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Comparing Carrboro's Espresso Beans

I love coffee. I love drinking it, sure, but I also enjoy the process of making it: the aromas, the equipment, the beans, the time it takes to brew, the overall ritual involved. Making coffee is a part of my morning routine that I look forward to.

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But to really enjoy coffee at home, you need a good coffee bean. And so being new to the Carrboro area, I set out to compare the available beans and find which one I enjoyed most.

A few coffee disclaimers first. First, I am not really a coffee snob -- I just enjoy making and drinking coffee. I do not automatically gravitate towards organic, shade-grown, fair-trade beans (though all things being equal, that is what I would buy). I probably break any number of coffee-making rules. I don't use expensive equipment to make my coffee.

My process goes like this: I buy whole espresso beans and grind them myself in the morning, using a simple $10 burr grinder. I grind the beans finely, and use a 3-cup stovetop espresso maker called a Moka Pot (like the one seen here). I realize this is not "true" espresso, but it makes a solid and strong cup of coffee, and the equipment is dirt cheap. You can get a generic stovetop espresso unit for under $10 if you shop around.

All that said, on with the beans

I compared six espresso roasts easily available in the Carrboro area, including three from Weaver Street Market, one from Harris Teeter and the espresso beans of Padgett Station and Open Eye Caf. I looked at flavor, aroma, darkness, price, aftertaste, length of finish and whatever else came to mind.

In the picture to the right the beans are (starting at the top and then on the left side of each descending row) Larry's Beans, Open Eye Caf, Harris Teeter, Counter Culture Coffee, Joe van Gogh Coffee, and Padgett Station.

One thing stands out immediately Padgett Station and Open Eye Caf have the darkest roasts that have brought out the most oils. These are likely to be your freshest beans, because they are roasted locally (Joe van Gogh beans are also, I believe). The other beans we're all pretty similar in terms of darkness of roast and the oils which had formed.

In any event, on to the grinding, brewing and smelling and drinking. I tasted each coffee in a single tasting, and then again over the course of several days. In order of my own preference:

#1, Larry's Beans This is a fairly dark roast with moderate oils on the surface. The aroma is mild but the flavor is rich and crisp. There is very little acid in the final cup of coffee. Overall, I really enjoyed this coffee. It has a great balance of richness but is also crisp. And at about $10 per pound, this is a really good value.

#2, Open Eye Cafe A dark, oily bean with a robust aroma. The aroma of the coffee was acidic, but that did not transfer over to the flavour. A dark flavor but a short finish. This is a really nice bean, but at around $14 per pound it just doesn't have the same value as Larry's.

#3, Padgett Station Darkest roast with the most oils on the exterior. A mildly acidic aroma with a very dark and distinct flavor. The finish was somewhat metallic though, and slightly disconcerting. This bean runs about $12 per pound.

#4, Joe van Gogh Acidic aroma and a floral flavor. The taste here is closer to a standard drip coffee, not so much an espresso, which makes sense because it is the lightest roast you see in the picture. I debated where to rank this bean because I'm not sure it's a true espresso roast. But I simply didn't like the last two beans, while I would buy the JvG "espresso" bean again. Runs about $11 per pound.

#5, Harris Teeter Duller beans with low oil. A long finish with a metallic taste left on the top of my mouth. Flavor definitely stays with you, but not necessarily in a good way. A value bean, at about $9 per pound. But personally, I'm not sure savings $2 is worth drinking aluminium.

#6, Counter Culture My least favorite bean. It is a strong smelling bean, but once brewed there is very light aroma off the brewed coffee. A bitter, almost sour or soapy flavor. This was easily my least favorite. I tried this one several times, rinsing out the coffee pot and cup repeatedly but the bitterness stayed. This bean runs about $12 per pound.

Having said all of that: your results will vary, your tastebuds will vary, your morning routine will vary. You can use my notes as a starting point, but I suggest trying the beans for yourself. I believe it's important to know not just what you like, but why, and how it compares with other alternatives.

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Posted in Community Post Date 06/07/2017


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