Coffee awakening: A comparison of local cups

If you like it hot, Milli Joe pour-over brews from varied coffee origins are the way to go. Photo: Ron Paris If you like it hot, Milli Joe pour-over brews from varied coffee origins are the way to go. Photo: Ron Paris

Pour-over coffee. It’s known for its tea-like flavors, light body and ceremonious process. Each cup takes about five minutes to brew.

In the world of coffee, that’s a decidedly snail-like pace. And yet the pour-over method has become the mainstay of hipster, third-wave coffee joints. In many ways it’s transcended its coolness and become the staple method—a requirement at serious modern coffee shops.

Now we not only have Italian foamed milk drinks, French press and drip, but we’ve adopted this slow process that takes what might be called painstaking effort to produce the perfect cup. Why? The simple answer is: It’s worth it. Read on to get a feel for the brews to choose on your next search for a good cup of mud.

Shark Mountain

Kenya Murang’a 

I enter the empty IX building location. It’s a sunny day and there’s hardly a soul in the place. Three bags of coffee sit on a shelf behind the bar. The barista brews me a cup of the Kenya, one of three beans available for pour-over. It’s a very fresh roast, balanced and smooth. I take it to go, walking through wet autumn leaves along the sidewalk. There’s a natural sweetness to it. The aroma is lemon peel, toasted almond, cocoa and coconut. Almost like an Almond Joy. In the cup I get black tea, soft cocoa and candied Meyer lemon peel. It’s approachable and drinkable.

Mudhouse Downtown

Nicaragua Los Cipreses de Loma Fria

As I walk into the downtown location, the warm air of the cafe washes over me. Every seat is filled with someone in deep concentration, either staring at a laptop or scribbling in a notebook. The shop buzzes with low conversation, indie music and the ticking of fingers on computer keyboards. The friendly barista takes my order. The detailed, short pour-over coffee menu lists four coffee origins with their elevation, genetic varietal, process and tasting notes. I choose the Nicaragua to go. Even with no one in line ahead of me, the process takes about five minutes. I take the coffee on a stroll down the mall. The aroma in the cup is honeysuckle, clove and anise. The coffee itself is bright and juicy, with a distinct dried currant flavor and hints of sweet mandarin orange.

Milli Joe

Ethiopia Adado

A red door swings open to reveal a shop full of folks chatting in low, excited tones or working lackadaisically. There’s a roaster to my right and in-process art on the walls. Millie Joe’s is currently transitioning to roasting all of its own coffees. Previously it offered Counter Culture. There are two options available for pour-over according to the chalkboard menu. (In the past, I’ve seen as many as four.) Written next to each coffee is a short list of tasting notes. I order the Ethiopian because it lists “blueberry” as a flavor. Both of the baristas are sweet and knowledgeable. I receive my coffee piping hot (the only spot in town that offers their pour-overs hot as opposed to already getting too cool to enjoy). I settle into a spot at the bar by the window. The aromas are heady and perfume-like: sugared lemon zest and jasmine. Flavors are deep, juicy, roasted blueberry and buttery graham cracker crust. Like blueberry pie.

Shenandoah Joe

Brazil Varanda Estate

As soon as I walk in I’m greeted by a friendly barista. He high-fives me and smiles. I ask him what coffee on the extensive menu might suit a solid pour-over. He suggests the Brazil Varanda or Ethiopian Sidamo. I’ve been drinking their Sidamo at home (it also tastes like blueberry pie). So I go for the Brazil, because that’s his current go-to. I get my cup and return to the car with my coffee-obsessed husband. Brazilian coffees aren’t known for their stellar flavors in delicate brewing methods such as this. But my cup is low acid with good body, and its aroma is mild and tobacco-like. It has a grassy, earthy, caramel-like flavor, rather like burnt caramel and cacao nibs. Or a 100 percent dark chocolate bar. It’s a good, classic coffee. A perfect breakfast brew or straight eye-opener. 

The whole pour-over process is beguiling and ephemeral, lasting only 10 minutes from first pour to final sip. In a way, it’s even slightly glamorous.

Shark Mountain’s is wonderfully fresh, the beans are expertly chosen and the brew is solid. Mudhouse is passionate about the details, aware of terroir and only offers stellar beans for the pour-over method. Milli Joe brews from the heart with well-defined, varied coffee origins featuring bold flavors, and Shenandoah Joe coffees please a range of tastes from mild to bold, fruity to chocolatey and everything in between.

Personally, I go for intriguing, unique flavor profiles. Some like it bitter, mean and biting. I like it mild. That’s the beauty of this method. It highlights the best in excellent beans. If you prefer drip or espresso, go at it. Have a ball. I’ll just be over here with my prissy, delicious brew, smiling up a storm. 

–Renee Byrd

Posted In:     Living


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