Blip Roasters Kenya Murang’a AB Plus

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Blip Roasters is one of Kansas City’s newer endeavors and I’ve been following their story relatively closely as I’ve hung out and roasted with co-founder, Ian Davis, before and dropped in and chatted for a few hours total over the past 8 months or so. It has been fun to watch Blip grow and come step-by-step closer to the goals that Ian set out for the business. With a walk-up cafe almost complete, Blip Roasters will be the best (and only!) cafe in the West Bottoms! Today I’m looking at Blip’s Kenya Murang’a AB Plus, which you can purchase for $15/12oz.

As I wrote this review it quickly became an article about the West Bottoms, my favorite part of Kansas City, so let’s check out this coffee first, and then if you want to read more about Blip and life and business in the Bottoms, it’ll still be there! Murang’a is a coffee-growing area in the highlands of Kenya that is home to lots of small farmers and processing stations. In Kenya, coffee goes from the farm to these stations where cooperatives sort them and prepare them for sale as lots. The coffee trade in Kenya is very complex, but as in Ethiopia, you rarely buy coffees direct from farms or estates, but rather from these co-ops. Kenyan coffee is graded by size, too, with AA being the largest and AB being the second largest. There is an assumption that bigger beans are better beans, but of course, there is a lot of variability there!

I bought this box (there is a bag inside) of coffee on 8/8/15 and it was roasted just three days prior, so it was about as fresh and you would want it! My coffee looked pretty good. I pulled out a couple quakers (beans that don’t roast like all their buddies, a defect that can greatly affect the flavor in the cup) as I was weighing beans for my cups but overall it was a nice selection of coffee. The roast level looked like a City-Full City to me (medium-ish, for what that means!) and it looked nice and uniform. The box says that this is a fully washed coffee consisting of the classic Kenyan SL-28 and SL-34 varietals. The tasting notes read, “Full body, molasses, bittersweet, fig, raisin finish.”

I prepared this coffee as AeroPress and notNeutral Gino pourover and they were very similar. Aroma was pretty basic on this coffee and the coffee was pretty consistent in its presentation from immediately after brewing until it cooled to room temp. It’s a pretty clean coffee and not an acid-bomb by any stretch, so I think this is a good introduction to Kenyan coffee for people who may be worried about the “high acidity” classically found in Kenyan coffees. This one from Blip has a nice, round mouthfeel with a relatively short and mild aftertaste. I did get a lot of raisin flavor in the aftertaste on this coffee and in the minutes after I was done drinking my cups.

The acidity on this coffee is certainly present and while I wouldn’t consider this an overly bright cup, it does have some nice high notes that give it some structure and interest. I got lime and a bit of grapefruit character in this coffee’s acidity. The roast level gives it nice sweetness and I picked up hints of tobacco and some spices on some sips as well as some grilled stone-fruit (like peaches, nectarines) nuances as it cooled down. I’ve had some coffees that are downright peachy in flavor (and I love them!), but this wasn’t one of them. I think I was keying in on more of the sweet char that you get from those fruits when they are grilled, although there is very little “roast” character to this coffee, something in it reminded me of those dark sugars that occur when grilling fruits. It was more of a “feeling” than a flavor, I guess. The mouthfeel was a bit dry in the finish on this coffee and a touch woody on the front end.

I enjoyed this coffee. If you’re new to Kenyan coffees or you prefer darker flavors instead of the typically very bright classic Kenyan profile, this is a great starting point for this region. I found this coffee to be super-consistent and I was happy with my purchase!

Blip Roasters got their start in 2014, occupying a main-floor corner of the old Bliss Syrup Refining Co. building in Kansas City’s West Bottoms “neighborhood.” The West Bottoms is one of the oldest and most interesting parts of Kansas City still standing today. It sits on the western edge of downtown KC and it used to be the stockyards and meat processing area of the city. The Missouri and Kansas Rivers meet here and the Bottoms sits pretty much at river level, so it was hit very hard by the huge floods of 1951 and 1993. During World War II the West Bottoms was a manufacturing center for military vehicles and the trains still run through the heart of the West Bottoms today. It was all but abandoned after the 1951 flood and in the decades since some shipping companies still use the warehouses and the huge, open loft spaces became the homes to squatters and artists who needed a roof and not much else! Several gigantic haunted houses have operated here around Halloween for years, too (you couldn’t pick a better environment for such a business!).

Within the last 6-7 years weekend-only antique shops started moving into the buildings, with only one or two operating for the first couple years and now there are dozens. Some of them are open every weekend while others only open on the CRAZY weekends that are First Fridays (first Friday of every month) here in the city. Otherwise the West Bottoms is a pretty low key, extremely industrial part of town where approximately 380 (according to 2010 census) people still live (officially…). When it’s not First Fridays, you can find photographers shooting the old buildings pretty much any time and any day, and you can’t get married or graduate from school without having photos taken against the gorgeous and gritty backdrop of the Bottoms! Hell, we even got married down here when it was still pretty rough and tumble. We like to say that we started the trend down here, but it’s doubttful. LOL The problem with the West Bottoms is the potential for flooding as well as the lack of stores, parks, sidewalks, etc. And those trains!

Getting back to Blip, though, it’s a great place for a coffee roastery. The spaces are generous and, if you like exposed beams and brick and turn-of-the-last-century industrial, incredibly beautiful. Rent is probably pretty reasonable and who knows what the zoning is like in an area like that, but presumably setting up a business is a bit less of a hassle there than in other parts of the city. When I met Ian first, Blip was a small US Roasters drum roaster, a bit of shelving for retail items for when people stop in during First Fridays and a bar holding a grinder and some pourover equipment. Their corner space has two big overhead doors that can open up and get a good cross-breeze as the lot next door is wide open, so even on really hot days it’s usually pretty nice inside. They had no business license to sell coffee, so these were samples for people who dropped in and sometimes they translated into sales and sometimes not. Ian told me about his plans for a walk-up coffee bar and I was immediately struck by how similar it sounded to those tiny Tokyo coffee bars I see on Instagram all the time. It’s a great idea in urban environments although people do love their tables-for-the-day and free WiFi!

When I visited on 8/8/15 the place looked great! The decking for the walk-up was finished (the “main floor” of a lot of these old buildings actually starts at loading dock height, so Blip sits about 5-6 feet off the ground), the neon sign was hung and the espresso bar was built, plumbed and ready for their La Marzocco and other serving equipment to be installed! With the combination of good coffee, good service and a good business plan, I think Blip is going to continue to grow and prosper in the West Bottoms, so make sure you check them out on your next visit to the West Bottoms!