Modest Coffee is a roaster based out of Chicago, IL. They do single bag sales but seem mostly focused on coffee subscriptions. Their take on this business model is to have three “ranks” of subscriptions: The Modest, The Enthusiast and The Collector. Marcus from Modest Coffee contacted me to send me one of his Enthusiast level coffees to try out. This coffee is available directly from Modest Coffee for $15/bag, as well as by subscription.
The Enthusiast coffee Marcus is roasting currently is a natural Ethiopian coffee from Kochere, which is near Yirga Cheffe. He puts a Full City roast on this coffee and gives tasting notes of “red currant, lime and raspberry lemonade.”
Let me explain roast levels and then I’ll get into this particular coffee. Two important events that happen during coffee roasting are first crack and second crack. They got their names from the audible cracking/popping sounds that can be heard when coffee reaches these stages. For coffee to be drinkable it pretty much has to make it into and through first crack. When coffee roasting is interrupted at the very end of first crack, this is considered a “City Roast” level. If roasting continues, then it becomes City+, Full City, then Full City+. Once second crack starts, this is a Vienna roast, then you have French roast and then pretty much things just light on fire after that!
Modest Coffee brought this coffee to Full City, which is a tough roast level to nail because it technically happens right BEFORE second crack starts happening. So, you have to be able to look into a crystal ball or have roasted the same coffee a bunch of times, under the same conditions and while keeping good data so you can reproduce the roast again and again and have a pretty good idea of when second crack is coming so you can dump the beans out of the roaster and start cooling them.
Visually, Full City roasts will have a little bit of oil sheen to them. The beans Marcus sent me had little pools of oil on the surface here and there (not the full-on black, oily beans you can often find out in the world), so from a purely visual perspective I’d say some of the beans definitely made it into second crack, as is often the case with Full City roasts.
The reason I’m saying all this is that as you get coffees into second crack, you start to get less of the origin character of the coffee and more of the roast character. In other words, the individual nuances of the bean itself is lost while the characteristics of “roast” become more forward.
This is where being a coffee reviewer is really “hard” work. Knowing the difference between technically sound coffees and personal preference is tough. I suppose people read KCcoffeegeek because they want my opinion, but still. Coffee is both a science and an art, so in many ways I feel like an art critic telling a painter that they chose the wrong shade of green or something. When a roaster has a vision for a coffee based on their palate, as well as what they are trying to offer to their market, then that’s their prerogative. Modest Coffee’s Kochere is right on that line, for me, of being over-roasted, but overall I think it’s pretty well done and it’s what Marcus wanted to achieve for this coffee.
It is certainly a lot darker roast than most of the natural Ethiopians I’ve had. In general, you can enhance all those big, fruity flavors natural Ethiopian coffees are known for by roasting lighter. Darker roasts tend to mute some of the fruit and add a chocolatey character to the coffee.
I tried this coffee first as an AeroPress and it seemed to accentuate the less-likable aspects of the roast too much. There was a lot of dryness and carbon in the flavor and especially the aftertaste. I talked to Marcus about his rationale for roasting this coffee to Full City and he said he purposefully wanted to knock down some of the fruit and sweetness and that his target market for this subscription level tends to prefer darker roasts. I suspect that has a lot to do with the equipment they’re probably using as standard coffee drippers use relatively cool water compared to pourover methods and so darker roasts come through better when brewing on them.
He mentioned that he uses a Chemex, so I tried this coffee as a Chemex and liked it quite a bit more. It definitely takes out some of the carbon flavor, although it is still there to a slight extent. The fruits are blueberry and strawberry and are readily apparent in this coffee. As the cup nears room temp even some florals come through for me.
Overall, I think this is a pretty good cup. I don’t find anything offensive about this coffee and the coffee has good body and a mix of both some fruit and the “boldness” people like from darker roasts. This is where personal opinion comes in: I would LOVE to try this same coffee at a lighter roast. I am a total nut for big, super-fruity, over-the-top Ethiopian natural coffees, so I love a big, bright coffee from this region that is minimally muted by roasting.