Brandon's Notepad

June 15, 2020

Volcanic Red Coffee’s Sumatran Reserve

Filed under: Coffee,Food & Drink — Brandon @ 3:03 pm
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I happened across a bag of Volcanic Red Coffee’s Sumatran Reserve in the clearance section at the store one day. It was marked down to $3.99 (USD) per 12 oz. (340g) bag, so I figured it was worth a try. The description on the label reads: A full-bodied coffee, thick and syrupy, with dark chocolate notes and a hint of smokiness in the finish. Honestly, this is one of the best coffees I have ever tasted. Full-bodied is an accurate description and there is no dryness and no bad aftertaste at all. I also agree with the “chocolate” assessment as well. I have tried it black, creamed, and iced, and never once did it disappoint. Sadly, I do not see the “Sumatran Reserve” in the company’s online shop, but there is an Organic Sumatran offering and I will be looking for other roasts from this company in the future.

February 12, 2020

Pecan Coffee: Cameron’s Toasted Southern Pecan K-Cups

Filed under: Coffee,Food & Drink — Brandon @ 9:48 am
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To follow-up to the Cameron’s Toasted Southern Pecan ground coffee, I picked up a box of the K-Cups for the Keurig in the breakroom. As I’ve stated in other posts, I don’t expect much from K-Cups, but in this case I was completely blown away! The results were equivalent if not better than with the ground coffee. I can’t help but believe that this was due in part to the use of the Cameron’s EcoPod, which boasts a paper lid and compostable ring and filter instead of a plastic cup. The other part is just good coffee. To Cameron’s, the Keurig space isn’t a place to skimp on quality.

If that weren’t enough, I must relate what happened when I brewed a cup on the way out one evening. As I crossed the short walkway between the building and the parking garage, I was stopped by one of the executives. He asked me what kind of coffee I was drinking. I happily shared the name of the brand and flavor. He told me that the smell was amazing and he was surprised how well it lingered in the air. Now, it was a bit cool out and the air was moist, which accounts for why the aroma carried so well, but compliment on the smell can only be attributed to the quality of the coffee itself. Good job, Cameron’s!

February 10, 2020

Pecan Coffee: Cameron’s Toasted Southern Pecan

Filed under: Coffee,Food & Drink — Brandon @ 7:14 pm
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On a mildly-chilly day in mid-December, I broke out the trusty Melitta cup-top and a #2 filter and opened a new bag of Cameron’s Toasted Southern Pecan. I wasn’t expecting to try this one next, but I needed to replace my grinder at work and this one was already ground, so, why not?

Prior to this challenge, I didn’t know this brand at all. The company website states that it was founded in 1978 and was subsequently acquired in 1993. It is headquartered in Shakopee, Minnesota, a small suburb of Minneapolis. Maybe the branding changed recently or maybe it has taken this long for their coffees to reach the shelves in Texas, I don’t really know, but I don’t recall ever seeing it before. At this time, I can find it readily at Albertsons and Sprouts Farmers Market.

First impressions? The packaging is very nice. I like the style of the branding, especially the clipart-style steam lion emanating from the cup on the logo. The creamy white and bright red color scheme works well. The only element that doesn’t appear to be SVG is the photograph of the two pecan halves next to the flavor name on the front, but it works well in breaking up the composition and even adds pop.

Medium-light colored grounds confirm that the roast is indeed ‘light’ as labeled. The scent of the grounds was good when the bag was first opened, but nothing about it really screamed pecan. It became more rich when I broke up the brick that had formed in the bag. After that, it was impossible to escape the aroma.

Once brewed, the smell is nothing short of awesome! It doesn’t quite fill the room or anything, but it was there. It’s sweet and creamy smell, not stark or overpowering. The color is a beautiful reddish-brown, and not thin at all! One of my coffee mugs has speckles on the inside that can no longer be seen if more than a quarter-inch below the surface with this coffee. It feels full in the mouth and it goes down easy with no perceptible difference in aftertaste. I think it lives up to the motto “Always smooth, never bitter”. Very clean finish. Seriously, no bitter coffee face! I could easily drink this at my desk all day.

