up job, I must leave them at a 5+ until I have tasted it with my own tongue. 

But please, by all means, give Outerlands a try as they seem to have the full-blown midas touch. If you get coffee, let me know how it is in the comments below.