Bag Review: Café Bustelo, Espresso Ground Coffee

When you’re a cashier there are always at least a few products that come through your line on any given day that the customers can’t stop praising, but you’ve never tried.  For me, one of these products was Café Bustelo ground coffee.  So naturally a few weeks ago I decided to buy myself a tin and share my thoughts.  One recurring comment was “If you like strong coffee, you’ll love this.”, and while my feelings about this brand are “mixed” to say the least, there is no denying that this is decently strong cup of coffee.

Café Bustelo is listed by Caffeine Informer as having 14 milligrams of caffeine per ounce, and this would put their caffeine content below Starbucks coffee at 20.6 milligrams per ounce and even slightly below  Dunkin’ Donuts coffee at 15 milligrams per ounce.  Personally though, I think this estimate is too low.  Generally I’m not too skeptical of caffeine informer, but in this case they note that their tests yielded results ranging from 7 to 22 milligrams of caffeine per ounce and I believe the real number lies much closer to 22 given how energizing this stuff has been. It should also be noted that the brand itself does not release nutritional information regarding its caffeine content.  In general I’d say this stuff packs a punch that is much closer to “death wish lite” than “water dyed brown”.

This coffee definitely has a pretty unique flavor to it.  It almost has a spicy aftertaste and is a bit more bitter than most roasts.  It’s not my favorite flavor of coffee, but it is definitely different in taste than anything I’ve tried before for this blog.  I will say that I could absolutely see someone being absolutely blown away by this kind of coffee, but I’m not that person.  The consistency of this brew is also on the smoother side, I’d compare the brew texture most closely to JazzMan’s coffee.

The ethical standards this coffee is held to are… highly questionable at best.  Earlier this month I contacted the J.M. Smucker Company regarding their 2016 Corporate Responsibility Report, My message to them and their responses can be viewed here.  For the record, yes, they did actually say “Insert Brand® coffee” in the second reply .

They have since also published their 2017 corporate responsibility report which goes into a bit more detail than the previous one regarding the practices and initiatives in action at some of their coffee growing locations, but many of the over-arching statistics regarding their coffee remain troubling.  Only 10% of their TOTAL RETAIL COFFEE is from “certified green coffee sources”, meaning UTZ or Rain Forest Alliance (soon to merge) certified.  It is worth noting that both of these certifications have been criticized for not meeting the same standards as Fairtrade International or Fair Trade USA.  Worse yet the 2017 report removes any and all mention of Fair Trade from the commodity sourcing section.  I am by no means saying FTUSA or Fairtrade International are the be-all-end-all for ethical consumption, but all the same I do think that given that only 10% is certified to begin with that this change is quite troubling.

The price of a 10 ounce tin of Café Bustelo ground coffee is $3.99 at the grocery store I work at and $4.49 at the retailer linked from their offical website.  That puts it at significantly less per ounce than any other bagged coffee I’ve reviewed so far.

Flavor: 6.5/10

Strength: 7/10

Other factors (ethics, price, etc.): 4.8/10

Overall: 6.1

TL;DR

Unique taste – smooth brew – questionable ethics – absurdly affordable price

All coffee for this review was brewed in a Cuisinart brand electronic coffee maker.

 

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Shop Review: Scribbles Coffee co

If Tree City Coffee is the sleek new small town coffee shop of tomorrow, then Scribbles Coffee co is the homey little coffee hideout of yesterday. Soft music, chalkboard menus, good heat, warm lighting, and the look of a place that could have been designed by your friend that always finds the cutest things on Pinterest. Feeling at times more like a café than a coffee shop, Scribbles is located a few blocks off main street and across the from a large rusted out building with a huge silo that may be the most “rust belt” looking thing in Kent. This tucked away feel doesn’t seem to have chased away customers, the shop has been filled with customers (Kent residents and college students alike) every time I’ve stopped by.
Their dark roast coffee or Guatemalan roast has a very nutty taste and not to much bite. As black coffee goes it almost tastes like a specialty beverage. It should be noted however that the texture of the coffee was decently thick, and it was relatively consistent to the last sip. It’s probably not going to become my go to cup of coffee any time soon, but it’s not bad enough to chase me away by any stretch. Especially given that the menu of specialty coffee drinks is one of the most impressively diverse I’ve seen. It could take months of burning cashier paychecks to try them all.IMG_6162

