Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mugged: Colombia [Handsome, via Moustache]

Subject: Handsome Coffee Roasters
via Moustache Coffee Club
Coffees Mugged: La Plata, Huila Colombia
Rating [see key]: 5+

I remember back in the day about ten years ago when LA was a byword in the coffee world, with little as far as places offering great coffee. Now, the fortunate opposite is true with so many great shops and roasters swelling in numbers every day.

One newer coffee entity out of the fair land of So Cal is the Moustache Coffee Club, a coffee curator service that sends its customers coffee in 6 or 12 ounce quantities at various chosen frequencies. Recently, I had the fortune of trying out a great Moustached shipment from the LA coffee powerhouse Handsome Coffee Roasters, specifically their offering from La Plata, Huila, Colombia. Taking it to task, I sampled it via pourover, Espro Press and siphon.

The pourover doled a delicious array of raisin, unsweetened cocoa, rosemary, whipping cream, birch root, some gala apple and a pinch of habenero. A great tasting coffee with a medium body and a dry finish.

The Espro Press delivered an even richer infusion bordering on syrupy-sweet, with notes of raisin, dark chocolate, mead, lily florals, caramel, oatmeal w/ brown sugar and a little wheat, all within medium body.

The siphon I decided to brew a little lighter to see what it would do to the profile and I was tickled with the result. Tasty qualities of cornflakes, caramel, honey, oatmeal w/brown sugar and a little wheat emerged amidst a lighter-bodied coffee that would be a perfect addition to any breakfast table.

All together, if all of the Moustache Coffee Club's offerings are this delicious, I would give a hearty huzzah to any bloke looking for such a wonderful service. If you need beans, give Moustache, or Handsome for that matter, your money.

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

Sunday, July 28, 2013

CC: Axum Coffee

Subject: Axum Coffee
Location: Winter Garden, FL
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 4+ [see key]

When it comes to theme parks, there seems that there's no rival to Disney World. Even for the folks who have never been, there are few people (especially in the States) who cannot describe the wonders of the kingdom. I personally have been fortunate enough to have visited at least five times in my life, with three of them occurring after the time I became particular about my coffee. And while this might seem like an odd (or obvious) thing to say, it is important to note that despite places in the park (like Epcot) having great cuisine, it's still incredibly hard to get a good cup of coffee in or around the parks.

Thus, if you were foolish enough not to come packing or you just like driving, you will end up venturing out to seek out good coffee in the surrounding areas. One place of promise that came up in my research was Axum Coffee in Winter Garden, about 25 minutes north of Disney and 25 minutes west of downtown Orlando. One early morning apart from the entourage, I made my way over with hopes of finding delicious results.

Pulling into the lovely downtown of Winter Garden, I quickly found Axum Coffee's inviting storefront, with its open windows and vastness of outside seating in the adjoining alley (though it was far to nice to deserve the name 'alley'). Inside the decor was warm and inviting, with splashes of bright colors and chic furniture, all pulling together the open space nicely.

Of course the main reason I was drawn to this place was it's coffee, having numerous offerings from Batdorf and Bronson out of Atlanta. Since a dreamy experience at B&B's Decatur cafe Dancing Goats back in the day, I was stoked to try out this distant Florida outpost. I ordered the Dancing Goats espresso and a pourover of an Ethiopian Harrar. The espresso, pulled to a medium volume with swirled brown crema (and infused a tad too hot), demonstrated notes of dark cocoa, birch, anise, vanilla wafer and cola within a heavy body, all in all seeming to more closely emulate a traditional Italian-style espresso, leaning a bit bitter, though in totality not a bad pull. The pourover of Ethiopian seemed to also have a bit of a dark bite, as the coffee had glorious notes of blueberry, walnut, mild banana, shredded wheat and arugula but there was a powerful quality of basil as well as some bitter characteristics that seemed to overshadow the natural positives. It should be noted that the water quality of Winter Gardens is quite sulfur-y, and thus the tasting notes of the above coffees could have been influenced by said criteria (i.e. if there was no water filtration, the water definitely played a huge role).

Alas, my experience at Axum proved less grand than I had hoped, being that the coffees I sampled came out a little less optimal than I had expected. Nonetheless, it did seem like Axum had their proverbial ducks in a row (good roaster, seemingly well-trained baristas, etc.), so in this case it might have been an anomaly. Thus if you're in the neighborhood of Winter Garden, roll by Axum Coffee to try them for yourself.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bonavita Scale, Stand and Brewer

For folks immersed in the coffee industry, it's a well-accepted fact that the best way to measure out appropriate amount of coffee grounds is through weight, not volume. Long gone is the trust in the coffee scoop and all stock has been invested into accurate digital scales.

