Review #4 – Union Coffee Roasters

Hello again folks.

I’m back sooner than expected with this review, but the issues I had with my grinder sadly meant a lot of the Goldstone blend ended up in my knockout box and then into the garden for my plants.  I found myself between orders, waiting for one to arrive from Fire Station Coffee in Suffolk.  So, in the meantime I went to my local Waitrose to see what was on offer as they’ve usually got a pretty decent selection of whole bean coffees.

I chose a bag from Union Coffee as I’ve not really tried their coffees before, though I was aware of them as a roastery, and had chatted to someone at their stand at the London Coffee Festival earlier this year.  They appear to be one of the larger UK coffee roasters, based in London.

As well as coffee and brewing equipment, they also offer training courses. I actually hope to attend one of these courses myself at some point to work on improving my milk texturing and presentation. My latte art is…well…it’s not great. Really not great.  There are those who witness it who say they will be forever changed by the abominations I’ve left in their mugs.  Burn it, they say.  Burn it all.  Cleanse the…ahem. Sorry about that.

But anyway, let’s move on to the review of the coffee itself!

I can’t exactly talk about the buying process in this specific review as I purchased it from a local supermarket, but there’s a few things I can bring up.

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I decided to try the “Natural Spirit” blend because, as stated before, I tend to veer away from really dark roast blends so this one sounded like a good choice.

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I really like that they put a roasting date on the bags, you hardly ever see that in shop-bought coffee. So as you can see, this one is roughly two months old which is getting up there for coffee, you ideally want it to be less than a month for the best flavour.

I reached out to Union on Twitter (@UnionRoasted) to ask if they had an idea about how long it takes their coffee to reach supermarket shelves from roasting.  They confirmed that it can be as little as a week from roasting to being sent to the shops, but then it’s entirely dependent on that shop’s stock rotation schedule. So it’s possible I could have found one more fresh if I’d looked at every bag, or gone somewhere else.

If you want the beans fresh, you can go to Union direct through their website and order them there. as they roast to order. I’ll definitely try that sometime soon, I think, and update my review with my thoughts on that order.

Interesting they also state that you should store your beans in the freezer to keep them fresh, I know a lot of sites that would vehemently disagree with that! I’m ambivalent about the whole thing, honestly, but my preference is either in the hopper of my grinder, or in the original packaging on my kitchen counter.

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I was a little surprised when I opened the bag as the beans were darker than I was expecting.  Sadly, the light in my kitchen doesn’t entirely put that across in the photo above.  There was a lovely, rich smell on opening the bag, but it was harder to detect specific notes. It was very…coffee smelling.  I suspect again that this is the price you pay for buying at the supermarket.

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That said, it made a lovely shot with a heck of a crema on it!  This is another coffee I would strongly recommend be used for milk-based drinks. As an americano it was perfectly nice, but really nothing I would write home about. I really struggled to detect any of the tasting notes that the bag suggests and instead I just had a very nice but very forgettable mug of coffee.

As a latte it was richer, but noticeably….LESS than the coffees I’ve had before it.  The flavours were muted and while it was, again, a lovely cup of coffee, the tasting notes were much harder to detect. There was a hint of toffee, but the lemon was completely lost.

I am aware I’m being a little unfair to Union with this review as all the other coffees arrived fresh and were all used within two weeks of being opened and I’m comparing those to a supermarket coffee which is never going to be as fresh.  But as so many of us DO go to our local Tesco, Asda or Waitrose for our coffee, I felt it wouldn’t be fair for me to only cover artisan roasters as not everyone will go to them.

That said, as mentioned above, I will place an online order for this same coffee and will update this review with my findings!

To sum up, if you ARE shopping in your local Waitrose, I’d definitely recommend Union over Lyons or Lavazza or the like. It’s lovely, tasty and you can clearly see when it was roasted so you can rummage to try and get the freshest bag you can. If I find myself between coffee orders then I’d definitely pick this one again.

I hope there’s some of you out there who find this review helpful and I’ll be back soon.

Review #3 – Small Batch Coffee Roasters

Hello again folks.

Hopefully by now you know the format, so let’s get stuck into things and take a look at my latest purchase.

Small Batch Coffee Roasters are based down in Hove/Brighton, with multiple branches, through the actual roastery is located in Portslade. Their website follows the trend of a lot of third-wave roasters with a nice, simple white background and a clean layout that makes it simple to find whatever you need. I had no problems at all finding the coffees and the information about them that I wanted.

 

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As per the previous reviews we’re going to look at the house blends on offer here.  We have two for espresso, one called the “Throwback Espresso” and the other called “Goldstone Espresso” which is the one I went for in the end.  Costs for the Goldstone Espresso are as follows –

£5.95 for a 250g bag.
£2.00 – 1st class postage

Dispatch and delivery was very quick, the coffee dispatched on the same day I ordered it, and it arrived the next day which was perfect timing as I’d just run out of the Rounton Granary Blend! No problems with the checkout process here, I was able to use Paypal to pay for everything, no fuss at all.

