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Mail-Order Sommelier

Even Man Seeking Coffee Gets the Blues

Once in a while, even this man gets tired of seeking coffee. Some days I wake up and hope to find a good cup of coffee that required no research on my part. No thinking, yet something new, different and interesting. I suppose I’d have to change the name of this blog. Man Drinking Coffee? Man Being Handed a Cup of Coffee? OK. It would be less interesting to read, but at least my life would be simpler.

The problem is finding that certain special someone I’d trust to pick out my coffee for me. I’m too much of a perfectionist to relinquish that kind of control, and for good reason. While several “coffee-of-the-month” clubs have sprung up over the years, most of the coffee being delivered is downright frightening. And while most high quality roasters provide their own “roaster’s choice” subscription service, why limit yourself to just one roaster? That kind of brand-loyalty no longer makes sense in our current Renaissance of high-end coffees.

The Market Responds

I recently received an email from the Roasters Club, “a coffee club that features three coffees every month” from “the top roasters in the country.” October was their inaugural month and they wanted to send me a month’s subscription. I was dubious, but a quick glance at their website revealed that Roaster’s Club was currently partnered with six well-respected roasters, and that list is set to expand. The coffees being sent to me were from three roasters – PT’s Coffee Company, Metropolis Coffee Company, and Higher Grounds Roasters  – that have been on my hit list for quite some time.

I was curious why this company seemed so different. My contact, Paul, was very candid that he is no coffee expert, but not entirely unfamiliar with coffee either having run a coffee equipment company (www.CoffeeMakersEtc.com) for the past several years. He is a coffee enthusiast, however. He had wanted to add coffee to his prior business, but wanted it to be good. It took him a while to figure out the best way to do it and he didn’t see anyone else really giving this a try.

My Coffee Package Commeth

The box from Roasters Club arrived a few days later. It included two of my three bags of coffee (from PT’s and Metropolis) as well as coffee fact sheets that included tasting notes as well as background information on both the farmers and roasters. The information wasn’t mind-blowing, but is on-par with what you might expect from such a service. Typically, all three coffees would arrive at once, but my Higher Grounds coffee arrived a few days later due to a shipping mix-up that Roasters Club did its best to quickly rectify.

I was happy to see that the coffee from PT’s and Metropolis arrived very fresh – just 4 days off the roast. Since Higher Grounds doesn’t appear to roast date their coffee, I couldn’t be sure how old it was. From the information I got from roasters club, I believe it was about 8-9 days old. A middleman like Roasters Club, however, might just have the buying clout to persuade roasters to take up measures like roast dating. Of course, at the very least, they could fill a gap by including this kind of information on the coffee fact sheets.

In our email exchange, Paul also told me that Roasters Club is considering a possible west coast center of operations that would ensure an even more rapid delivery of West Coast coffees to West Coast subscribers. This arrangement could be a plus if freshness trumps variety in your book, but I would hope they retain the option for customers to receive a slightly less fresh shipment of coffee from East Coast roasters.

Pros and Cons: Pros Win

The biggest drawback to a service like Roasters Club has to do with timing and quantity.  You get 3 – 12 oz bags each month so you may have trouble consuming it all, or consuming it all while it’s still fresh. I figure to make the math work, your household needs to consume at least 3-4 cups of coffee per day. That doesn’t mean that single consumer households are out of luck. You might simply drink a lot of coffee, throw a lot of dinner/breakfast parties or feel like sharing a subscription with friends. After all, it turns out the service is a pretty good deal.

The total for my three coffees on the roasters’ own websites came to $40.46. A four-month subscription at Roasters Club is $52.75, but the rate each month for a year is just $45.75. When you consider the price of shipping (usually $4-8 for 2-3 pounds), the coffee fact sheets, and the work it takes to put a package like this together (think about the time you’d spend to identify and buy these coffees), this subscription is very reasonably priced. It gets even cheaper when you consider that you get a $30 Aerobie Aeropress with your first order.

On top of all that, the coffee is pretty good. These coffees lived up to, and in some cases, exceeded my expectations. I ran these coffees through the ringer and my only real disappointment was that none of them really worked as a single-origin espresso. Then again, no one promised that they would. Perhaps there’s room for an espresso subscription in Roasters’ Club future.

Beans: Bolivian Caranavi
Roaster: Higher Grounds Roasters
Rating: 3

This was the least exciting of the three coffees, despite Higher Grounds having earned the title of Micro-Roaster of the Year in 2008 from Roast Magazine. It was still a very nice, medium-bodied, somewhat earthy cup. There were very distinct bittersweet chocolate notes with toffee and caramel like the Columbia from Metropolis, but whereas that coffee was fruity, this one contained something a bit more wild, herbal and perhaps floral – hyacinth and spring leaves. It was a somewhat mild coffee and might get quickly overwhelmed. If paring it with desert, I’d suggest a panna cotta but certainly nothing chocolate. I liked it best as a French Press.

Beans: Colombia San Rafael
Roaster: Metropolis Coffee Company
Rating:
3+

This coffee was a bit beguiling in more ways than one. The bag described this bean – appropriately I believe – as medium roast, yet the website says it should be light. My first reaction was that this bean was over-roasted. Although I got a lot of sweet cocoa and red berry brightness, I also picked up on some shaved and slightly burnt wood. I don’t know if I did something wrong, or it just needed to rest, but after a couple days, this coffee transformed. I got all the good notes mentioned above in an amazingly silky mouthfeel with a beautiful figgy sweetness. This coffee isn’t going to knock your socks off but it is a real crowd-pleaser. Again, I liked this one best as a French Press.

Beans: Ethiopia Limu Gomma Organic
Roaster: PT’s Coffee Roasting Co.
Rating: 4

This coffee was a knock-your-socks-off lighter roasted coffee. It is one of the most intriguing and delicious coffees to pass my lips in the past few months and demonstrates why PT’s was name macro-roaster of the year by Roast Magazine for 2009. The bean, grounds and coffee are all an uncanny red color like the bag they comes in. Actually, the final product closely resembles red rooibos tea. The coffee is delicate and complex, yet just a little bit syrupy. I picked up on some unspecific floral notes, a honeylike sweetness, perhaps a little bit of chocolate and a mild citrus-like acidity. The overall production was good, but a bit dark, in a French Press. This coffee was meant for a Syphon, which let the complexity and delicate flavors come through with amazing clarity. I sat and marveled at this coffee for quite some time deciding whether to drink the rest or place it up on the mantle.

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