Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

Filtering by Category: Coffee Break

EZdrinking in Hawaii: Maui Cafes & Coffee Roasters

In anticipation of my recent trip to Maui, a friend of mine ask me if I would bring her a pound of Kona coffee back from Hawaii. Before her request I hadn't thought much about looking for good coffee in Maui and I assumed that Kona coffee was just another “exotic” gimmick tourists brought home like macadamia nuts. However, I was pleasantly surprised at what I found. First, I learned that Maui has had an operating commercial coffee farm since 1988, growing four varieties of arabica coffee: Red Catuai, Yellow Caturra, Typica and Moka. Second, I discovered a couple of local coffee roasters who know what they are doing and how to get their coffee to sing.

Maui Grown Coffee

Maui Grown Coffee operates the 500 acre Ka'anapali Estate where all of Maui's coffee is grown. The estate represents a small portion of land that once belonged to the historic Pioneer Mill Sugar Company. The estate is open to the public with paved roads and viewing platforms throughout the farm that provide excellent views of the plantation as well as the Ka'anapali coast. The estate is situated on the West coast of the West Maui Mountains and ranges from 350-1800 feet above sea level. The coffee trees seem to thrive in the rich volcanic soil, warm sunshine, and cooling trade winds.

A short drive South of the Ka'anapali Estate is Maui Grown Coffee's Company Store in Lahaina. The Company Store offers a variety of roasted whole bean blends as well as green coffee for those that like to roast their own. The company store cafe also does a great job of educating the customers that come through by offing a free flight of all their brewed coffees. The flight moves from light to dark through their single variety and coffee blends. I particularly liked their peaberry; a medium roast coffee that was bright with nice fruitiness on the front end and finished with a well rounded earthiness. After the flight, I ordered an iced version of the peaberry which has enough sweetness and balance as not to need any cream or sugar.

Maui Coffee Roasters

Not far from Maui's Kahului Airport, Maui Coffee Roasters Cafe is a must visit for any serious coffee lover. Founded in 1981 by Nicky Matichyn, Maui Coffee Roasters (MCR) offers a variety of single origin coffees including two coffees from the Big Island and one from Maui. The cafe has a standard menu of brewed coffee, espresso drinks, tea, pastries, and sandwiches yet it is clear they pay close attention to the quality of their ingredients and process. Despite being in a nondescript shopping center, the cafe has a quirky neighborhood feel with a mix of regulars, locals and tourists.

Without a doubt Maui Coffee Roasters is hands down the best place for coffee on the island. In four visits I sampled five coffees: an espresso, a cappuccino and three single brewed coffees from Hawaii. The espresso was sweet with a counterbalance of clean acidity. The flavor was a rich mix of dark chocolate and crème brulee. Their cappuccino was good, though I wasn't crazy about it. However, my less than enthusiastic opinion of it has more to do with the fact that I prefer, what one might call, “Third Wave” cappuccinos, common in specialty coffee shops, that are more like short lattes than traditional cappuccinos. As for there brewed coffee, they are quite delicious. Their 100% Kona Extra Fancy is a lightly roasted coffee that starts off with lots of rich roasted notes that, as it cool, becomes brighter and the fruity notes start to sing. Their Ka'u Estate coffee comes from the Big Island just South of Kona and it is full bodied, with notes of cacao and cherry jam. The finish was long and dry which allowed me to linger over it while simultaneously wanting another sip. Finally, their Maui Red Roster is a dark roasted blend of Caturra and Mundo Novo varieties. The cup is full bodied and has a pleasant taste of toast with raspberry jam.

Anthony's Coffee

Photo by bayzest.

Founded in 1995, Anthony's Coffee Company is a quaint and comfortable coffee shop located on the North Shore of Maui. Anthony's is right on Hana highway in the heart of Paia, a relaxed beach town that it popular with locals and tourists. But despite its great location and nice ambiance, I found Anthony's coffee a little disappointing. Anthony's sells dark roasted coffees made from both international and Hawaiian coffees. Like many traditional roasters who veer towards dark roasts, Anthony's seemed to miss the perspicacious point at which the richness and complexity of the coffee is masked by the roasting process. The espresso I ordered was overly bitter, with a dry almost ashy mouthfeel and void of any real character.

Now to be fair there are a couple important factors that need to be taken into consideration before taking my assessment of Anthony's as gospel. First, I only had the one coffee one time. Second, it is possible that shot was pulled poorly by the barista or third, the coffee itself was bad. I do not have enough coffee tasting experience to identify the difference yet. Fourth, and probably most importantly, I had my coffee awakening in the Bay Area with a cup of Ritual coffee. The Bay Area is known for its lightly roasted coffees and I know that they are defiantly what I prefer. That being said I have also had some traditional dark roasted Italian espresso in North Beach that were fantastic. All this to say, the coffee probably started off at a disadvantage with my taste buds. If you like dark roasted coffee, give Anthony's a shot but I can't recommend it.

One Gripe

The only complaint I have about the roasters I visited on Maui was that no one does cold brewed iced coffee. I'm not sure why that is, but in my experience cold brewing iced coffee creates a sweeter cup without any of the bitterness that can develop in over-extracted hot brewed coffee that is then iced. The warm weather called out to be cooled by a refreshing cup of ice cold coffee but I just didn't risk it on this trip. I've been burned to many times by poor quality hot brewed, iced coffee. Aside from that, I was pleasantly surprised by high quality coffee I found and I know that on my next trip my coffee needs are covered.

