If there’s anything that I love when I pick up a bag of fresh roasted coffee beans, it’s the ability to tell right from the bag how fresh the beans are. The best roasters put their beans into a bag and stamp it with the date the beans were roasted. This way anyone can pick up the bag of coffee on the shelf and immediately tell how fresh the roast is, and in turn how tasty the beans will be when they’re ground up and brewed.
After all, coffee is a short shelf-life product. Contrary to the way a lot of people (and large commercial coffee producers like Folgers and Maxwell House) think about it, it is not a product that’s well served by stuffing it into your freezer and forgetting about it until you’re all out of coffee. It’s not a product that you should buy gallon-tubs of and keep lying around for months at a time. The oils and chemicals that give coffee the rich body and delicious acidity that defines a “good cup” break down very quickly over only a few days.
To that end, it helps to store your coffee in airtight containers – even those nice jars with the locking, airtight seals that you can get from any department store will do. Try to keep your coffee out of the light, since bathing it in light or in the heat of sunlight will accelerate the process. And, of course, try to buy your coffee from someone who puts the roast date on the bag, like Zeke’s Coffee – a small batch roaster based in Baltimore, Maryland.
In this Stalking the Wild Bean segment, we’ll taste some of Zeke’s coffee – particularly their Sumatra Gayoland, which is available in restaurants, gourmet food shops, and organic and gourmet markets in the Baltimore, MD and Washington DC area.
Hit the jump to find out how Zeke’s Fair Trade Sumatra Gayoland did on my palate.
Let’s get this out of the way right from the get-go. I’m a big fan of Zeke’s Coffee – they’re pretty local to me, I can get freshly roasted beans at my local gourmet food market, and I know that those beans are not only rich with flavor and incredibly tasty, but the bag may as well be warm from them being packaged.
If you’re a huge fan of Sumatra, you’ll enjoy this blend. A lot. So I’m not holding back the secret here, I’m not waiting until the end of the review to let you know how I feel. If you can pick up the Zeke’s Sumatra Gayoland, go get it right now. If you can’t, find someone in the Baltimore/Washington Metro area that you trust enough to send you a bag. Is it the best of Zeke’s coffees? Nope – I don’t think so, but that’ll have to wait for another time. Right now, let’s get into the review criteria.
Unless otherwise noted, the beans I’m tasting have Maglia AC Milan been on the shelf no longer than 5 days, roasted Vienna style, and sealed in an airtight or vacuum packed container, the way any consumer would get them.
I normally prepare the beans by grinding them on-demand, just after boiling the water for coffee, and then prepare the coffee in a french press. I let the coffee steep a touch longer than advisable, but otherwise consume it the way any normal consumer would. I will, at times, prepare the coffee differently for the sake of comparison, but I’ll note it in the review.
Finally, each blend will be reviewed on five factors: aroma (the smell of the cup as it’s brewed and poured), acidity (the sharpness and acidic notes of the coffee on your tongue), body (the richness and heaviness of the coffee), flavor (the flavor notes and depth of the coffee’s taste), and after-taste (how long the flavor stays with you after swallowing, and what type of flavor that is).
That said, let’s get started:
- The Blend: Zeke’s Coffee – Sumatra Gayoland
Zeke’s Coffee is a small-batch roaster founded in 2005, family owned and operated, and passionately dedicated to exceptional coffee. Here’s how Zeke’s describes this fair-trade, shade-grown natural coffee:
Cultivated on the Western tip of the island, this bean, roasted light-medium, produces a light, full-bodied coffee with a wine like, syrupy taste.
Zeke’s sells their coffee in simple brown bags that are rolled on the top and closed shut with the flxible clips on the sides like you’ll find on virtually every bag of coffee in your local grocery store. Very simple, but effective. As I mentioned earlier, the real stand-out feature about Zeke’s is that they stamp each bag with the date the coffee inside was roasted. I can’t sing the praises of this enough, especially since so many other coffee brands don’t do this – even ones with great coffee.
The bags are about 1lb (16oz) of roasted beans each, so they’ll last a little while depending on how much coffee you drink. I usually go through one in just under a week, but I drink a bit more coffee than a lot of people.
- The Aroma
Zeke’s Sumatra Gayoland is warm and nutty on the nose, and also gives off hints of chocolate and hazelnut. There’s definitely a little bit of smoke, especially when you prepare the coffee through a French Press, but because the coffee is roasted medium-light, you get a very mild and delicate nose that’s mouth-watering and really appealing, but barely there – it’s not strong or overbearing in any way.
When ground, the coffee has much a much more nutty, chocolatey nose – it’s really well balanced, and I didn’t get a bunch of notes on the nose when ground that vanished or were replaced by something else when brewed. I could do with a slightly stronger nose, but that’s just my preference. This particular Sumatra isn’t super-heavily roasted or designed to be a particularly deep nose. It’s attractive without being overwhelming or disjointed.
