When you think about the Ozarks and northwest Arkansas, coffee roasters are probably the last image to come to mind for most people, and yet here we are today featuring another coffee roaster from this area, Mountain Bird Coffee Co.! I’ve raved about Onyx Coffee Lab, Mama Carmen’s, Airship and others from this pocket of the Midwest, so let’s see if we can add another fine roaster to the list!
MOUNTAIN BIRD COFFEE CO. STEVIE’S ESPRESSO
Mountain Bird Coffee Co. found me recently and asked to send some coffee my way, so of course, I obliged! With a little research I found out that they are from Holiday Island, Arkansas, a small community nestled in the Ozark mountains just south of the Missouri border and a bit east of our pals at Airship and Onyx. What a treasure trove of coffee roasters in that part of the country! Mountain Bird’s roots go back to the 1970’s and the discovery of “artisanal” coffee and home roasting at that time. The company officially formed as a family business in 2009, roasting coffee and quickly into the tea trade, too. Mountain Bird primarily uses Rainforest Alliance certified coffee beans and operates as a wholesale roaster (although you can buy by the bag on their website!). Owner and roaster, Steve Gassaway, included a short letter in the package of coffee they sent to me and he mentioned that they had just gone through a logo and packaging rebranding effort, which is quite apparent!
Being a bit of a packaging and design nerd, I noticed a big difference in their current aesthetic compared to their website, which is still rocking the old look. The logo originally had a woodcut vibe to it and has been cleaned up and simplified to a simple line drawing which is clean and effective. The labeling on the bags has completely changed, featuring modern typefaces and a much cleaner and more informative look. Coupled with the white ziploc-top (what are these bags really called?) style bags the overall look is easy to read and modern and I dig it.
So, how about that coffee? I was elated to find a bag of Mountain Bird’s espresso blend in the box because the timing was perfect. I just finished rehabbing a 30-year-old Gaggia Coffee (rare, 2-switch model which very few were made, and an even more rare orange color, which MAY be a one-of-a-kind based on my research) and needed to put it through its paces. Serendipity! Stevie’s Espresso is named after the founder’s grandmother and it’s an all-American espresso blend consisting of beans from Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Peru. These beans are grown in the 1200-1800masl range and the blend is 100% Rainforest Alliance Certified. Cupping notes on the bag read, “dark chocolate, sweet cherry, citrus, clean finish.” My bag was roasted 9/22/16 so it’s in that window where I typically think espresso works best (10-14 days off-roast).
This one gets a medium-dark roast and my expectations going into this coffee was that it was going to lean pretty strongly toward a traditional Italian-style espresso, given the dark roast and all-American bean selection. With the softer, darker beans than the last espresso I was using, I opened up my grinder a couple steps and was getting nice, consistent shots with this coffee pretty quickly. Using 20g of espresso in the portafilter I was pulling 30-35g of coffee in around 27-30 seconds. As you’ll see in the video I did get a little spitter in this extraction, but really, I was quite happy with this from a bare-bones, 30-year old espresso machine!!!
This coffee pulls nicely, as you can see in the video, and a bit faster extraction seemed to help the flavors, for me. This is definitely a traditional style espresso, as I figured it would be. It’s chocolatey and nutty with hints of fruit in the cup, but mostly it’s dark/bittersweet chocolate with lots of roasted nuts. The espresso pulls with a great crema and looks awesome in the cup. Even with a vigorous stir, the crema is thick and persistent in the cup.
With the darker roast this coffee comes off a little bitter if it’s too hot. I have some nice, thick cappuccino cups from Acme, so I extracted one of my shots into a room-temp Acme cup and the espresso benefitted from the cooler temp and probably from the more open cup, too (wine snobs know what I’m talking about! LOL). The cooled-down shot was sweeter and had a little more fruit brightness to it. Yum!
I really prefer my espresso the way God intended, so I didn’t have any milk on hand to play with cappuccinos and cortados, but I’ll try to pick some up today and update this review over the next few days. Coffees like this tend to do well in small milk drinks for me, but get lost in bigger ones (which I don’t drink, anyway), so we’ll see!
Overall, I really enjoyed this espresso. It has thick body for days and looks as good as it tastes. I really like a chocolatey/nutty espresso and this one checks both boxes in spades. I think Mountain Bird has a great espresso base with this blend, too, so it would be very interesting to see how it would taste with the addition of a bright Kenyan or a really fruity natural Ethiopian. My palate was wanting a little more acidity and brightness from this coffee, as much as I enjoyed it, and this seems like a great base to be able to stretch out and experiment from with some more “modern” style espresso profiles.