Crow's Coffee - by Steve Agocs

Crow’s Coffee – by Steve Agocs

I first learned about Crow’s Coffee, one of the newer coffee shops in Kansas City, a handful of months ago from my friend, Emily Farris (the famous radio/podcast personality and freelance writer with a CV three miles long… see Feed Me KC and Feed Me Creative) who was a consultant helping Crow’s get their start off on the right foot (wing?). For some reason I thought Crow’s was in Waldo, but it’s actually a fair jump north of that neighborhood over by UMKC. Good parking, walking distance for students, nice wide sidewalks for a couple park benches and pretty decent amount of room inside. What more do you want to know? Oh, the coffee… :-)

Crow’s Coffee is using Messenger Coffee Co. coffee, a relative newcomer to Kansas City’s burgeoning artisanal coffee roasting scene. I have been following Messenger on Instagram for a while and didn’t even know they were local. I know virtually nothing about the company or their beans and their website doesn’t lend a ton of information yet, although I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more about Messenger in the coming year.

I ordered two drinks, seen in the photo above, an espresso and the “controversial” (in the coffee community, at least, and then only if you care, which no one does, LOL) Gibraltar. They were both good. The espresso is what I’d consider of the “traditional” variety, leaning more toward an Italian/European style with nice roasty flavors. The other side of this spectrum would be what is considered “West Coast” style espresso, which tends to be really bright, somewhat sharp and even lemony. Hit up Oddly Correct one of these days for an espresso if you haven’t already and you’ll understand what I mean. 

The Gibraltar was tasty and the Messenger espresso (pulled off a gorgeous Ferrari red La Marzocco machine) worked great with milk. Gibraltars are named that because they are served in a small 4-oz glass called by the same name by the company that sells them. Until the past year or two this drink was called a “cortado” which is a shot of espresso with steamed milk/foam poured into it. It’s bigger than a macchiato, which is basically an espresso with a dollop of foam on it, but much smaller than a latte or typical American cappuccino. Although, go to Italy and order a cappuccino and this is about the size of drink you’re going to get, as opposed to it’s oversized American counterpart. So, it’s basically a mini cappuccino. The “controversy” comes from the re-naming of the cortado, thanks to Blue Bottle in San Francisco which was supposedly the first company to pour these little guys into Gibraltar glasses.

Like I said, WHO CARES, right?! There’s no murder, no sleeping with wives, etc around this Gibraltar/cortado/cappuccino mess, so it’s hardly a controversy outside of the blogosphere.

Crow’s was comfortable and quiet while I was there (10-11AM on a Wednesday morning), the decor is pleasant, the coffee is good, and they order a good selection from drip to pourover and Chemex and the usual espresso-based milk drinks. The outdoor seating is a nice plus, especially as we move into Autumn, and I think with their location, good service and solid coffee they are going to have a successful time here in the UMKC neighborhood. 

brewsefulI know how necessary water temperature, coffee to water ratio, grind size and time of extraction is to making a good cup of coffee. I mean, this IS chemistry and you DO have to approach it as such if you’re trying to elevate your coffee from a gross-ish caffeine delivery system to something that is actually enjoyable to drink.

One thing I have never really done is time the extraction, though, I admit it. It seems… fussy. Having to mess with grinder settings constantly to get it just right (4:00 is generally the go-to starting point for Chemex), and the fact that I drink different coffees constantly, just seems too OCD even for me.

I was perusing Uncrate the other day and saw a free app called Brewseful and decided to give it a shot. It’s a simple app that allows you to enter and save brewing profiles for various coffees and methods. You can set the volume of coffee you want, the ratio of beans to water, the grind size and it gives you your “recipe” (i.e. I always do 28g of coffee to 450 grams of water). Oh, and keep in mind, one milliliter of water weighs one gram, so don’t fiddle with your scale to convert it to milliliters.

On the timer side of things, you can set the overall extraction time (4:00 is the rule of thumb for Chemex) and also set alarms along the way. For example, it’s recommended to bloom the coffee for 30-45 seconds when using a Chemex, so you can set a “End Bloom” alarm at 30 seconds, maybe another alarm to “End Pour” at around 2:30 or whatever. You can set as many of these as you want.

