To celebrate hump day I have a two-for-one review for you… the same coffee roasted two ways from my new pals at Private Reserve Coffee, a new brand with some cool packaging and beans to match!
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PRIVATE RESERVE COFFEE HONDURAS SAN MIGUEL LIGHT AND DARK
When it comes to specialty coffee there are really three main ways to go about it: roasters, cafes (who may or may not also roast) and then brands. Private Reserve Coffee is the latter. Coffee brands can be tough for me to get a read on since they don’t have physical locations and the coffee is almost always contract roasted by someone else. As a result, there’s rarely a really compelling origin story for the company. On the other side of that coin, however, with less to talk about concerning the personalities behind the company, that leaves more room to talk about the coffee itself! So, Private Reserve Coffee is a brand based out of West Palm Beach, FL. The company behind the brand is Visual Creatives and, specifically, Dave Imber, who plays a primary role in Private Reserve. You can, and should, follow Dave’s Instagrams at dimber and ninefourcoffee. The latter is basically an all black & white homage to coffee packaging and Dave takes nice photos and has a good eye for processing them, too. Anyway, the roaster behind Private Reserve is a guy named Steve who splits his time between West Palm Beach, Tennessee and coffee farms where he helps organize smallholders into co-ops. That’s what we know about Steve.
So, at least we know there are some real coffee people behind Private Reserve Coffee and it’s not just a venture capital firm or whatever trying to edge into the market. And this shows in the beans. Private Reserve has a pretty cool concept, too. They showcase one farm at a time and roast the selection two ways: light and dark. I’m a real sucker for this sort of thing. I LOVE when I can get one coffee roasted different ways or can get the same crop processed multiple ways, etc. It’s the best way to get an understanding of how process or roast affects flavors.
Probably most striking about Private Reserve is the branding, as you’d expect from a coffee BRAND. LOL The coffees ship in these black tubes with simple white writing. They’re dramatic and they look expensive and they make for a nice presentation. The website is good looking and unlike most other coffee brands I’ve come across (as opposed to roasters and shops) there is a lot of info about the coffee and you’re not left wondering, “OK, so WHAT is this coffee and WHO makes it?” I really like that.
So, this first selection for Private Reserve is from San Miguel, Honduras. San Miguel is a small village in the far west of Honduras, near the Guatemala border. According to Private Reserve’s website, the farm adheres to organic growing practices and the coffee is washed or wet-processed (meaning the cherry skin and all the fruit is removed before the beans are laid out to dry). When I received my coffees from Private Reserve, I knew literally nothing about the company, the brand or the coffee. My first impression was that the packaging was REALLY nice. My first surprise was that the Dark roast was not nearly as dark as I thought it’d be. I was expecting a nuclear blast on that one and when I saw barely any oils on the coffee I knew I was dealing a different type of coffee brand than what I’m familiar with. These were real coffee guys!
So, for this coffee, the “light” roast is a “city” roast and the “dark” is a “full city.” There are several important stages in roasting coffee and two of them have to do with the sounds the coffee makes as it roasts. A critical event in coffee roasting is called “first crack” and this is an audible sound, like popcorn popping. Coffee that doesn’t make it fully through first crack is pretty damn unappealing. I’ve had a few and I hope to never repeat the experience! Think grass clippings and peanut butter. Gross. A “city” roast means the coffee has been brought completely through first crack and then it’s dropped out of the roaster and the roast is stopped. This is really about the lightest most people will want to drink their coffee. Full City roasts are developed further, so they’ve made it through first crack and then Full City roasts are dropped out of the roaster right before the coffee hits second crack. This another important event and the coffee again makes an audible sound, like a muffled more Rice Crispies type of popping sound. The trick with Full City is to drop the roast right before the beans hit second crack. There should be more roast character, more sweetness and less acidity in this cup and the beans will often have a sheen to them from oils coming to the surface but they won’t look like they had oil poured over them like an even further developed roast would. So, I was really surprised to find the “dark” roast only had a few beans with a few pools of oil coming off the surface.