One specialty drink I have tried is their pumpkin “Jr. Bolt”. It’s 2 shots of espresso, pumpkin spice, nutmeg, whipped cream, and delicious. It runs a dollar more than a large coffee at $3.50. Across the menu Scribbles’ prices are competitive with other shops in the area, and 2.50 for a large coffee is a price so good it almost helps to make up for my less than stellar first impression of its taste.

They advertise that their coffee is organic and fair trade a great deal. While I haven’t been able to independently verify this, I imagine it would be a huge risk to advertise it as much as they do in their store if it were untrue. A risk I couldn’t see any small business reasonably taking.

Coffee: 6.3/10
Atmosphere: 8.8/10
Other factors (price, ethics, pumpkin bolt, etc.): 8/10
Overall: 7.7

TL;DR

Dark roast is meh – Pumpkin “Jr. Bolt” is awesome – Prices are good – Local shop – Good ethics – Great atmosphere

Cup Review: Jazzman’s (Sodexo) – Deep Thought Roast

Jazzman’s coffee is my ultimate love/hate cup of coffee at Kent State.  Its taste beats meal-plan-accepting rivals Einstein Bros. or Community Coffee, but it’s also very subtly a controversial school food service supplied brand of coffee.

We’ll get into my contentions with the school food supplier and the ethical… “mixed bag” they can be a bit later.  But first, coffee.  Compared to the nearby Starbucks or Tree City Coffee, Jazzman’s coffee may not seem like much. Against it’s other on-campus and meal plan accepting competition however, it’s the obvious winner.  It’s a cup of coffee with a  thin consistency and strong flavor.  My personal favorite cup is their dark and cocoa infused deep-thought roast. The texture is a bit too watery for my taste, and the flavor isn’t as potent as that of the other coffees mentioned above.  This is somewhat compensated for by the coffee tasting fresher, more complex, and generally consistent through the last sip.

The hard caffeine content for Jazzman’s beverages is difficult to find online.  I have reached out to Sodexo USA regarding this number and will update this review if I receive this information.  I don’t get too much of a kick from Jazzman’s coffee personally, but it’s enough to stay awake and alert for a night’s homework.  It’s not a weak cup of coffee by any means, but it may not give you the spark you’ll need for a truly unhealthy missed night’s sleep.

I will note that the Deep Thought roast must be either their most popular or least popular roast at the Kent location.  I am a night coffee drinker who tends to buy his cup right before the kiosk in the university student center closes at 9, and this is usually the only roast available.  In my view this either means that the deep thought roast is constantly being brewed to keep up with demand or goes untouched and thus is the last remaining.  It should also be mentioned that the basement of the student center (where Jazzman’s is located) usually has a very laid-back and friendly atmosphere, but I attribute this more to the university and the amenities it provides (nice tables and chairs, board games, warm lighting, pool tables, etc.) than to Jazzman’s presence there.

Now I’ll address the elephant in the room about this cup of coffee: the company selling it is an extremely controversial multinational corporation.  Sodexo (formerly Sodexho Alliance) is a corporation based out of Paris who is a food provider and facility management to many schools and other organizations.  To their credit, they take part in their fair share of health initiatives, and rightfully advertise their commitment to hiring veterans and people from minority communities. They also claim that their coffee is fair trade. This claim has proven somewhat difficult to verify, and their website section regarding this claim contains no links regarding it.  The majority of large protests against Sodexo have been regarding their lack of locally sourced food and lack of respect for workers rights regarding pay and collective bargaining.  Major colleges have had protests across the United states regarding different issues on these topics.  Seeing as I’m in many ways exactly the kind of person politically that you’d think someone in college with a coffee blog would be, I personally find it despicable when a company doesn’t respect workers right to collectively bargain.

