Brandon's Notepad

February 11, 2015

Coffee 2015

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New in 2015, my first coffee journal! I have been logging my thoughts about tea for years. Now I’ve committed myself to writing about my coffee experiences too.


Journal Contents

#1 Brewing Something New
#2 Christmas Blends
#3 Starbucks Woes
#4 EarlyWine Breakfast Blend
#5 Flat White
#6 More Flat White
#7 Single-Origin Series
#8 Rift Valley
#9 Mount Ramelau
#10 Laguna de Ayarza
#11 On Tasting Weak Coffee
#12 No More Coffee! (For A While)
#13 While I was Away
#14 Out With The Old…


Journal Entries

#1 – January 23, 2015 – Brewing Something New
After years of logging my thoughts on various tea offerings, I decided to start writing about my other drinking habit: coffee. And why not? I have been a heavy coffee drinker for many years, and my interest in tea is a relatively recent development. The new journal format is working well for me on my Tea 2015 page, so I decided to use it here too.

#2 – January 30, 2015 – Christmas Blends
Christmas is a big day for coffee around our house. Santa always drops a bag or two in our stockings, and the extended family keeps us in beans and grounds for at least a month. At least one bag (but usually more) of “Christmas Blend” ends up in the mix. Amongst them this year was both the Christmas Blend and Holiday Blend from Starbucks. Special thanks go to Pete Bickford for letting us all know that these products are actually identical…and for stating pretty much the same thought that crossed my mind when I saw the bags side-by-side. If that wasn’t confusing enough, sometime during the holiday season (sorry, it was probably Advent, and not Christmas) I inadvertently ordered a Christmas Blonde at one of the stores. It was actually pretty good, by the way, and I’m not a big fan of their lighter roasts, so that says a lot. The Holiday Blend from Sprouts Farmers Market (store brand) on the other hand did not quite live up to expectations, which makes me even more thankful that we bought it after Christmas on clearance for only $2.99 for a twelve ounce a bag. This year we also scored a bag of Christmas Blend from Mystic Monk Coffee, a brand I like, though this blend got mixed reviews within the household. I’m not prepared to do it this season, but maybe next Christmas I should do a taste test of Christmas Blends.

#3 – February 3, 2015 – Starbucks Woes
Years ago, when we frequented Starbucks far more often than we do now, I would register gift cards to get free refills on in-store drink purchases. At some point we stopped going there, and it was during that dry spell that they changed the rewards program somewhat. Well, we’ve found ourselves back there on a regular basis again, and I decided to start building up points again. I was happy to see that my account was still in existence, and that they now offer what appears to be a very feature-rich iPhone app. Now I can register one card and reload while waiting in line to place my order if need be. One big problem: my old account still had my credit card information and old mailing address listed…and I could not change them…on the phone or on the website! I wrote to support and the problem mysteriously resolved itself before they had a chance to write back to tell me that they could not recreate the problem. Once I got past that, I wanted to enter some star codes from some bags in the pantry. It looks like that operation can only be performed using the website and only two star codes can be entered per day. I assume this is to deter people from ripping thirty star code stickers off the bags at the grocery store to get instant Gold status. If so, this is a very weak control. Not only does it not go so far as to prevent this behavior, it eliminates the ability to instantly detect suspicious entries. And why does it take up to twenty-four hours for star points to post anyway? The in-app store finder is very useful, especially when the “Open Now” filter is applied, but I have yet to see the pay icon show up on my lock screen when I approach one of my favorite stores. All in all though, I am enjoying the new rewards program.