February 3, 2020

Pecan Coffee: Sprouts Toasted Pecan Coffee

Filed under: Coffee,Food & Drink — Brandon @ 5:38 pm
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We shop at Sprouts Farmers Market all the time! It is our primary grocery store and our primary source of coffee at home. The beans in the bulk dispensers is normally $10.99 per pound, but it is often on sale for $7 to $9, and the organic is often, but not always, the same price as the regular. Each store typically has three pump dispensers with different roasts/flavors for free taste-testing samples, though larger cups are available for a very reasonable price (I think it’s 99¢). This pecan coffee was regularly available as a sample in November and December and was inspiration for this tasting challenge.

The beans are matte, not shiny, indicating a shorter roast, the pecan flavor is present but not overpowering, and the taste of the coffee is good overall. It definitely doesn’t possess a chemical quality, but is much more natural-tasting than other flavored coffees. The only downside is that the aftertaste lingers, leaving the back of tongue dry. All of this makes it a really good “everyday” coffee, but it also means that there is nothing great to note about it. There is nothing that makes it stand out as an excellent pecan coffee.

January 31, 2020

Texas Pecan Coffee Challenge Extended

Filed under: Coffee,Food & Drink — Brandon @ 10:18 pm
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As usual, the best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry, or at least that’s Steinbeck’s take on life and in this case it has turned out to be true. I did get to taste quite a few of the pecan coffees before the end of the year, but I found no time to write about them as I had hoped. I felt very rushed and thought it would be better to spend a little more time getting to know each coffee than originally allotted. What’s more, there were a few surprises along the way that required some sorting out. Please watch for new posts next week for the next set of reviews.

December 17, 2019

Pecan Coffee: Green Mountain K-Cups

Filed under: Coffee,Food & Drink — Brandon @ 11:59 pm
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We switched to Keurig machines at work years ago. They are handy, efficient, and require less work for the day porters to maintain. The company supplies a variety of K-Cups, usually about 8 different kinds of coffee/tea at each coffee station. Most of the coffee is Starbucks brand and the remainder is typically Green Mountain. Based on this experience, I’ve learned to never expect much from the K-Cups in general, and much less from the Green Mountain selections (Dark Magic may be the one exception).

I managed to find two pecan coffees made by Green Mountain in K-Cup format: “Southern Pecan” and “Maple Pecan”. The Southern Pecan is a standard flavor available at the grocery store all year. The maple variety, however, is marked “Limited Edition” and was stocked with other seasonal foods, so I expect it will be unavailable in a month or so. I bought both on sale for approximately $7 for a 12-cup box.

Given my low expectations, I decided that I couldn’t judge these coffees too harshly, so my basis for evaluation is whether or not these are good enough to (a) buy my own coffee and bring it to work and/or (b) recommend that they swap out one of the existing selections for one of these (even if only temporarily for the seasonal maple variety).

One might expect to get one regular-sized cup of coffee from one K-Cup, so I brewed both of the coffees at the largest (10oz) setting. Both turned out to be very thin! The pecan scent is present, but the cup has to be close to the nose to be perceptible. The maple pecan has a slight syrup smell and taste, but it doesn’t add much over the southern pecan. Both are pretty much lifeless. So, I brewed another set at the smallest (4oz) setting, which made both a bit overpowering. Definitely too much maple! I added some milk (last resort) and that helped some, but I have become accustomed to taking my coffee black and adding cream and sugar just hides the taste of the coffee.

The verdict? Would I drink these regularly at work? No, definitely not, especially considering that they are competing with free Starbucks coffee. I will be leaving the leftover K-Cups in the breakroom for others to try.

December 16, 2019

Pecan Coffee: The Quick Fix Options

Filed under: Coffee,Food & Drink — Brandon @ 3:50 pm
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I’ve been busy for the last week collecting samples for my pecan coffee challenge. In the meantime, I thought it would be good to check on the availability of a few “quick fix” options for those on the go. I started looking around for pecan coffee at the big-name coffee shops and convenience stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and here is what I found.