Price is very competitive at 2.25 for a 20 ounce coffee, and the ability to pay with meal plan is incredibly convenient.

Flavor: 6.5/10

Strength: 6/10

Other factors (ethics, price, convenience, etc.): 6/10

Overall: 6.2/10

TL;DR

Tastes good – somewhat watery – mixed bag ethically – very convenient

Bag Review: Death Wish Whole Bean Coffee, The World’s Strongest Coffee

Last Christmas I received the gift of a 16 ounce bag of this coffee from a friend who discovered it on  Thisiswhyimbroke.com.  Sorry friends and family, but this one is hands down my favorite thing I got for Christmas.  As someone with a slight coffee habit my caffeine tolerance is pretty high, but this stuff is 14 years old and trying coffee for the first time because it’s the morning after a after a horrible overnight high-school orientation/retreat at an un-air-conditioned and badly maintained retreat center-level energizing.

Death Wish Coffee contains 55 milligrams per fluid ounce of caffeine, for reference, that is roughly 2.69 times stronger than Starbucks brewed Pike Place Roast (20.6 milligrams per fluid ounce), and 3.67 times stronger than Dunkin’ Donuts brewed coffee (15 milligrams per fluid ounce).  It is worth noting that this is a brand of coffee worth trying, but worth trying in moderation.  While for someone like myself this stuff may be a waking up godsend. For someone with no caffeine tolerance it may legitimately be somewhat dangerous.  While the caffeine per fluid ounce may be lower than say a 5-Hour Energy Shot by a significant margin, most people usually only consume one shot of 5 Hour Energy in the expected 5 hour time frame.  Coffee drinkers on the other hand generally have 12-24 ounces of their favorite morning beverage at a time.  That said, for my morning cup, this is my go to.

As for the coffee itself, the beans used are Robusta beans, so  don’t expect the smooth tea-like consistency of a Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts brand cup of coffee.  The texture is more similar in my view to hot cocoa.  It’s a thicker darker brew.  Robusta beans (as Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz will tell you) were once the norm in the United States when they were the beans of choice used in diner coffee, as opposed to the smoother brewed  (and harder to cultivate) Arabica beans that Starbucks and others have made the new normal in the era of the modern coffee shop.  Most people prefer the “fancier” beans today because of the perceived superior texture and flavor of the coffee they produce, but I personally prefer the heavier and more bitter taste of the beans used in Death wish coffee.  For a brand with a gimmick like “world’s strongest coffee” I fully expected the taste to be downright terrible, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the strong and flavorful taste of this coffee.

As for their ethics as a company they are fair trade certified and certified organic.  Strangely their website contains only one mention of this fact and no links, but a small amount of independent research can verify these claims.

My largest contention with Death Wish Coffee is probably the $19.99 price tag for a 16 ounce bag of beans.  Seeing as they’re selling coffee that is primarily composed of Robusta beans I would expect the price to be a bit lower.  That said I would give them a pass for the high price if they offered any reasoning for it (organic methods of farming are more difficult, a specific fair trade deal causes increased prices, “we’re selling a specialty product”, or anything related to being a young small business), but unfortunately, as far as I have found, they do not.

Flavor: 9/10

Strength: 10/10

Other factors (ethics, sustainability, price, etc.) : 8.8/10

Overall: 9.3/10

TL;DR

VERY STRONG – actually quite delicious – fair trade and organic – a tad expensive – worth a shot for any routine coffee drinker

Most coffee brewed for this review was brewed using an Idylc Homes brand French press, and the rest was brewed using a Mr. Coffee brand electronic coffee maker. Individual results may vary.

 

Edited on 28 July 2017 to remove grammar errors and excess self-absorbed rambling.

Bag Review: Starbucks Colombia Medium Roast – Pre-Ground

As medium roast coffees go this is a very mild roast.  The aroma this roast gives gives off while being brewed is very similar to the smell of a traditional cup of Starbucks Pike Place Roast (their flagship coffee), only a bit more subdued.  The typical Starbucks acidic bite is still there, but it is much less powerful than in other same-brand roasts and it becomes less noticeable after the first few sips.