- The Acidity
This Sumatra has remarkably low acidity, which kind of defines the wine-like taste that Zeke’s describes. It’s not a “powerhouse” coffee, like I’ve discussed before (especially when confronted with the Royal Farms Royal Gourmet,) and if you’re looking for a coffee that gets out of its own way and lets you really experience the flavor, this is it. Even though I tend to often over-extract my coffee, the acidity was more than bearable, it was actually palatable, and worked as an incorporated component of the flavor profile instead of a distinct and stand-out element of it.
Some people who are used to super-dark, burnt coffee will probably miss a high acidity level with Zeke’s Sumatra Gayoland, but if they can see past the lack of burn on their palate and to the flavors in the rich and full body, they’ll never look back.
- The Body
When Zeke’s points out that the Sumatra Gayoland is a rich, full-bodied coffee when prepared, they’re not kidding. I can’t imagine putting this coffee through drip, but I also can’t imagine it being bad if you did. Pressed, the coffee yields a strong and complex body with full bottom notes that’s enough to perk you up in the morning but still mild enough to not turn into gut-rot later in the afternoon if you still have a cup in your thermos, for example.
The body rounds out really well and everything you smelled on the nose comes through in the body – you get rich, deep chocolatey notes when you sip it and swirl the coffee in your mouth, and the acidity comes through in the form of the higher notes in the body as well. If I didn’t know better, I would think there were some sugars in the roasting process somewhere, the coffee’s “syrupy” nature, according to Zeke’s, actually turns into a long finish and some really tasty sweetness, especially when lifted with a little bit of sugar or sweetener (as long as your sweetener doesn’t get in the way of the flavor!)
- The Flavor
The syrupy finish doesn’t just linger on your palate, it also lifts some of the bottom notes of the body and expands some of the finer cocoa-like flavors in the taste profile as well. You do get just a touch of smoke, especially when prepared via French Press, just because you’re getting a more dense flavor at once, but it’s actually a really nice addition. The coffee is far from sweet enough to be a dessert coffee on its own, but I can see Zeke’s Sumatra Gayoland being an excellent accompaniment to a dessert treat, with a flavor that’s unique on its own but not so strong or bold that it’s going to get in the way of your sweet treat. If you are going to drink it that way though, keep the amount of sugar you add to the coffee (if any) light, okay?
It’s not really diner-style coffee though – the light and delicate flavors get lost when you pair them with super-bold or strong companions, so this isn’t the kind of coffee you’ll want to drink with a rich and tasty dinner. It would, on the other hand, go really well with a light breakfast of fruit, yogurt, cereal, a bagel – you see Malia Juventus where I’m going. The cocoa and hazelnut just seems to blossom with a little bit of sweetness, and whether paired with something to eat or just enjoyed as a morning pick-me-up, this Sumatra is a great and complex way to experience a coffee really worth drinking but challenging to a Folgers palate.
- The After-Taste
I know I mentioned it a couple of times, but the sweetness in Zeke’s Sumatra Gayoland makes for a long finish that sticks on the palate. It keeps your mouth moist, doesn’t give you a distracting sweetness, but also makes you want to take another sip. It doesn’t linger too long – either in your mouth or in your gut – but it doesn’t vanish so quickly that you forget what you drank. If given the opportunity, this Sumatra can be savored one sip at a time, but I would reccomend drinking it while it’s nice and fresh – letting it sit too long will start to break out some of the oils that make it so tasty, and you’ll get a less satisfying after-taste when you drink it.
- The Verdict
I know that not everyone can get their hands on this coffee, and for that I am truly sorry. Mostly because if you’re already a fan of Sumatras in general, you’ll fall in love with Zeke’s. if you’re not a fan of Sumatras or just want to try and decent coffee that’s roasted with care and attention to the way it’s roasted and the flavor profile you get when you brew it, this is the coffee for you.
I don’t normally discuss price, but Zeke’s is a little pricey when compared to some grocery store brands, but it’s not as expensive as some other, less complex and well-rounded coffees (you hear me, Starbucks?) – the $9.99/lb I paid for the bag I bought is a pretty good deal considering the level of enjoyment I got out of the cup. Zeke’s Sumatra Gayoland is a winner, I know I said that already, but this is also a coffee you can give as a gift to people who say they like coffee – when they brew a cup for the first time, they’ll thank you. I promise.
Just…make sure they drink it quickly, okay? That roast isn’t getting any younger, and you can tell because the date is on the side. (You hear me, coffee roasters? The date. Is on. The Side. Follow suit.)
Are you a fan of Zeke’s Coffee? Maybe you’ve actually been to the cafes in Baltimore, or just see it on the shelves in your area and pondered picking up a bag? Maybe you’re not a fan, or think I missed something on the flavor profile? Let me know in the comments what you liked or disliked about the review.
Also, as always, let me know what I can do to make this series of reviews even better! If you have a favorite roaster or blend, either gourmet or off-the-shelf, let me know in the comments, or send me an e-mail at alanhenry [at] theclassygeek [dot] com.