Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mugged: Keemun and Monkey Picked Oolong [Teavivre]

Subject: Teavivre
Mugged: Organic Superfine Keemun Fragrant Black Tea and Monkey Picked Ma Liu Mie Tie Guam Yin Oolong Tea
Rating [see key]: Both 4+

A person's fervent love of coffee often spills into other drinks, and given the history, it's very natural that most coffee fans would also sip the occasional cup of tea. Personally I love all sorts of tea, with my adoration clinging strongest to the traditional camellia sinensis varieties (i.e. non-herbal). And because traditional tea has so many manifestations, cultivation styles and variations, there's always the prospect of trying out a different kind of tea.

The two latest additions to my list of teas tried came from Chinese tea purveyor Teavivre who sent out several samples of a Keemun Black Tea and a Taiwan Monkey Picked Oolong. I steeped each according to the recommended directions through numerous infusions and enjoyed each.

Keemun Fragrant Black Tea is a common tea, though most folks don't know they consume it. Most often, it is found as a component of blended black teas like Earl Greys but it can certainly stand well on its own. My infusions of this Keemun produced a dark amber hew ripe with notes of cola, agave, pine, raisin and mineral water. The tea was deep at times and overall deliciously satisfying.

The Monkey Picked Ma Liu Mie Tie Guam Yin Oolong Tea (try chanting that thrice while skipping around the credenza) also proved delicious. Grown in the mountains of Taiwan, the tea had subtle notes of champagne, spinach, apple and wheat grass. A distinctly mellow and pleasant tea.

If you're in the market for a deep fruity black tea or a subtle-yet-sweet oolong, give either of these Teavivre teas a sip.

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

Friday, December 21, 2012

CC: Cuppa Joe

Subject: Cuppa Joe
Location: Breckenridge, CO
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

In looking for a relaxing mountain respite, I had heard from distant family that in the mountains of Colorado exists a delightful little town called Breckenridge, home to gorgeous sunny trails and numerous winter slopes. Recently, I was able to make it into town for a few days and although I twisted my ankle hiking the nearby beautiful mountains, the rest of the experience was grand.

One of the great benefits of the town was that they had local, good coffee. One spot in particular became my favorite, a 2nd floor cafe called Cuppa Joe located a little off the main street but within easy walking distance of almost everything. The coffeehouse had a few seats outside on their porch but inside existed plenty of room, with a well-arranged assortment of furniture, local art and pleasant lighting.

As for the joe, they serve Novo Coffee out of Denver. After conversing with the barista, she recommended the Guatemala La Providencia via Chemex and I also ordered an espresso of Espresso Novo. The chemex-ed Guatemalan proved sweet, with notes of pound cake, vanilla icing and pear, as well as a bit of cashew and beef broth; an overall delicious coffee with a medium body. The espresso, pulled short-to-medium with light brown crema, delivered a nice citrus zing, some vanilla, basil, cola, dark cocoa and rye, rounding out to be a slightly bright and thoroughly ambrosial infusion.   

Cuppa Joe proved to be a great, frequent stop in town, whether I was staying to enjoy the cafe or taking the coffee to go. If you have the pleasure of visiting Breckenridge, stop by Cuppa Joe for a some great coffee.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mugged: Nicaragua [AgroEco]

Subject: AgroEco
Mugged: Nicaragua, Union of Cooperatives San Ramon
Rating [see key]: 3+

I'm always elated to hear of organizations looking out for the welfare of coffee farmers. Without a healthy network of agriculture, the (coffee) world would disintegrate and thus, groups that promote sustainable and realistic aid to the coffee farms of the world are a great commodity.

One approach some organizations take with their efforts is to bring the coffee directly to consumers through an in-house label. One such organization that does this is CAN (Community Agroecology Network), based out of California. Not only does CAN work with helping farmers implement environmentally-friendly and economical practices, but CAN also sells coffee under their AgroEco label. The coffee comes directly from the farmers that CAN works with, and a portion from each sale goes to help the farmers. Curious as to whether the taste was as good as its intentions, I took their Nicaragua San Ramon for a spin via pourover, french press and siphon.

The drip produced a cup brimming with clove, cocoa, ginger and prune, with subtle flecks of oregano. A heavy and sultry coffee, the cloves proved this coffee a lot deeper than I initially expected from a light roast.

The french press boded similar, with clove, Honey Nut Cheerios, cocoa, apple, pepper and oregano. A peppery, sweet coffee with brighter notes than the pourover.

