Coffee Wars

first crack home roast kenyan coffee cold brew versus hot

I have an interest in coffee but don’t actively seek it out. I’ve known a few people with the hobby and graciously accept whatever they’re willing to put in front of me. I’ve noticed that I tend to prefer lighter roasts, and cold brew, as I find them less acidic and usually more flavorful. Your run of the mill generic instant stuff is borderline undrinkable for me, unless I’m in need of a caffeine fix & it’s the only thing available. I’m not a big fan of overly astringent brews that rob my mouth of moisture. I also have this quirk where I don’t like hot drinks in general, so usually let my coffee sit out forever or make it over ice (but warm tea is growing on me).

Some of our best friends moved out of state a few years ago, but their family is still around here so we get to still see them, usually about once a year, when they come to town for the holidays. This visit, Zach came bearing a sample of his newest hobby; home roasting coffee, and generously gave us a bag.

He explained some about it, but I, not being a coffee roaster, or even much of a coffee connoisseur, wasn’t sure about what all the terms meant, and therefore can’t adequately relay it here. He did say that it was Kenyan coffee, and first crack. They were roasted on December 20, and he recommended drinking them within a week of roasting, but that was essentially the day that he gave them to us, so this is within two weeks.

Having received a cold-brew maker for Christmas, I thought that Zach’s gift would make an interesting opportunity to do a side-by-side. The picture above is of his beans. the color immediately jumped out at me; I had never seen coffee beans this light before! The aroma of the beans themselves was intricate and not as bold as I had expected. I’m doing this from memory at this point because they’re all ground, but I remember being a nuttiness and hints of something green there, and possibly some pepper/spice notes. Once ground, the typical “coffee” smell (which always takes me back to grocery shopping with my grandmother as a child, sometimes even being allowed to operate the grind-your-own machine by myself) became more pronounced. I’m used to doing this with beer, not coffee, so please pardon me if this reads as a toddler explaining something.

Both the cold and hot brew poured light in color, looking more like a tea than what I’m used to seeing for coffee. It almost looks like someone has already added some creamer but the liquid maintains some transparency (though with some haze), not taking on an opaque quality from the dairy. In beer terms, it looked much more like a Sam Adams Oktoberfest than Founders Breakfast Stout.

I let both cups sit out for a while to get them to approximately the same temperature before smelling or tasting, but that effort to balance their playing field may have made this next step harder. The cold brew has a very faint smell. It has an upfront nuttiness, followed by something that reminds me of fudge shops, and finishes with hints of coffee roast. The hot brew has the roast upfront, followed by hints of nuttiness, and the fudge shop has disappeared. The smell is also thicker, kind of lingering and smoky, whereas the cold brew was very light and airy.

Now I finally get to taste the stuff. The cold brew has a very light, quality. It’s very smooth and easy drinking. The mouthfeel is so delicate that it almost reminds me of flavored water. There’s a slight creamy feel to it and virtually no acidity. I have to swish it around my mouth for a while before any bitterness appears. There’s more roast in the taste than in the smell, but it balances well with the nut characteristics. It feels light enough to remind me of spring but the flavors are all autumn night. There’s a crisp clarity to it, that’s not biting, in a way that I refer to Pepsi as being “crisp” over Coke being “fuzzy.”

The hot brew is still very light, but definitely has a more pronounced, creamy mouthfeel. This is more like a full flavored tea than flavored water (we’re still miles away from Folger’s instant). The flavors are more integrated than the cold brew, and take me a little longer to pick apart. There is some slight mouth-drying as I swish it around. Words that keep coming to mind are toffee, coffee cake, and nuts. There is only a hint of sweetness to it though. It’s very smooth drinking (probably contributing to ideas of caramel or toffee). It finishes with a roastiness. It’s been a long time since I was this impressed with a cup of hot roast.

This is the first time that I’ve ever done a side by side. It was interesting to experience firsthand the differences that arose just from changing the temperature of water that the beans come in contact with. Both cups were lovely. I feel like the cold brew would be my go-to for waking up in the morning (I’m not a morning person) or sitting outside in the spring, while the hot brew would be there for comfort drinking or sitting by a fire under a pile of blankets while the snow accumulates outside. Zach did a great job with these beans. I can honestly say that I would buy this stuff over what I normally keep in the pantry. Even more amazing was that we finally got to meet each other’s children & that they got to play together.

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