I started with the light roast. For both coffees I used my standard 1:16 pourover ratio of 28g of coffee to 450g of water in a notNeutral Gino pourover with Kalita 185 filters. I am using my new Handground grinder on a 4 setting and with a 30 second bloom, I get 3:00-3:20 total brew times for most coffees. The light roast had a really sweet brown sugar and raisins aroma that promised good things ahead. There was a medium body with a pretty long-lasting aftertaste to the coffee. At warmer temperatures there was a fairly sharp Granny Smith apple-like acidity to the cup. It offered a lot of balance to all that sweetness. Some hints of citrus acidity were also apparent, especially in the finish and aftertaste. As the cup cooled the sharpness of the malic acidity (malic acidity is what you find in apples and it’s common component found in coffee, too) mellowed and the coffee took on a real apple juice “feel.” I wouldn’t say there were apple flavors, but the mouthfeel and overall character and experience of the coffee reminded me a lot of apple juice and the balance of acidity to sweetness in the cup. At a certain range of temperatures I was hit with a lot of buttery flavors, which accompanied that apple sweetness and acidity perfectly. Honduran coffees were all the rage last year and I didn’t get my hands on too many of them, but this coffee was super inviting, had some nice complexity that didn’t detract from the accessibility at all, and was just a great drinker.
The aroma from the dark roast was of toasted, slightly caramelized marshmallows! There was still a lot of the malic acidity from the light roast but it started off more along the apple juice lines and never had that sharper green apple character the warmer light roast had initially. Overall, the perceived acidity was lower and all the sweetness of the previous roast was there and then some. In the stage between first crack and second crack, the roast is mostly about developing sugars as some of the acidic components are roasted off, so it’s no surprise to see more sugary flavors and tones and less acidity/brightness. The compromise is as those acids are roasted off the darker roasts tend to be more about the roast itself and the development of sugars, and that’s why dark roasts lose “origin character” since a dark roast from Kenya will pretty much taste a lot like a dark roast from Colombia, for example. But this Full City that Private Reserve have used is right in the pocket for a darker roast. The sugars are well developed and so the coffee is super sweet, but I still found plenty of that apple juice character that defined the light roast. There was a hint of roastiness to the cup, too, and that added back a little bit of the complexity that the acidity offered in the light roast.
Picking one of these coffees over another is impossible, for me. I really enjoyed both. The light roast is delicious and the darker roast adds a little more sugariness and sweetness and knocks the acidity down a little bit while still clearly retaining the origin notes in the cup. This is a really good coffee selection and they’re expertly roasted and that’s what separates Private Reserve from some of the other “coffee brands.” These are both really good cups! I am excited to see where Private Reserve goes from here. For an initial offering, this was outstanding and the presentation is top notch, too!
And, now about that. LOL The reality of coffee is that you pay for packaging. There’s no way around it. That being said, $16.50 for an 8oz bag of specialty coffee isn’t too off the charts. The tubes were shipped inside another tube and the fact that they only charge $4 for shipping (or free over $40 or with the cybercoffee code right now) is amazing. So, yeah, you’re paying for those gorgeous black tubes, probably $3-$4 per tube, but at the same time they kept the impact of the packaging down more than I expected when I looked at the price. Personally, I LOVE coffee packaging and branding and aesthetics, but I’m just as happy to get a bag of coffee with no frills whatsoever and you’re paying for mostly just the coffee. If I were giving a coffee gift, let’s say, Private Reserve would be way up on the list because the presentation is so pretty. But at the end of the day, I’m recycling those tubes and, so, for an everyday user I almost wish that PR would offer the coffees bagged and not for presentation at a slightly lower price. That probably comes with logistics nightmares, though, so what do I know? LOL My only other suggestion to Private Reserve would be to put a label on the bags. Inside the tube is a plain white bag with an off-gas valve but they aren’t labeled. I found that rubber banding the bags and putting them back in the tubes to keep them straight was a little clunky and, sure, I can write “light” or “dark” on a bag with a Sharpie myself, but it’s just a suggestion. UPDATE: just got done messaging Dave and he said they were planning on using a white bag for the light roasts and a black bag for the dark roasts. Genius!
Overall, I’m impressed as hell and my word count proves it, so I have to stop now!