The siphon spouted also with cloves, honey, nuts, cocoa, pepper and oregano, though with a much more buttery texture. A sweet, deep coffee with strong notes of dried flower buds.

In the end, I would definitely not dub this coffee a light roast, as it embodied much more of a medium-dark flavor profile. Thus, understood to be a darker coffee, I would say that this Nicaraguan wasn't half bad, though the pepper and clove-ish aspects did not find much favor in my court. Thus, if you're in the market for a deep and spicy coffee that does great things for distant farmers, give AgroEco's Nicaragua a go.

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

Friday, December 14, 2012

CC: Artifact Coffee

Subject: Artifact Coffee
Location: Baltimore, MD
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

Some years ago, I had made my first hunt through Baltimore for a great coffeehouse and like magi looking for a newborn king in Herod's palace, I found little. While I did not find an actual great coffeehouse within the city limits, I did hear tales of a farm-to-table restaurant called Woodberry Kitchen doing amazing things with coffee. Sadly, I did not have a reservation (or time to stick around for what looked like a great dinner), so I had to leave Baltimore for greener coffee pasture.

Fortunately things in Baltimore have starkly improved in the past years. Not only have more coffee entities put down roots in the city proper (think Spro and La Mill) but Woodberry Kitchen has expanded to (re)animate a full service coffee house called Artifact Coffee. Located in an atypically beautiful stone structure with plenty of parking, the venue has received ample laud from the community (much of it spilling over from the great practices already occurring at Woodberry). Stepping inside, I found a beautiful space resembling a farmhouse outfitted with a lot of classy fixtures and beautiful rustic furniture.

Offering Counter Culture Coffee, I ordered a cup of Ethiopian Haru via pourover and an espresso of the Apollo espresso blend. The espresso, pulled short with a sturdy brown crema, sang notes of milk chocolate, vanilla, lemon, basil, granulated sugar and cake; a delightful pull of Apollo. The Haru additionally belted out a sumptuous melody of sweet cream, peaches, almond, cinnamon and a little grass all together producing a deliciously demure and lightly sweetened coffee.

Needless to say, all of the praise, quality joe and great food has made this a popular stop for folks, so if you come during mealtime, beware of crowds. But regardless of the wait, you should definitely drop by Artifact Coffee when you're in town.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Support Local Coffee & Tea

Keep your local establishments in business.

While it might sound like an obvious encouragement, it seems to be ever more falling on deaf ears. During the holiday craziness, folks increasingly turn to huge conglomerates and chains to get their gifts conveniently. And while there are things you can only grab off Amazon, some of what you buy for your loved ones could be easily bought down the street.

This holiday season, if you have a quality, local coffee or tea establishment worth your patronage, go out of your way to do make them a place where you get your gifts. Your dollars go far to keep your local barista and coffee roaster afloat.

In case you're looking for more on why keeping it local is best, check out this article from the ILSR.

A merry holiday to you and yours!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Mugged: Chesapeake Bay Coffee Roasting Company

Subject: Chesapeake Bay Coffee Roasting Company
Mugged: Lighthouse, Honduras and Eco-Reef
Rating [see key]: Lighthouse 4+, Honduras 3+, Eco-Reef 2+

A few years back, I heard about some coffee roasters turning from the widely-used paper/plastic bag to the age-old packaging of a coffee can. The reasoning was that the can was more sustainable and if outfitted with a CO2 valve, it kept the coffee just a fresh. Oddly, the trend never seemed to catch on (possibly because of the association coffee cans hold in the American psyche) and cans all but disappeared from microroasters.

But a few roasting operations went with the can and seem to be doing well with it. One such operation is Chesapeake Bay Coffee Roasting Company, a roaster based out of Maryland who recently sent three of their coffees to be reviewed. Their Honduras SO, Lighthouse and Eco-Reef I sampled via pourover, french press and siphon.

Starting off with the lightest roast, I took the Lighthouse for a spin. The pourover produced notes of milk chocolate, cream, slight ginger, apple skin and a little salty beef broth; a sweet chocolate cream with a touch of savory. The french press doled out chocolate milk, Life cereal, apple skin, anise and some malt with a medium body, proving sweet but a bit of rind. The siphon delivered notes of chocolate milk, pungent Life cereal, malty, oregano and apple skin; a medium-bodied brew with a nice cocoa and wheat quality. All in all, a coffee full of delicious notes of chocolate and sweet cereal with a few dark (occasionally akaline) undertones that were subtle enough to not offset the positives.