As the app starts timing, a bright green bar starts “filling” up the app screen. When you hit an alarm you set it’ll chime nicely at you as it progresses through the countdown. It’s really simple, really clean looking, and I was very surprised to see that my untimed “just go for it” approach to the Chemex was EXACTLY 4:00 on the extraction time! I’m either very lucky or my internal timer just rocks! LOL

In any case, the design and use are great, it works wonderfully for its intended purposes and it allows you a way to track and tweak your methods for various coffees and extraction processes. For an app, it’s great and for a FREE app, it’s even better!

Well, I haven’t posted in over a year, so I doubt anyone is still reading, but if you are, then hello! I’ve been doing the good eating/living/exercise thing for about 15 months now and my beer consumption has diminished to almost nothing. I think I’ve had four beers in the last 6 months, and all of those were in this last month, actually. Maintaining gluten-free/almost-free is an easy way for me to cut out empty calories because if you put me in front of bread, cookies, etc, there just isn’t any stopping.

Anyway, so I’ve been on a major coffee kick even more so than usual to fill the empty void beer has left in my life. LOL

My last post was about coffee from Oddly Correct and a lot has happened in Kansas City since. I’m WAY behind on knowing what’s going on because I have been roasting my own coffee at home and prior to that I was hooked on Oddly Correct beans. I’m on a two-week break right now so I will be posting some field trip reports soon.

The Quay has opened in the River Market, using Oddly Correct beans. There’s PT’s in the Crossroads and I know some magazine recently declared it was one of the top ten roasters in the country. Also there’s Second Best Coffee in Waldo, which has their own custom Slayer espresso machine. The Slayer is supposed to be the holy grail of espresso machines, so I’m most looking forward to that.

As for my own adventures, I’ve been doing the air popcorn popper roasting method and LOVING it. I have thought about giving it a shot a few times over the years but figured, “Nah, it’s probably difficult or the coffee probably sucks or…” I don’t know what prompted me to look into it again about two months ago but I did and much to my surprise I found out the popcorn popper I’ve been using for YEARS is the much-loved West Bend Poppery 2, the holy grail of popcorn poppers! LOL I bought some green beans from Sweet Maria’s and gave it a shot. I was very surprised at the results. One “modification” I did make was I started plugging my machine into one of those super long orange extension cords to suck some of the power out of it. I was having trouble differentiating between first crack and second crack. Sweet Maria’s recommends most of their beans be roasted somewhere between first crack and the beginning of second crack, so extending that time period in between has worked out well for me.

I can d0 100 grams of beans at a time (a little over 1/2 cup) and that takes about 6-7 minutes. Once roasted almost every batch I do comes out to 86-87 grams, so you lose about 15% in water and chaff coming off the beans. I haven’t had a bad batch yet and I am happy enough with the results that I have completely stopped buying coffee from anyone else.

Do I get the grape jelly Ethiopians like Oddly Correct does? No, not quite, as you can’t ramp up and hold temperatures and etc to develop flavors, but it is DAMN GOOD coffee and greens beans are about $6-$8/pound which is way cheaper. I’m happy!

 

Naked portafilter photo by Oddly Correct.

I’ve been raving about Oddly Correct coffee for quite some time and for a damn good reason. It’s awesome. That’s about all you really need to read, but here’s some more if you need extra convincing.

I bought a pound of their Stranger in the Alps (I’ll let you do the work of figuring out what the name is all about, but it has to do with hilarious editing of a scene from The Big Lebowski) a few weeks ago and was running low on beans, so with only a few minutes left before they closed I popped into the shop and grabbed a bag of what I thought sounded good (not that I’ve found they roast anything bad). My Chemex and Clever Coffee Dripper were both feeling neglected while Signore Gaggia was getting all the fun, so I didn’t really care what I had grabbed as long as it was for pourover instead of espresso.