A word of warning, this review is probably not for the real coffee aficionados out there, especially the ones that snub anything that isn’t natural, non-flavored whole beans roasted within the last 72 hours and packaged in a brown paper bag (delivered by drone in the pitch-black night of a new moon, etc., etc.). This post is for the busy people who yearn for pecan coffee but have no time to grind and brew for themselves. I’ll be covering the better options soon enough in subsequent posts.

The elephant in the room is obviously Starbucks, so we’ll address that one first. They do not have a pecan coffee on the regular menu, but they did offer a Fall seasonal Maple Pecan Latte in both 2017 and 2018. This was not a flavored coffee bean! It was an espresso-based drink sweetened with their Maple Pecan Sauce. The page for that drink is no longer available on the Starbucks website, but it can be found here on the Wayback Machine. The ingredients list clearly shows that no pecans are used in the sauce unless they are included in the “Natural Flavors”.

Next up is Dunkin’ Donuts. The only references I could find to pecan coffee at Dunkin’ online were for the Butter Pecan Swirl and Maple Pecan Swirl iced coffee drinks. Just to be sure, I called about a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts locations and asked if they have regular pecan coffee on the menu. The answer was no. I’m not really interested in their iced coffees for the purposes of this challenge, which doesn’t really matter, because they are seasonal drinks and not currently in the stores at the moment anyway.

IHOP and Waffle House seemed like good candidates, but no luck at either. Of the two, I thought that IHOP would be more likely to carry it, so again, I called a few of the restaurants and got several confirmations that they don’t offer it now, nor have they ever. If you find yourself there and are really hard up for a cup, I suppose (judiciously) using their butter pecan syrup as a sweetener might work in a pinch.

7-Eleven is always a good standby for coffee. The company does take their coffee seriously and they do sell a solid product with extra marks for variety and consistency. Yes, they have Texas Pecan coffee! And yes, it’s good! And very affordable! Now, please be aware that all of these factors (consistency, taste, price, etc.) are not accidental. Some dislike 7-Eleven coffee because it tastes engineered, or in other words, it doesn’t taste like real coffee. There are far more who obviously don’t care. All they know is that it tastes good, has a great price point, and doesn’t require standing in a long queue or drive-thru.

QuikTrip (QT) gas stations offer a huge variety of drinks, hot and cold. Ignoring the instant coffee makers (that also dispense various hot chocolates), each store sports about 6 to 8 self-service hot-coffee machines that brew from traditional coffee grounds. Typically, these contain different roasts plus decaf options, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a flavored coffee, probably because that aspect is covered by the “Flavor Center” creamer dispensers. So, no pecan there either.

RaceTrac is QT’s closest competitor in the gas station food market, and their store layout is now almost identical. I hadn’t been in one for a few years, so I dropped by today to find more self-service coffee dispensers (that appear to grind beans on the spot as well), none of which contained pecan coffee.

The only place other than 7-Eleven where I found pecan coffee to go was at the coffee bar at (H-E-B) Central Market. They usually have about half a dozen roasts or flavors to choose from in metal thermal pump-style carafes. They serve Texas Coffee Traders brand coffee and their site reveals that all of their flavored offerings are based on light roast beans from Latin America and that the flavoring is done “in-house” which I assume means in Auston where the company is headquartered. Incidentally, it goes for $13.50 per pound online at the time of this writing.

So there we have it, two big-name stores that regularly serve pecan coffee “to go” in the DFW area. If you happen to know of any place that serves it that I missed, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

December 6, 2019

Texas Pecan Coffee Challenge

Filed under: Coffee,Food & Drink — Brandon @ 5:21 pm
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Nothing says “Autumn” to me like a hot mug of pecan coffee. Yes, pumpkin spice has been all the rage in recent years thanks to a certain big-name coffee shop chain, but pecan coffee became a signature taste of the Southern United States long before that. Besides the baseline “Texas”, “Georgia” and “Southern” pecan coffees, there are variants such as butter, cinnamon, caramel, praline, bourbon and rum. I typically steer away from flavored coffees, but pecan coffee is a standing exception to that rule.

