Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Poor Man's Blend - from Coffee Bean Direct - review

5 lb bag of Poor Man's Blend green coffee beans

In late December, I was running out of coffee beans and Coffee Bean Direct (CBD) was having a holiday sale ($5 off). That meant that it was time to get some new green coffee beans. I decided to go with a bag of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and a bag of Poor Man's Blend. This review is about the latter, which is named as such because it is the cheapest blend that CBD sells. They recommend that people use this blend for art projects because it's cheap but on the other hand, it's supposed to taste good too. Being a poor student, I just had to try this coffee and find out if it really tastes good. If not, I can still enjoy the Ethiopian beans (which are great, by the way).

First roast - medium-dark
The first time I roasted a batch of Poor Man's Blend, I used my newest Popcorn Pumper (from the Goodwill store) because it's the one that roasts the fastest. Before getting this shipment of beans, I had been roasting Guatemalan and Costa Rican beans. The Poor Man's Blend smelled a little different and the chaff seemed to be less uniform looking and get darker a little quicker. Because this is a blend, the beans themselves are not uniform-looking. With single origin beans, the beans look uniform and the chaff that flies out is light at first and gradually gets darker as the roasting process progresses. This was the first time I had ever roasted a blend so I decided to do a medium-dark roast because that's my usual roast and I could compare that to what I'm used to drinking.

After a day, I decided to brew a cup using my espresso machine and then brew a small pot of regular coffee with these roasted beans. When I open a jar of freshly roasted guatemalan beans, there is an aroma that's similar to chocolate. With the Poor Man's blend, it smelled just a little better than a jar of any coffee you'd find in the supermarket. It smelled like fresh coffee but wasn't very fragrant in a pleasantly interesting way, as you would experience with the single origin beans.

The espresso was not very impressive and even though there was crema, it didn't stay thick for very long. The regular coffee also did not have a lot of flavor but it tasted like fresh generic coffee, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I added some chocolate soy milk and it didn't curdle, which means that the acidity is not very high. Sometimes light coffees like Dunkin' Donuts coffee will be acidic enough to curdle milk or soy milk. The fact that the crema dissolved so quickly might have been due to the fact that the beans did not have enough time to rest or de-gas.

After a few days, I tried this coffee again and the espresso had a better layer of crema that didn't dissolve as quickly.  The crema got better as time passed. The flavor was a little better but still generic tasting (not bad, just nothing special). There were no floral or chocolatey aromas or anything like that. I also brewed some coffee in a french press. The coffee actually tasted better than the espresso. Perhaps these beans just need to be brewed a little slower in the french press and have time to really soak. Having said that, I think I still prefer the single origin beans such as Guatemalan or Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.

Light roast
To really test out the range of this blend, I did a light roast a week later. Perhaps the first batches were just roasted too dark and I need to taste the bean a bit more. The single espresso that I made with the light roast was actually quite good. It was kinda like the Dunkin' Donuts blend but less acidic. I still prefer the single origin beans. However, if you're on a tight budget and just want something reasonably good to get you going in the morning, this coffee is fine.

So, I think I'll save these beans for the summer when I tend to make iced coffee drinks and guzzle them without savoring them. The Poor Man's Blend tastes like generic coffee - it tastes pretty good but it's nothing special. I suppose you could compare this blend to an excellent background singer in a band. In a fancy coffee drink, it will do its job but not stand out or upstage the other ingredients. If you want a coffee that will taste good and unique either as a hot coffee or in a hot coffee drink, try a single origin bean such as Guatemalan or Ethiopian beans. Those have some nice flavors that you can really savor.

The bottom line is that this blend is perfectly fine and it's the cheapest bag of green coffee you can get from CBD. It's nothing to write home about but it's not meant to be that either. For poor students who don't care what their caffeine tastes like, this one's for you! If you roast it dark, it's great for iced coffee because you can't really taste the coffee fully when it's iced and diluted with milk anyway. The light roast makes an okay espresso. Just make sure you give it time (at least 3 or 4 days) to rest after roasting it. If you drink it right away, it'll taste flat.

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