 

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Four things I want to note here.

  1. Yay for flat bags that fit through letterboxes! I love these, and wish every roaster used them as it just makes things simple. No waiting till the next day to run the sorting office or rescheduling a delivery. I guess maybe it’s an issue of cost?  Or maybe just personal preference.
  2. I also like it when you get these cards with the coffee that give you more information about where it’s come from, how it’s been processed, etc. It’s good to learn about the source of the beans.
  3. Woooo for resealable bags! Just a nice-to-have rather than a necessity, but still appreciated for those who may not have somewhere else to store their beans.
  4. The bag that arrives is different from the one on their website which is black on the front and doesn’t look like it’s resealable, so perhaps those are the ones they sell in their shops?  Not a complaint, just an observation.

 

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My apologies but for this review there’s not going to be any pictures of the actual ground coffee, I had a few issues with my grinder so let’s move straight on to the actual finished shot once I sorted all those problems out.

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As per the advice of the website, I used this to make myself a latte and I have to say it was a really enjoyable drink that only improved as I got further into the mug.  The chocolate and citrus notes were very much in evidence here though they weren’t overpowering and, like the Rounton coffee, there wasn’t a hint of bitterness anywhere to be found.  All in all a lovely drink!

The next morning I tried it with hot water and I gotta agree with them, it’s not a BAD drink as an americano, but (no offence, guys) there’s nothing that really makes it stand out either.  As with the Granary, I’ll say this one is lovely from the first sip to the last and I’m already thinking about making my second coffee of the day.  However, it’s definitely one to use with milk based drinks if you want to get the best from it.

Has it toppled Rounton from it’s Number 1 spot? Not quite. There’s something about the Granary Blend, a depth that was just slightly lacking from the Goldstone, but this has taken a very well deserved number 2 spot in my list.  I’ll definitely be placing another order in the future and maybe I’ll try the Throwback next time as well.

Once again, thanks for taking the time to read my review, I hope you find it useful!

Review #2 – Rounton Coffee Roasters

Hello again folks.

I come to you today with a confession.  I really love this roaster.  In fact, their in house Granary Blend is my current all time favourite coffee.  You can have your Kopi Luwak, your Geisha, your Blue Mountain or your Hawaiian Extra Fancy, I’ll take this over any of them.

In fact, I’ve bought nearly 2kgs of this single blend over the last year more than any other single roaster, it’s just that good (Please note, I am not sponsored by Rounton Coffee Roasters, this fangasm is brought to you completely free).

Without further ado, let’s do what we’re here to do and dive in to my latest experience with ordering from them.

Rounton Coffee Roasters are another Yorkshire roaster, and I swear this isn’t just a trend of me liking coffees from Yorkshire.  Or is it…? Now I need to check the locations of my other favourite coffee suppliers!

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The shop design, once again, is clean and easy to navigate, with everything you need only a click or two away.  As per my last review, we’re going to look at the house blends offered by this roaster.  Rounton only offer one and as I mentioned above it’s called “The Granary Blend” and the costs for it run as follows –

£5.90 for a 250 bag.
£3.30 – 1st class postage
£3.00 – 2nd class postage

The checkout process was reasonably straightforward, though one thing I do have to mention is that on checkout there’s an option to like Rounton’s page on Facebook for a discount on your coffee –

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I clicked the link, there was a popup with an option to like the FB page, but no discount was applied to my order. I’ve not received any email with a discount code or anything so I’m not sure quite what happened there.  50p really isn’t enough money for me to make a fuss about, but I felt I should mention that, at least for me, it didn’t seem to do anything.

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I do like it when companies send their coffee out in resealable bags to help keep it all fresh. Just remember one thing – You don’t need to put your beans in the fridge or the freezer, folks!  Keeping them in an airtight container or bag will do just fine. Though, as with everything else in this particular industry/community, you’ll find as many people who say it’s fine as those who claim you’re ruining your coffee by putting it in the fridge.

My coffee usually lives in the hopper of my Barista Express, or in either its original packaging, or a ziplock-type bag to keep it airtight.

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I swear that first whiff when you open a fresh new bag of coffee is one of the best things in life.  Other than crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentation of their women, I mean that goes without saying, but coffee is damn good too.

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This is one coffee I will highly recommend you use to make milk-based drinks as opposed to hot water, it makes a far better flat white or latte than it does an americano.  Unlike the previous coffee, where milk tended to mute the Beverley’s flavours, the Granary comes alive.

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It’s another coffee that veers more towards the nutty end of the scale rather than fruity.  It’s rich and mellow, though I’ve never got much of a chocolate taste from it myself, I think it’s much more toffee/caramel flavours that come through.  Why is it my favourite? Well, because from the first sip to the last, the Granary Blend is simply perfect. There’s not a sour or bitter note to be found, not a hint of over-roasting, no coarseness to the taste at all.