This year, the cravings started just before Thanksgiving with a grocery store sample. I thought it would be nice to have some at home during the upcoming holidays, but the question was, which one? I immediately pulled out my phone and started looking for options, but with so many to choose from, I just couldn’t decide. I wanted to try them all! And why not? It sounded like a fun challenge: to try as many as I could before the end of the year. So far, I have found about ten different brands that I could reasonably sample in that amount of time without breaking the bank.

In accepting this challenge, I have also decided to revitalize my Tea & Coffee Journal concept. For over half a decade, I kept a series of journals on my blog primarily containing reviews of various coffees and teas. I stopped this practice several years ago because it was too difficult to maintain in the format I was using and my plans for elaborate taste tests were starting to exceed my capacity in terms of both time and budget. Something that was started for fun was turning into a real chore, so I had to walk away from it for a time.  Now that I have set up a proper site for this sort of content, I can blog more freely about my hot beverage experiences and then aggregate the posts in an annual digest there.

On that note, if you would like to read more about this little adventure as it unfolds, please follow me here on WordPress, and/or on Twitter, and leave any pecan coffee recommendations you may have in the comments section below.

March 2, 2016

Coffee 2016

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Coffee-related journal containing info, news, opinions, recipes, tips, tricks, hacks, and reviews for the year 2016.

Journal Contents

#1 Kindred Coffee Company
#2 Butter…in Coffee?
#3 East African Peaberry Coffee
#4 Central Market Tanzania Peaberry
#5 Addison Ethiopia Sidamo Peaberry
#6 Stir Crazy
#7 Addison Kenya Peaberry
#8 Coffee Year in Review

Journal Entries

#1 – March 2, 2016 – Kindred Coffee Company
I thought I’d kick off my 2016 Coffee journal on a positive note and write a review of one of my favorite North Texas coffee establishments, Kindred Coffee Company in North Richland Hills. Formerly named La Familglia Caffe, this spacious restaurant occupies a store front on the Southwest corner of Davis Boulevard and North Tarrant Parkway on the northern fringes of town. Spacious is, of course, a relative term, as it is huge in comparison to your typical coffee bar. The exposed ceiling and full length wrap-around windows really open up the place and the posh ’60s-retro furnishings add the sophistication of an upscale diner. Despite the chalkboard menus and burlap coffee bean sack decor, this is not your cozy sit-on-the-couch-by-the-fire coffee house. And I think that is what I like most about the place: atmosphere. The level of conversation in the room is usually constant but quiet, making it easy to chat with the person you are with or even just to get lost in your thoughts for a while. Yes, there is free Wi-Fi, but the password is posted on a wall, presumably to detract folks from taking up parking spaces without coming in for a drink. Speaking of the drinks, I have tried most of their espresso-based offerings and have yet to be disappointed. I have it on good authority that the Turkish coffee is made the “right” way, and I must agree that it is pretty tasty. The coffee of the day, usually a blend, is good too, and they make a mean matcha green tea latte. My wife and I usually split a dessert, which like the coffee, has not failed to impress. For breakfast, they offer what most (non-Czech) Texans incorrectly refer to as kolaches (it’s called a klobasnek, people), but theirs is made from a two- to three-inch hunk of smoked sausage wrapped in a croissant and heated to just the right temperature. I have yet to try the ham and swiss “kolache” (which actually looks more like a Hot Pocket) but I’m sure it’s up to par as well. And, if you are just too busy to sit for a spell and soak it all in, you can text your order directly to the kitchen and they will deliver it to your car when you arrive. Now that’s service!