Review: Left Coast Roast

Hanna Neuschwander, Left Coast Roast: A Guide to the Best Coffee and Roasters from San Francisco to Seattle, ( Portland: Timber Press, 2012), 296 pages, $16.95

Hanna Neuschwander is the managing editor of Democracy & Education a scholarly journal published by the Lewis & Clack Graduate School of Education and Counseling, where she is also their Director of Communication. Outside of education, Neuschwander is incredibly passionate about coffee; she has judged a number of barista competitions and written about coffee for Travel + Leisure, Portland Monthly, Edible Seattle, Roast Magazine, and the Oregonian. Neuschwander first learned her love for coffee working as a barista at Extracto Coffeehouse in Portland, Oregon.

Left Coast Roast is a great introductory book for any burgeoning specialty coffee enthusiasts. In her introduction, Neuschwander outlines the history of the economic and culinary revolution that is transforming coffee from an unsophisticated food commodity into a refined beverage full of complexity and subtle nuance. The next seventy pages of her “coffee primer” is a crash course in where great coffee comes from and how it is made. Neuschwander explains the common lingo used to describe the cultivation, processing and consumption of coffee such as “shade-grown,” “pulped-natural,” and “cupping.” From there she summarizes the general flavor differences found in coffees grown in a variety of African, Asian, Central and South American countries.

Throughout her “coffee primer,” Neuschwander emphasizes how delicate coffee is and the potential pitfalls it faces at each step in its journey from the field to the cup. Coffee can only release its full potential when it is roasted and brewed with precision. Neuschwander also succinctly describes the dramatic impact roasting has on the myriad flavors coffee can express. She concludes this opening section with instructions on how to roast and brew a superb cup of coffee at home. Roasting and brewing at home allows the reader to experience the nuanced changes in flavor and aroma that can take place by changing one aspect of how the coffee is prepared.

After this introduction, Neuschwander dives into the heart of the book, a detailed examination of coffee roasters on the West Coast. California, Oregon, and Washington each get their own chapter which is organized by cities with the most roasters, and roaster are listed alphabetically within their city. Left Coast Roast is not meant to be an exhaustive reference, but a collection of some of the best, most well known, and infamous West Coast coffee roaster.

Besides being a great introduction to specialty coffee roasters, the book has helped me discover some great coffee roasters. Living in San Francisco's Mission District, I was familiar with Ritual, Four Barrel, and Blue Bottle but Left Coast Roast helped me find some great coffee coming out of North Beach and other parts of the Bay Area. The book was also very helpful during my last visit to the Pacific Northwest. I was able plot out the coffee roasters I wanted to visit while I was on a work trip to Seattle. While I wasn't crazy about every single cup I tried, a closer read of each entry would have helped me zero in on the few shops I liked the most. And while one of my new favorite North Beach roasters wasn't included in the book, I will continue to use Left Coast Roast as my starting point as I continue to explore the West Coast coffee scene.

My beverage biases

I want to acknowledge upfront that the tastings of spirits, beer, wine and coffee that I write about will be skewed by my own judgments and biases about different beverages. Like anyone else, these judgments and biases are formed out out my own life experiences and the physical limits of my ability to taste and smell. For example, I tend to enjoy drinking rye based whiskeys over wheated whiskeys, or I tend to like coffee made from lightly roasted beans more than dark roasted coffee. While drink writers very rarely write about their own biases, my hope is that by reflecting on them from time to time I may be able to improve my ability to think objectively about what I'm drinking and allow the reader to think critically about my or any other drink writer's work.

One of the primary judgments I make about beverages is that, if it isn't good on its own it's not worth drinking. While I do enjoy a good cocktail or cappuccino from time to time my first instinct is to drink the spirit or coffee on its own without adulteration. Which often means, given the choice between drinking something with a poor tasting base, gussied up to become palatable, and water, I'll chose water. One caveat to this is that, during graduate school I became willing to drink bad coffee with cream and or sugar, simply as a caffeine delivery device.

 My Coffee Conversion

Up until 2009 I was pretty sure that I would never be a coffee drinker.  All my experiences up to that point had left me wondering why people were so enamored with a drink that was thin, unpleasantly bitter, tasted like blackened toast and for many required cream and sugar to make it palatable.  Then one day that all changed.  I was helping a friend do some construction on a space he hoped to turn into a coffee shop.  A couple of times he offered me a coffee and I declined because I thought I didn't like coffee.  While taking a break, one of the investors convinced me to try the iced coffee because it was one of her favorites.  At the first sip I knew my life and my self-conception as a non-coffee drinker would be forever changed.  The iced coffee was refreshing, bright, flavorful completely lacking in bitterness and slightly sweet even though it had no added sugar.  When I asked my friend why it was so good he told me it was from two primary reasons. First, he use a lightly roasted coffee from Ritual Roasters in San Francisco, which allowed the bright fruity flavors of the coffee to shine through.  Second, he used a cold brewing method that extracted the flavors from the beans without the bitterness.  Since then I have become a huge fan of people refer to as third wave, or specialty coffee.

What's in a name?

I decided to name my site EZdrinking for a couple of reasons. First, my intent for this project is to focus on spirits, beer, wine, and coffee that are of such quality that they are easy to drink on their own. Second, I hope to promote a temperate approach to alcohol that extols its variety, craft and creativity with out overindulgence. Third, since this a site of my own musings about things I like to drink and my initials are E.Z. the choice was obvious.