#4 – March 5, 2015 – EarlyWine Breakfast Blend
We are slowly working through another bag of coffee from Christmas: EarlyWine Breakfast Blend from Independence Coffee Company, Brenham, Texas. That’s right, the home of Blue Bell Ice Cream! I’m not usually one for breakfast blends, but this stuff is pretty good, especially when brewed extra strong in a French Press. This is the kind of coffee that you want to sip while sitting on the front porch, watching the sun come up…maybe even with some eggs and toast…and half of a grapefruit covered in sugar. Yep, that needs to happen as soon as it warms up around here. Two other great things about this coffee are that it’s affordable ($8 for 12 ounces; comparable to a bag of Starbucks at full price), and it appears to be available at H-E-B food stores (which for those of us in North Texas means Central Market).

#5 – April 16, 2015 – Flat White
As every patron should know by now, Starbucks is offering a new espresso drink called the Flat White. Like most espresso drinks, it’s basically a combination (some approximate ratio) of espresso and milk. I like espresso drinks, and to be honest, Starbucks has me hooked. I’d rather have a flat white than a cup of their plain coffee any day. They are mellow, smooth, and creamy, and I don’t even need to add sweetener. The only problem is that (IMHO) they are a bit expensive, so I have to curb my cravings. Today is special: I used one of my Starbucks Rewards to buy a Venti Flat White, hoping it would inspire me to finish this journal entry (which I first drafted in early February). Like most Americans, I had never heard of a Flat White before, and figured it was one of Starbucks’ trendy marketing labels. Come to find out,
the name probably evolved in the 1980s when Antipodeans (New Zealanders and Australians) needed an Anglicized term when ordering the type of coffee they were used to drinking at home in the new cafés opened by immigrants from Europe (by Italians in particular). Do a Google Image search on Flat White and you’ll see cups of froth-topped espresso (resembling cups of cappuccino) crowned with a design created by dragging the dark coffee through the milky white foam with a spoon (commonly referred to as latte art). This is not what you get at Starbucks. No, you only get an iconic Starbucks cup with a white lid. Even the ads show a plain cup of dark coffee with a white spot floating in the center. Is it any wonder why Starbucks didn’t do so well in Australia, where the coffee culture is far more sophisticated than it is in America? I no longer have an espresso maker in my kitchen, but the thought of being able to make this drink at home has made me consider buying one.

#6 – April 24, 2015 – More Flat White
In a search for more information about the Flat White phenomenon, I found
The Flat White: Explained by Alex Bernson, Managing Editor of Sprudge. As a basis for this article, Bernson’s research team polled over 2,300 Antipodean readers in an attempt to define what exactly a Flat White is. The results are…well, not shocking to be honest…but the article makes for a very entertaining read. There were some quick write-ups on Coffee Hunter, Some Origin Stories, The Independent, and others as well. Posts like these provide an insight that cannot be obtained from Starbucks marketing or the stale Wikipedia article, a view from both home and abroad. The Antipodeans are very proud of their coffee and Starbucks is more or less famous among them for doing it wrong. And the more I read about the preparation and the microfoam — despite my fondness of Starbucks’ offering — I tend to agree with them, and I hope to have the opportunity to try the real thing down under someday.

#7 – May 19, 2015 – Single-Origin Series
Since September of last year, Starbucks has offered a selection of single-origin coffees in the U.S. grocery aisle. I found the marketing instantly appealing, the gold print on shiny brown bag and the incorporation of stippled continental political maps as “cover” art. At first, I only noticed the K-Cup offering, but eventually saw the (much preferred) bagged grounds alongside the other Starbucks varieties. I bought a bag of each and started using them for my morning cup at work. I brewed Rwanda Rift Valley first, which makes a wonderfully rich brew, deep and mellow. Eventually, I moved on to the Timor Mount Ramelau and Guatemala Laguna de Ayarza, but the Rift Valley remains my favorite. I plan to spend the next few days documenting my findings here in this journal. As a rule, I don’t pay much heed to tasting descriptors any more for coffee than I do for wine. Knowing that one is citrusy and another is chocolaty doesn’t persuade my purchase decision: I simply taste, and when I find a coffee I like, I stick with it for a while. All three of these coffees have a description printed on the front of the bag, directly under the name, and I plan to put each one to the test during this comparison. I have also brewed all three of these coffees using a variety of methods: cup-top cone filter, reusable K-Cup, and of course, French press.