#2 – March 30, 2016 – Butter…in Coffee?
I first discovered this trend via social media. It was listed in one of those “17 Things You Should Try” type of write-ups, only this one was about popular coffee hacks. As you can imagine, there is must debate surrounding the wisdom of consuming large quantities of butter, especially in lieu of a healthy breakfast, but I won’t be able to settle any of that here. If you want to read more about that, I recommend starting with Nextshark’s 5 Reasons Why Everyone Is Suddenly Putting Butter In Their Coffee, and Kris Gunnars’ 3 Reasons Why Bulletproof Coffee is a Bad Idea, and then move on from there. You will eventually find references to a man named Dave Asprey, who is a self-proclaimed biohacker and the creator of Bulletproof Coffee, a recipe consisting mainly of butter, MCT oil, and some magic coffee beans he found one day (though legend has it that he may have gotten them in a trade for an old organically-raised grass-fed cow). He was featured by Bloomberg in the article Buttered Coffee Could Make You Invincible and This Man Very Rich. So, maybe it is healthy for those on a low-carb diet, or maybe not. Perhaps science will eventually tell us. My big question is “How does it taste?” I hadn’t thought much about this until recently, when I happened to be in possession of some Kerrygold Irish Butter. Why is this relevant? Because you aren’t supposed to use just any butter. It’s only “healthy” if you use butter made from the milk of grass-fed cows. And despite the photos attached to just about every story on the topic, if you have a pat of butter floating around in a cup of Folgers, then you are doing it wrong. The butter must be blended into the coffee, and most authors (who, like myself are coffee snobs writing articles for the reading pleasure of other coffee snobs) will tell you to use only the highest quality beans, or at least a nice strong pot of your favorite roast. The butter is used, of course, in lieu of cream and sugar. To be honest, it isn’t bad at all, quite good actually. The mixture is velvety with no sign of an oil slick on top. I have grown accustomed to drinking coffee without sugar, so that doesn’t bother me, and while I won’t claim that the butter made the coffee sweet, I can say that it wasn’t nearly as bitter as usual. In short, it’s worth a try at least once, but like other skeptics, I wouldn’t make this a frequent luxury (much less a daily part of a hardcore diet) until some conclusive health studies have been conducted.

#3 – April 9, 2016 – East African Peaberry Coffee
I was perusing the bulk bins at Central Market the other day, looking for an interesting coffee to review, and three things jumped out at me: peaberries, Africa, and Texas. Not literally, of course. I just happened to notice that the word peaberry kept showing up on the bin labels and I realized that I didn’t know exactly what that really meant. I looked it up using my smart phone. Peaberry coffee beans come from cherries in which only one of the the two seeds is fertilized, resulting in a single roundish bean instead of two beans with flat sides. This is a natural mutation which can occur in any region, and the resulting brew is typically more acidic and complex, though lighter than that of the more common double bean. There are tons of websites that explain this, so I didn’t feel it was necessary to link any particular one here. I would like to point out an article by the Coffee Detective that warns the consumer that while peaberries do produce a different taste, that difference is not necessarily dramatic enough to warrant a higher price. In other words, the hype over peaberry coffees is just that: marketing hype. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth trying, so I started looking for peaberry coffees to sample. That’s when I noticed that almost (if not) all of the choices available came from African origins, and specifically East African. What was it I said about Texas you ask? Well, it just so happens that Central Market favors local roasters, and by that I don’t mean just Dallas-based companies, but roasters from all around the state. The coffee roasting business seems to be particularly popular in Austin, which seems fitting when one considers the food and art scene there. So that’s my theme for upcoming journal entries, a focus on East African beans, peaberries in particular, roasted right here in the Lone Star State.

#4 – April 25, 2016 – Central Market Tanzania Peaberry
I started my excursion into East Africa with Central Market’s own “In-House!” brand Tanzania Peaberry, which originates in the Mbeye region of Tanzania and is roasted in Austin, Texas. Based on what I have read so far, I should expect more from the Ethiopian and Kenyan coffees, and this being a store brand, I figured that I would start with the lowest perceived quality and move up. The bin label in the store described this coffee as “sweet and tangy with flavors of vanilla, lemon, honeydew, and toffee.” The only one of these flavors that I could really pick up on initially was the toffee. The brew was very light with a weak body, even in the French Press, and the overall taste was tangy. After several cups I was about to give up on this one, and then I tried it cold. Using no sugar or creamer, I simple poured a cooled cup over ice. The flavor really came out, and I could finally taste the hints of vanilla and lemon. The aftertaste, which was not to my liking when served warm, became sharp and crisp. The light body was now an asset, making this iced brew a refreshing rival to iced tea.