Fortunately the great folks at Seattle Coffee Gear offer a Bonavita pourover brewing solution fit for a barista. Not only does it include a gorgeous water resistant digital scale able to weigh out 12.5 lbs and be accurate to a 0.01 of a gram, but the included brewing stand and brewer also fit perfectly atop the scale for easy simultaneous use.

Below is a video they released regarding the equipment:

Being fortunate enough to get my hands on a such an apparatus thanks to Seattle Coffee Gear, I was able to try it out in the course of my coffee routine.

Regarding correct function of the scale (what good is it if it wasn't calibrated?), I did a quick check of the scale using fixed weights to ensure it was fully operational and accurate. I did find the scale to be consistently short by about 0.2 grams, but given the consistent nature of the offset, I wasn't worried about the -0.2 g (it was also interesting to note that the tolerance of +/- 0.01g seemed intact, though not fully verifiable since the scale only goes into tenths (0.1 g)).

Moving on to use of the digital scale in the realm of brewing, it proved accurate in all of my coffee measurements (ounces, grams and pounds), with the scale having just the right amount of sensitivity (aka not so sensitive that air caused fluctuations but sensitive enough that it adjusted based on small adjustments of grinds/water added). As expected, the zero/tare button proved invaluable in using the scale during brewing as it allowed real-time measurement of the coffee weight during the infusion. Also, the utilization of a built-in timer for infusions like french press was a handy feature. And although I did not dunk the scale to determine its level of water resistance (it's not a cheap scale), the scale did not seem to be worse for wear after some moisture exposure. Overall, I only have praise for the scale.

Regarding the stand and the brewer, I found them to be a solid addition to the scale. Initially my main concern was stability, as the porcelain brewer seemed a bit heavy to put atop the stand without any means of securing it to the adjustable-height O ring (I have children, so safety is huge). But in my trials, I really had no issues with instability. The O ring never budged under any weight and was very easy to adjust during any part of the brewing process. And due to the way the stand sits snugly on the scale, there's little danger of toppling due to top-heaviness, especially when a mug/vessel sits on the stand adding some extra weight (of course it should be noted that it's not space-travel-steady or Sesame-Street-safe, so like any coffee stand use caution and keep it out of reach of children).

Another aspect of the brewer that's worth pointing out is the hole size on the bottom of the brewer. If you're used to a chemex or v60, you would be wise to note that the Bonavita has a much smaller opening, which means that the coffee will naturally drain out a bit slower. I found the slower rate of escape a positive and with a few tweaks in grind size and quantity, the brewer made great coffee.

All in all, I found the Bonavita scale, stand and brewer to be a great combination for home use, not to mention for utilization in the hands of a skilled barista. If you happen to be seeking a digital scale and/or pourover stand, check out Seattle Coffee Gear.

Note: Use of equipment was provided free of charge and that the above review is completely objective.

Monday, July 15, 2013

CC: Bow Truss Coffee Company

Subject: Bow Truss Coffee Company
Location: Chicago, IL (Broadway Roastery)
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

I've found nice morning walks very cathartic when I visit Chicago. Maybe it's the soothing hum of the trains amidst the wind gusts, or maybe its delayed gratification of making a bit of a targeted trek to a great coffee spot for my gloriously anticipated first cup of morning coffee.

No matter the reason, my most recent Chicago morning stroll led me to the doors of Bow Truss Coffee Company's Broadway roastery. Arriving earlier then many of the other patrons, I was greeted with a calm quiet cafe that resembled a bit of an old rustic factory and farmhouse, with rich wood furniture up front and the coffee roasting operation in the back (note: there are sadly no bathrooms).

For my coffee, I ordered an espresso of a Guatemalan (La Sofia I believe) and a V60 of their Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. The espresso, pulled short with a brownish crema, delivered orange juice, cocoa, licorice, lime zest and nutmeg, proving very bright yet deep, all tying together quite nicely. The yirg trumpeted out giant notes of fruit punch, with bits of vanilla, croissant, cocoa and rose petals; an all around juicy coffee with some nice rich sweet elements on the back end.

To say the least, I was greatly pleased with my inaugural AM visit to Bow Truss. If you happen to be in need of a coffee destination, or just a pit stop on your morning walk, make one of Bow Truss Coffee Company's locations a pin on your Chicago map. 