Some coffees I find, you drink them and it’s lovely, lovely, still lovely, then you get that very last mouthful at the bottom of your cup and suddenly there’s something bitter, something sour, an aftertaste that doesn’t quite jibe with the rest of the drink.  The Granary Blend has none of that, every mouthful as great as the one before it.

For me, this is the coffee that’s set the bar for every other roaster to aspire to and one I can’t recommend highly enough that you try.

Once again, thanks for taking the time to read my review, I hope you find it useful.

 

2. What methods do I use?

I mentioned in my earlier post that I own a few different machines for different kinds of coffees and occasions.  To demonstrate the wide variety of methods for getting coffee into your cup, I’ll list the ones I own.

Sage Barista Express – AKA The Breville Barista Express for you non-UK folks.  This is my mainstay machine, which makes a simply lovely espresso. It’s got a built in burr grinder, a steamer, can dispense hot water and has enough settings to play with that it’s enough to keep any budding barista happy for a long time. I’ve been honing my skills on this for a while, but I still can’t do latte art to save my life!

Hario Syphon Filter – This was the machine that turned me on to coffee.  I saw a demonstration of it at PullBrewMelt and fell in love with it. It looks like some sort of alchemy experiment, something to be found in a mad scientists lab.  My first ever coffee machine and still one I use from time to time. (The Hario is somewhat expensive, but there are plenty of other versions/brands available that cost a lot less and still make a lovely cup, so please don’t be put off by the price.)

Aeropress – This is the first of my go-to machines for when I’m out camping or staying away from home. Simple to use, easy to clean, cheap to buy and makes a lovely espresso-style coffee that’s lovely when topped up with either hot milk or water.  What’s not to like?

Handpresso – My latest upgrade from the Aeropress for when I go camping.  I’ve not had it long, so only used it out and about once before and it was a little fiddly at first, but once you get the hang of it it’s another machine that makes a really nice espresso shot.  Just stick your kettle on the stove to boil and there you go, some great fresh coffee in the mornings.  Another big plus with these is that unlike the Aeropress where you need to have a bag of ground coffee, the Handpresso is also compatible with ESE branded pods (Lavazza make these) and Senseo coffee pods.

V60 – I have to admit, the V60 and I just don’t see eye to eye. It’s a machine that I just can’t seem to get the knack for. I even went out and bought a proper goose-neck kettle to use with it and so far I’ve not had a great deal of success so I’m afraid there’s not going to be a great many reviews of this machine.

Oomph – This is a product I backed on Kickstarter which is, essentially, an Aeropress inside a travel mug.  The initial pitch sounded great, but the finished product is a bit underwhelming in my opinion.  The top isn’t watertight, so it spills coffee unless kept perfectly vertical and it’s not insulated enough to keep the coffee warm for much more than half an hour or so, which means I can’t take it into the office with me as the coffee would be cold by the time I finished my one hour drive.

Bialetti Mini Express – This was a present from a friend, I fell in love with the minimalist design of it. I don’t get on with a lot of the moka-style stovetop makers but this one works really well and, like the syphon, I love the theatre of it.

Stovetop percolator – This was another gift, from my father-in-law who’s had it for years.  It’s a lovely thing, makes a very lovely, sweet brew and is just fun to use, though doesn’t see a great deal of use these days with all the other options I now own.  The picture I’ve linked to isn’t my specific one, but it’s almost identical.

1. What are we doing here?

Well, in short, this is going to be where I review UK coffee roasters and their coffees.

Since I went to a tea/coffee/chocolate event called PullBrewMelt a couple of years ago, I have become a lot more picky about the things I drink.

In fact, you might even call me something of a coffee snob.

Though, as the name of the site would suggest, I still think of myself as something of a proto-coffee-snob.  My milk steaming skills are somewhat hit and miss, and I don’t have a super expensive machine, though I do own (at last count) six different machines for brewing different kinds of coffees.

Hopefully my relative newcomer level of skills won’t invalidate my thoughts on the quality of the coffees I’m talking about but then that’s the point of this blog.  There’s a hundred and one sites out there for people who are “in the know”, who know their honey-washed coffees from their dry-processed and their pour overs from their syphons, who will talk for hours on end about the specifics of coffees.

This blog is going to be pitched at the people just setting out and dipping their toes into this world, the folks who might need a bit of a helping hand in deciding what it is they like and where they should spend their money.  There’s a dizzying array of options out there, so I’m going to try and do my bit by working my way through as many UK (and occasionally overseas) roasters as I can.

I’m going to talk about the website design, the ordering process (and any issues I encounter), the packaging of the coffee, and finally I’ll talk about the actual coffee itself, what I think of it and what machines I think it will suit in the hope that this will help people to find something that will suit their budgets and their tastes.

I really do hope there’s some of you out there who find this blog useful and if you do then please drop me a comment and let me know!