When I realized I had grabbed the one variety of espresso they had on hand I was momentarily upset with my “mistake” during the rush, but I recovered. I finished up the last of my Stranger in the Alps yesterday and dug into my selection, Entre Volcanes single farm espresso and all I can say this morning is “WOW!”

I did a little research about the Entre Volcanes farm and found a surprising amount of information here. The farm is located in Guatemala at what the site says is “a significantly higher altitude for the region, and thus the coffee coming from here produces an extremely complex cup.” The farm was founded in the 1950’s and so it would be safe to assume they know how to grow beans the right way.

The farm also grows poinsettias, macadamia trees, orchids and bromelias. I would like to say I could taste a hint of macadamia with a long orchid finish in the coffee, but that would just be a lie! LOL

I had a feeling I was in for a treat when I opened the hand-printed and labeled bag (a trademark of those crafty fellows at Oddly Correct) and saw the small, hard-looking beans I have grown accustomed to equating with great cups from their magical roaster. A lot of Oddly Correct’s beans seem to be about 1/2 of the size of a “regular” roasted bean and not as darkly roasted-looking. In my mind, the smaller and more pebble-like the bean from these guys, the better. Who knows?

I filled my Kyocera hand grinder (I always go by volume of the beans to the top of the grinder hopper, rather than weighing them out). It felt noticeably heavier in my hand but took the 200-ish cranks of the handle to grind them all, which is normal regardless of the bean I use, and the volume of espresso in the Gaggia portafilter looked right.

I got the volume of espresso I wanted in the time I wanted (about 15-17 seconds) and the aroma coming off the cup was a little grapefruity/citrusy, but the tasting notes on the bag prepped me for that. I feel like now, 15 minutes after I had the drink, that there is a lingering astringency/grapefruit flavor on my palate from the coffee, but that could be purely psychological.

Like the other espressos I’ve had from Oddly Correct, the Entre Volcanes was bright and punchy. If you could describe a sip as a physical thing, somewhere in the middle of it was a fleeting earthy character that my mind immediately associated with cinnamon. It was quick, like “5%” of the overall sip, and it didn’t TASTE like cinnamon, but there was some quality of it that I couldn’t shake as being “cinnamon-like.” I suspect I’ll be running the Gaggia a few more times today, so maybe I’ll have some more comments to note on that!

I got a little cherry toward the end, which seems to be a theme with Oddly Correct beans, and a citrusy, tart finish.

Entre Volcanes is truly handled well by the brilliant OC roasters and they have done this bean justice. The cup was really full-bodied, the crema was gorgeous looking and the flavors were pure, bright, acid and lacked any sootiness or ashiness that comes from most espresso roasts.

Damn!

It has been FOREVER since I did a real beer post. Thanks for your patience and putting up with the sporadic posting. Before I get to the beer, here’s the deal: we’re putting our health before EVERYTHING now and so our eating plan allows one cheat day per week. I’m averaging 1-2 beers on cheat day and I’ve been cleaning out old stuff that has been around too long. Not very exciting for reviews! LOL

I did get tempted into Gomer’s midtown location a couple weeks ago and after ogling all the bottles my eyes settled on a canned beer I hadn’t seen before. YES, I am still enamored with the idea of canned craft beers, ESPECIALLY if what’s inside might pour like motor oil!

I picked up this six pack of Santa Fe Brewing Co’s Imperial Java Stout for under $9 and it seemed like a good value. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized it was an “imperial,” I thought it was just a regular coffee stout.

I’m a sucker for packaging and while extremely simple, the Santa Fe can appealed to me because on one side there is a beer mug that says “after noon” and on the other side is a coffee cup that says, “before noon.” Clever.

Coffee beers are best drunk fresh because the coffee character is quick to go. I didn’t know this until I heard it on Craft Beer Radio recently, so I was excited to try a coffee stout that seemed to be a relatively new addition to Gomer’s lineup (i.e. hadn’t been hanging around long) and was also canned, giving it the best chance of retaining as much freshness as possible without drinking it right at the brewery.

According to Santa Fe’s website (worth looking at, they have a nice lineup of interesting-sounding beers) the Imperial Java Stout has an ABV of 8% uses two hop varieties and four types of malt. The website says they use organic beans fro New Guinea and East Timor that are locally roasted in Santa Fe.