Sunday, July 07, 2013

CC: Buzz: Killer Espresso

Subject: Buzz: Killer Espresso
Location: Chicago, IL
Free WiFi ? : yes
Rating: 6+ [see key]

How a barista handles customers coming in during the last half hour of business says a lot about a place in my mind. Within that final half hour, a lot of shops begin to shut down and clean their equipment, because like most people, the employees want to go home sooner rather than later. If things are slow and people aren't really ordering much, than usually no one notices the gradual wind down. But have a sudden up-spike in business with a small bus tour of eager customers walking in 5 minutes before closing, that's when you will see the difference in establishments.

I had a great experience at Chicago's Buzz: Killer Espresso one fine evening a little under a half hour before their 8 PM close. Usually I try not to show up to a coffeehouse that close to the buzzer (pun intended) but especially when I'm traveling and my adventures keep me from being as punctual as I would like, I will give it the old college try. I walked up their stoop and inside to their gorgeously designed cafe (clean, polished and lots of seating) and asked if they were still serving espresso and pourovers. To my delight, the barista did not give me a furrowed brow and the monotone "we're closing soon so I can only make you ___ drinks" spiel, but instead heartily smiled and began a chipper exchange with me as she took my order.

Buzz has a roasting arm called Buzz: Artisanal Coffee Roaster, of which that evening I ordered an espresso the Hornet Espresso Blend and a pourover of a Kenya. The espresso, pulled short with a brown crema, smacked of silky chocolate, cherries, a touch of cayenne pepper, some whole milk and a good squeeze of lime; deliciously extracted with all the potency of the hornet's sting but nothing but euphoria. The Kenya also delivered a sumptuous beverage, with notes of milk chocolate, strawberry, vanilla wafer, a little dill and a touch of wheat grass, making for a sweet and juicy coffee.

Fortunately, Chicago is a great city of great coffee people and Buzz kept to that high standard. If you're in the area of Wicker Park, definitely stop by Buzz.

Mugged: Various Pacifics [Java Dancer]

Subject: Java Dancer Coffee 
Coffees Mugged and the rating of each [see key]:
- Java Arabica 2+
- Sulawesi Toraja Kalossi 2+
- Sumatra Gayo Highland 3+
- Wamena Arabica - Papua 3+

One of the more encouraging trends I see in coffee-producing countries these days is the rise in coffee roasters and cafes within their own borders. Most often in the past (and even still overwhelmingly today), coffee usually leaves the land of its upbringing only to be fully realized in its most beautiful form upon foreign soil by the hands of an alien roaster. But now more then ever, there are coffee entities popping up between the tropics, taking the very produce of their homeland and bringing the bean to its finale just down the road from where it grew.

One such entity new to my radar is Java Dancer Coffee of East Java, in Indonesia. Not only do they have a cafe presence but they roast their own coffee too. Recently they sent me out 4 different coffees to try (they sent one coffee twice, hence the image of 5 bags above (gotta be transparent)). Sadly having come from so far away, I was not guaranteed peak freshness (within the first 2 weeks of roasting), so it was disclosed in the beginning that the coffees came to my table at a slight disadvantage. Nonetheless, I brewed each via drip and french press (no siphon this time because of the excessive number of coffees sent, I only had so much time).

The Java Arabica brewed via pourover held out notes of tootsie roll, malt, oregano and cigar, with a deep body and heavy aftertaste. The french press boded similar with tobacco, tootsie roll, peppercorn and a slight bit of apple; lighter but still pretty heavy and bitter.

The drip of the Sulawesi Toraja Kalossi rang of clove, bran, cayenne pepper, unsweetened cocoa, apple and pepper, showing dark yet sweet notes. The french press also had cloves, spinach, cayenne and cocoa, with a deep and meaty profile that tasted less sweet than the drip.

The Sumatra Gayo Highland proved better than the first two coffees, with more notes of whole milk, cocoa, nutmeg and cinnamon toast, though the qualities of smoke and dark bitter tones still haunted it. The french press, while a bit smokier and of more pepper, still held encouraging notes of sweet milk, cocoa, nutmeg and basil. All in all, this coffee might be amazing if roasted lighter (and of course served fresher).

The last coffee up, the Wamena Arabica - Papua, proved also fairly decent in quality. The pourover dished out notes of Dr. Pepper, lemon pepper steak, dates, blue corn chips, raisin and buttermilk all amidst a heavy body. The french press held more lemon pepper and date, with the additional tastes of Tabasco and corn chip, all together having a milky texture and heavy body. 

While these coffees all started at a dual disadvantage of not being there freshest and also being roasted a little dark, the Sumatra Gayo and Wamena Arabica at least showed some good promise for being decent coffees if prepared differently (I was not a fan of the Java or Sulawesi). Thus, if you seek somewhat dark, Indonesian-roasted Indonesian coffee, give Java Dancer Coffee a whirl.

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