The coffee itself is relatively flavorful and goes down very easily when warm.  It’s a good “cloudy afternoon and I just need to look awake for this presentation” coffee.  It’s caffeine kick is not the strongest you’ll ever taste.  This is the kind of coffee that I have made a small batch of in the late afternoon when I felt that caffeine itch but didn’t feel the desire to be up all night.  As morning coffees go, stay away unless you’re a “get up hours before work to have my two cups of coffee and read the paper” type of person.

Batches of this coffee have come out generally consistently with the exception of one thing: the dregs.  The last few sips can be either the same as the rest down to the last sip, or downright throw-out-the -last-3-ounces bad.  My only real theory on this is user error seeing  as it’s possible some of the grounds may have slipped through the filter. The French press I typically use to brew coffee recommends a coarser ground coffee than then fine grounds that come in this bag.

As price goes a 12 ounce bag will run you roughly $10.99 through amazon.com, which is competitive with other Starbucks blends available on the website, but is still significantly more expensive per ounce than other brands (Maxwell House, Folgers, Kirkland, Dunkin’

 

Donuts, etc.).

From an ethics and sustainability standpoint, on the bag it is printed “Proud partners in ethical coffee since 1998” and “find out more at starbucks.com/responsibility/ or conservation.org“.  Starbucks has long been considered one of the most ethical brands in corporate coffee.  However for those seeking to explore alternative/dissenting view on Starbucks’ approach to “ethical coffee” I refer you to Slavoj Zizek’s rant on the capitalist gratification of consuming Starbucks coffee.

Flavor: 6/10

Strength: 6.5/10

Other factors (price, ethics, sustainability, etc.): 7.5/10

Overall: 6.7/10

TL;DR

Decent coffee – last few sips are sometimes terrible – price is moderate – Starbucks is SustainalicousTM – Nothing to write home about

All coffee brewed for this review was brewed using an Idylc Homes brand French press. Individual results may vary.

Shop review: Tree City Coffee & Pastry

Located at 135 East Erie Street in Kent, Ohio, Tree City Coffee & Pastry is the kind of cozy little coffee shop you’d hope to find in a college town like Kent.  The shop itself has a warm yet modern feel to it, and the employees both working the register and brewing the beverages have been consistently friendly and welcoming every time I’ve frequented this little shop.  Long Story short, the coffee is good.  It’s Nothing special, it won’t blow you away with its flavor, but it’s a solid cup of coffee that isn’t trying to throw you any curveballs.  It’s not overly nutty, bitter, or strong; it’s just coffee. The coffee is also quite reasonably priced at $1.95, $2.10, or $2.45 respectively for a 12, 16, 0r 20 ounce cup.

My single biggest disappointment with Tree City is their disposable cups.  While the design of attaching the heat guarding sleeve to the cup as an attatched outer layer is a very cool looking design the cup itself is flimsy and prone to constant dripping and spilling.  This is especially notable if one is just picking up a coffee with the intent of taking it on-the-go and not sitting down to drink it in-store.  Not a cup of coffee to drink if you’re wearing white.  A smaller issue I have with Tree City is their 9PM closing time. As a late-night homework-doing coffee-drinker it can be difficult to find a place to pick up that extra caffeine boost needed to not fall asleep writing a paper, but if it were profitable for them to be open later I suppose they would be. I can’t blame a local small business for operating at times that it makes the most sense for them to do so.

The store also advertises that its coffee is “direct-trade and organic”. Meaning that the coffee the store sells must meet a series of standards regarding ethics and sustainability before it is brewed and served.  Their claims are difficult to independently verify, but they can be reached for contact at info@rootedinkent.com.

On one last note, I’m usually partial to just straight black coffee, but they do also serve a really good red-eye (coffee with a shot of espresso in it) as well.

Coffee: 7/10

Atmosphere: 9/10

other factors (red-eye, cups, ethics, etc.): 7.5/10

Overall: 7.8/10

TL;DR

Good coffee –  Warm atmosphere – Don’t wear anything that will show coffee stains.