The Honduras, proving a touch darker, went next. Via pourover, the coffee emerged with a noticeable smokiness along with fig, slight vanilla and paper, eliciting a sweet, carbony brew. The french press proved less smoky, with notes of corn chip, vanilla, toffee and a little grape jelly, with but only a touch of smoke on the back end. The siphon was an average of the two prior, with notes of vanilla, tobacco, paper, toffee and a little corn, establishing this Honduran as pleasantly sweet coffee with a little too much smokiness.

The darkest of the three, the Eco-Reef finished off. The pourover trumpeted out pipe tobacco, apple, peanut, prune and a little cracker; a sweet and strongly smoky coffee with a medium body. The french press delivered a similar cup, with pipe smoke, apple, peanuts, cracker, oregano and touch of milk chocolate. The siphon proved the most intense in flavor, with strong notes of tobacco, caramel, cracker, cream and clove.  

While I enjoyed the Lighthouse a good bit, I liked the Honduras or Eco-Reef less, mostly due to their darker/smoky aspects (though if you're a fan of darker coffee, these might be the cans for you). Thus, depending on what you're looking for in a coffee, try out the Chesapeake Bay Coffee Roasting Company.

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

Thursday, December 06, 2012

CC: Caffe Driade

Subject: Caffe Driade
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

When wandering the woods like an avid jogger or naturalist, it's not typical to find a coffee house on the side of a hill along the trail. While it sounds like something out of the script of Hoodwinked or a a Dr. Suess story, it's indeed a reality in Chapel Hill. Of all the coffeehouses I've visited, none of them have been hedged into the forest as nicely as Caffe Driade.

Of course, the first time visitor finds them (if they can spot it) off the side of a major roadway, not easily visible in the back of their shared gravel parking lot. But after finding a spot, you walk into the pleasant jungle of their large patio system that surrounds the cafe on multiple levels (the bottom level leading to the Bolin Creek Trail). The ambiance is somewhat swanky and somewhat treehouse, with lots of vegetation looming in on every side of nice patio furniture. Compared to the patios, the actual building itself is comparatively small, with only enough interior room to sit a handful of patrons. But they make due with the space they have, with the counter greeting you as you first arrive, serving a host of options including beer and wine.

As far as coffee they offer Carrboro Coffee Roasters, a local roaster picking up popularity around the triangle. I ordered a drip of their Brazil and an espresso of their espresso blend. The espresso, pulled short with brown crema, held notes of cocoa, lime, shortbread, a bit of ginger ale and salt; a good pull and a great tasting extraction. The Brazil proved a bit on the darker side, with flavors of cloves, soft pretzel, pear, dandelion greens and blood orange within a heavy body. Though I'm not one who has much love for darker roasts, this brew actually grew on me and proved overall delicious.

Caffe Driade is definitely at the top of my list as far as unique cafes, pairing a woodsy escape with a good cup of coffee. If you're in the Chapel Hill area, definitely make a stop.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Mugged: Jamaica Blue Mt [C&C Specialty]

Subject: C&C Specialty Coffee
Mugged: Jamaica Blue Mountain
Rating: 3+ [see key]

While there are a lot of coffees that seem to come and go in the coffee market, Jamaica Blue Mountain is one of the constants. As I've said through the years, there's nothing intrinsically amazing about the region per say; I've had great coffee from Jamaica and I've had horrible. What separates the two are a lot of factors and sometimes it's risky to spend the money as a consumer to try and make the guess.

But if you're like me, taking an occasional gamble on a new coffee company elicits a slight thrill. The newest coffee purveyor of JBM to meet my acquaintance was from C&C Specialty Coffee. Intrigued as usual, I gave their coffee a whirl via drip, french press and siphon.

The drip produced notes of nuts, peanut chaff, caramel, croissant, fig and prune with a slight flavor of paper and aspartame. A medium bodied brew with a fair profile.

The french press demonstrated a similar nutty prominence (this time a little like pumpkin seeds) in a medium body with paper on the back end, but it also popped with some further flavor of corn chip, Life cereal and cola. 

The siphon followed suit with the nuttiness along with deep flavors of cola, wheat, a little nutmeg and a bit of paper on the back. An amply sweet and agreeable brew.

I found this Jamaica Blue Mountain a decent deep-flavored coffee with a lot of positive flavors perfect for a morning brew. The only detraction was the slight papery off-taste on the very back end of all the brews (possibly a stale batch, which happens to the best of roasters). Thus, if you're looking for a decent Jamaica Blue Mountain, give C&C Specialty Coffee a go.

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