Of all the coffee beers I’ve tasted I would say this one is the most coffee forward. There is no mistaking this as a coffee stout. I’m writing this from memory since it’s morning and I don’t really want to drink a stout from a coffee cup as fun as that seems, but I recall a LOT of coffee character (think cold-brewed coffee) with a good, classic stout backbone.

The beer has a good amount of sweetness to it, not quite like Left Hand Milk Stout but not dry, either. The sweetness is balanced in the finish by an earthy hop character and I would say the beer has good overall balance. I enjoyed one can while eating a couple of Justin’s Dark Chocolate peanut butter cups last week and that dried the flavor of the beer out a lot while bringing out more of the hops and a the dark roasty, almost astringent character.

I’ve been quite pleasantly surprised by this beer since I knew nothing about it going into it. It’s a good stout in and of itself, but as a coffee lover I think this is a great example of what a coffee-heavy beer can taste like when done properly. I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another six pack of this again!

I don’t have the biggest tea vocabulary in the world so rather than trying to desperately squeeze out reviews for these teas separately I figured a single article on them all would be sufficient. I’ve been drinking much more tea recently than I have in the past and what I’ve learned, in general, is that quality tea is more pleasurable than cheap tea, and that quality doesn’t have to come at an outrageous price. Enter Harney & Sons.

I’ve recently re-discovered Harney & Sons teas after having a hotel stay in California where the room was supplied with H&S sachets (like a fancy tea bag, more of a cloth pyramid). The Earl Grey Supreme reminded me what I like about tea and upon looking up prices on Amazon (because I always assume their prices are going to be better… which is not the case here) I was pleasantly surprised. I read some descriptions of the teas and settled on a tin of their SoHo blend (flavored with chocolate and coconut), which is OK, and the Hot Cinnamon Spice which is FREAKING FANTASTIC (see more in my last story, here).

Poking around on Harney’s own website I was immediately struck by the HUGE variety of teas they offer, most in loose, sachet or traditional tea bags. I was also frankly surprised by the prices, which were better than Amazon’s. This was shortly after Christmas and I took advantage of a free shipping offer they had going to order a few sample packs and a few tins of teas I was pretty sure I would like.

Lapsang Souchong

I first heard about this type of tea on a blog, Craft Beer Radio, that I’ve been following since its first episode but it took me several years to get around to it. This is a style of black Chinese tea that is dried over wood smoke, usually pine (although I’m sure people have played with that plenty, just like with barbecue). The result is a highly smoky aroma to this tea, adding depth and dimension to what would otherwise be just a plain ol’ cup of black tea. My only previous experience with Lapsang Souchong was some Twinnings I bought at the local grocery store in bags. The Twinnings has a slightly stronger smoke aroma that seems a little “synthetic” to me (although I don’t think it is). As a result there seems to be a little more smoke on the flavor, too, than the Harney variation which is overall a bit milder. If you’re worried that Lapsang Souchong is like drinking Liquid Smoke, don’t. The smoke is more subtle than you would think and it’s a pleasant experience coming from someone who doesn’t love smoked drinks. I bought a 6 oz. tin for $9. To give you an idea, they recommend one teaspoon of tea leaves per cup brewed, so that is a LOT of tea. It amounts to pennies per cup. The leaves are large and do well in a typical strainer ball or stick strainer.

Genmaicha

Genmaicha is a Japanese tea blend of green tea leaves and rice. The only time I’ve had this tea is when we eat at Po’s on 39th St. and I have it every time I’m there. It has a wonderful nutty taste from the rice. While the green tea leaves are being dried, rice is added and over times the rice grains brown and become crunchy. Some even burst open and when I opened the tin I laughed out loud because there were little tiny miniature “popcorns” mixed in. It’s quite beautiful and unique. This Genmaicha is every bit as good as that at Po’s. The tea is light and earthy and the rice gives a nutty, full-bodied lift to the overall drink. I really love this tea. This was $6.75 for a 4 oz. tin. Again, a great price for a lot of tea. I bought a four ounce package of World Market’s house brand green tea last year that was more expensive than this. I did find that there are a lot of little tea clippings in this blend and they slipped right through the holes in my tea ball, making the cup a MESS. The second time I brewed this I used my French Press, which has a fine strainer on it, and that worked great.