#5 – May 5, 2016 – Addison Ethiopia Sidamo Peaberry
The Sidamo Peaberry, roasted by Addison Coffee Roasters located in (you guessed it) Addison, Texas, just north of Dallas, led to a completely different experience than the Tanzanian variety. The brew is much deeper and redder in color, and the taste much more bold. The aftertaste is smooth, not nearly as acidic, and the flavor far more balanced, giving it a pleasant aftertaste. It rolls in the mouth very easily. I was pleased with the taste brewed black, with no cream or sugar. I tried this one iced as well, with less than satisfactory results, so I don’t recommend it. This is labeled as a limited edition, which may be why it is not currently listed on their website.

#6 – July 29, 2016 – Stir Crazy
There has been a movement in the last few years to revive some of Fort Worth’s older neighborhoods, especially around the arts and medical districts. Magnolia Street in the Fairmount District is one of these, as new restaurants and other shops seem to have sprung up almost overnight. Looking for an afternoon treat one day, we ventured into Stir Crazy Baked Goods at the corner of Magnolia and 5th. I make it a point not to review an establishment after the first visit (unless I don’t see myself returning) and this is no exception, but I left that day wanting to write something to their praise. I resisted. Now, after a few more visits, I feel confident in recommending this as a great place to grab a piece of cake and cup of coffee with a few friends. The building they occupy was built in 1923, and though I have no idea what businesses were located there before, it is easy to imagine the place as a diner, soda shop, barbershop, or clothing boutique. Huge plate glass windows allow light to flood the dining room. Walls and fixtures are painted in a low-sheen black to contrast the white tin ceiling tiles and ductwork. And nothing screams “local start-up” like a mishmash of wooden tables and chairs from various genres of dining room furniture. The pastry case contains a medley of sweet offerings, but I am rather partial to the cakes displayed in glass domes above. As for the coffee, they serve locally-owned Avoca coffee, which I have not had time to review yet, but it is on my list. It is served from steel, self-service, pump-action airport dispensers in porcelain tea and coffee cups (if you are staying). And the coffee tends to be a bit on the weak side for my taste. That’s it? That’s my big rave? Yep. Sometimes its not about the coffee, but about the coffee experience. This place has a great atmosphere, and to be fair, they don’t claim to be a coffee house. It is a bakery that serves coffee. And it is great.

#7 – September 7, 2016 – Addison Kenya Peaberry
This is my third and last sampling of East African Peaberry coffees. I purchased the beans last Spring, along with the others, tasted it, formed my opinion, took notes, and then got too engulfed in the stuff of daily life to write the journal entry. The summer passed. I lost my notes, probably while cleaning my desk, and had to start over. Usually, when I sample several coffees like this, I buy just enough beans of each kind to make two or three small cups. However, when I went back for more Addison Kenya Peaberry, I knew that I was low on coffee at work so I filled a larger bag with about a quarter of a pound of beans, a decision I would eventually regret. Had I not lost my notes, I would have remembered that I did not like this particular coffee. This is nothing against Addison, as I rather liked their Ethiopian Sidamo. The profile of this coffee is different than the other two. It is not tangy like the Tanzanian, and not as smooth as the Ethiopian. It is very bold and I do not care for the aroma of the grounds. With enough beans on hand, I started to experiment. In the end, I found that a very light brew made with half of the coffee I usually use and creamed with frothed milk (no sugar) made for a very nice cup. Even then, this is far from my favorite coffee.

#8 – December 30, 2016 – Coffee Year in Review
As 2016 draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on things that went well this year and things that could’ve been better. Professional development dominated my time and attention, which was a big plus, but it cost me the freedom to read and blog at my leisure. As a result, my backlog of research topics grew and I often had no choice but to save off information with no real plan for integrating it into my work. All I could do was make a promise to myself that I would eventually get back on task. This coffee journal is no exception. I was pleased to expand my entries to include reviews of local coffee establishments and I enjoyed the dive into East African coffee, but I had plans for much more than I managed to accomplish. Hopefully, 2017 will bring about some pleasant changes.

February 11, 2015

Coffee 2015

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Home > My Lists > Food & Drink > Tea & Coffee > Coffee Journals > 2015

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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