#8 – May 20, 2015 – Rift Valley
I find the Rift Valley single-origin coffee to be very drinkable, meaning that I consider it to be a safe and inviting choice for any time of the day. The bag claims that it is medium-bodied, which I feel was an accurate description of the product brewed using the cup-top filter (and thus, probably any drip maker). The French press simply adds body, because the oils aren’t being extracted by the filter. This coffee is not acidic tasting, so two cups in a row will not turn my stomach. I will agree with the “spicy dark-chocolate notes” and might even go so far as to call out cinnamon specifically. I failed to detect the “hints of sweet citrus” until I switched my mind from orange to lemon, then I picked it up. Floral aromas? Yes, but I don’t know that I would classify them as “heady”. As I stated above, this easily became my favorite of the three coffees in the series, especially when brewed in the French press. As a side note, the
Albertine Rift is the result of tectonic movements and covers part of Rwanda.

#9 – May 21, 2015 – Mount Ramelau
This coffee is a bit tangy for my taste, which (IMHO) contradicts the description on the bag that it is smooth. I also find it to be bitter, not sweet. Perhaps I am inadvertently comparing it to the Rift Valley and not judging it on its own right. As expected, the French press adds body and, yes, perhaps a little sweetness. I’m not sure how they came up with “mild herbal spice notes”. The cup-top drip resulted in a somewhat woodier brew — and I’m referring to taste, not aroma. Seriously, it tasted like I had stuck a block of wood in my mouth. The aftertaste is not only bitter, but also a little on the dry side. No, I don’t dislike this coffee. I think I just have to be in the right mood for it. By the way,
Mount Ramelau is also known as Tatamailau.

#10 – May 22, 2015 – Laguna de Ayarza
With the first two coffees in the single-origin series falling on completely opposite ends of my preference range, it’s real no surprise that this one landed somewhere in between. It’s not as deep as Rift Valley or as sharp as Mount Ramelau, but is “rich and balanced”, just as it says on the bag. The citrus aroma is of dried oranges and it is chocolaty, though maybe not so sweet. In fact, it tastes very middle-of-the road. I don’t care for the aftertaste, however, as it leaves my mouth dry. Much like the coffee,
the Wikipedia article on Laguna de Ayarza is short and simple, and leaves you wanting something more.

#11 – May 26, 2015 – On Tasting Weak Coffee
I mentioned last week that I brewed the Starbucks single-origin coffees using a variety of methods, one of which was reusable K-Cup. I use the
Melitta Java Jig, and I’ve had widely-varied results with this method depending on the coarseness of the grind, the level to which the filter is filled, and even how tightly the coffee is packed in there (Keurig machines are not espresso makers, ok?). The coffee made using this little contraption is usually weak, especially in comparison with the French press. I used it here so that I could observe some of the more subtle attributes of the coffees. One example is color. I was surprised to see that the Rift Valley came out the lightest and Mount Ramelau the darkest. Laguna de Ayarza proved to have the sweetest aroma, and Mount Ramelau had by far the most potent taste, especially as the coffee cooled. All cups brewed using this method were tasted without any creamer or sweetener.

#12 – June 1, 2015 – No More Coffee! (For A While)
A fitness challenge has been declared at the office, and I’m answering the call. This means hitting the gym more often, eating cleaner, drinking more water, and staying away from *gasp* caffeine as much as possible. So, I’m switching from coffee (95-200mg/8oz†) to green tea (24-45mg/8oz†) and the occasional cup of herbal tea (often caffeine-free) for the next three months. I will likely continue posting to my
Tea 2015 page in the meantime. Oh yeah, and I recently found (and enjoyed) What Does ‘Single Origin’ Coffee Really Mean? by Liz Clayton.

† Caffeine content amounts from Mayo Clinic

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