Blue Ginger

This is a custom blend that Harney & Sons makes for Ming Tsai’s restaurant, Blue Ginger. I bought a sampler of this for $2 that includes 2-3 sachets. It is regularly sold as a 20-sachet tin for $8.00 but it is currently out of stock. This is a Fujian black tea with hints of ginger and lychee fruit. This is a nice tea, although I was mistakenly under the impression that it is a green tea, not black tea, so I brewed it at about 185° instead of the customary “off-boil” for black teas. I’m not sure if the 30 degree difference in water temperature is a big deal or not so I will brew it properly next time. That being said, it has great flavor. I’ve had some pretty strong ginger teas (like the one Tazo makes) and they can be a bit much for me, so the ginger is a second fiddle in this tea for sure, which I appreciated. There is a nice fruitiness on the palate, too, presumably the lychee fruit, and this was a really nice tea that I would like to enjoy more of.

French Super Blue Lavender

I have to admit, I bought this tea only because I had to see the color for myself in person! Click the link to Harney & Sons’ website to see what I mean! I’ve never had lavender tea before so I had no idea what to expect, but it was worth the $2 to get the sampler and check it out. The packet contains what you would expect: a bunch of little tiny dried lavender flowers which are beautiful in and of themselves. I brewed this according to the instructions using my French Press (seemed fitting for French lavender tea!) and was disappointed by the color. Instead of the stunning purple shown on the website our cups were sort of a blue-gray, washed out color. Oh well. The tea itself was reminiscent of chamomile, another flower, to me. It was very light, thin bodied and just the essence of lavender. Much lighter than a traditional chamomile tea, but a similar flavor profile, to me.

Blood Orange Fruit Tea

There is precious little information about this “tea” on the Harney & Sons website, but while I was perusing the herbal section I spotted this and added the $2 sampler to my cart. Why not? A full 4 oz tin would be $6.25. The website gives no information about it, but it looks like dried bits of fruit and peel from blood oranges. Simple enough! I brewed this in my French Press and the result was a wonderfully aromatic drink. It smelled awesome. Like many pure herbals, however, the body and flavor were significantly lighter than the aroma, but they were pleasant, too. I wondered how this would taste as an iced tea in the summer, or as a blend with other components in a hot weather iced tea. I’ll have to remember that come July…

So on my diet, I can thankfully drink as much tea and coffee as I want. I was recently in California for work and the hotel I was staying at had sachets of Harney &Sons teas in the room. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I used to drink their English Breakfast Tea. The tea I had at the hotel in Monterey was their Earl Grey Supreme. I’m a big fan of Earl Grey and this is a great example of a wonderful flavor combo.

When I got home I hopped on Amazon (be careful if you use Prime because you MIGHT get better prices direct from Harney & Sons’ website…) and ordered some of their chocolate and coconut flavored SOHO tea as well as a box of 50 bags of their Hot Cinnamon Spice.

The SOHO is good. Smells stronger than it tastes, and the flavor is pretty good. Not something I’d want to drink all the time, and I’ll bet it would be good with a splash of cream, but for dieters who need a little chocolate fix, it does the job without cheating.

The Hot Cinnamon Spice is another story altogether. First of all, it smells UNBELIEVABLE! The aroma is so great, pure cinnamon delight. I was surprised about how sweet it tastes, coming from naturally sweet Sweet Clove. I love this tea! It’s warm, flavorful and sweet without any sweeteners actually being in it. This could EASILY be an everyday afternoon tea for me. It is just great!

I’m a big fan of Harney & Sons, now. I’ll be ordering more Hot Cinnamon and some Earl Grey Supreme and I want to try their smoked green tea… And with hundreds of tea varieties I think I have years of experimentation ahead of me with this brand! Yum!

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