Here is the second part of the post recounting my coffee journey during the road trip to Reno and Boise. This part focuses on three coffee shops that I have visited in Boise, each with their distinct characteristics. Enjoy reading!
Flying M Coffeehouse
500 W Idaho St, Boise, ID 83702
First coffee shop in Boise that I have checked out. Good ratings on Yelp and a few recommendations on Reddit. I was intrigued by this specific review on Yelp, “this is your weird and funky coffee shop that you find in Portland and Berkeley.” Berkeley does not seem to be a common city to be mentioned for coffee shops comparison. This comment, however, turned out to be quite fitting. I will not discuss the reason here but welcome to take a guess. (Hint: What is Berkeley known for?)
The coffee shop seemed to be very popular. There were around ten customers standing in line with no available seats inside when I arrived. Flying M roasts their beans in-house; however, rather than being packaged inside containers or bags, the beans are placed inside several cereal dispensers. There are a few varieties: the espresso blend, the house blend, a Brazilian origin, an Indonesian origin, and the Ethiopia Limu. I was a little doubtful about buying their beans since the dispensers do not seem to be air-tight, so I did not purchase any.
I told the barista that I was interested in trying out the Ethiopia Limu. He replied that they actually have one batch brewed right now, so I ordered a small cup. I normally do not order drip coffee, but the $1.4 price tag is too good to not try it out.
The coffee has a strong lemon aroma combines with a hint of jasmine tea. It is quite delightful. The taste has a strong citrus and tea flavor. The acidity is a touch too sharp for my preference, though not overly offensive. It is certainly one of the better cups I have bought in stores. For its price, it is amazing. The taste is reminiscent of Peet’s Etoile, a limited edition Peet’s Coffee sold in December 2018. From some research, I found out the reason why they taste so similar to each other: the Peet’s Etoile is from Jimma, Ethiopia, which is in the same region as Limu (Footnote 1).
Dawson Taylor Coffee House, Downtown
219 N 8th St, Boise, ID 83702
Situated next to the Capitol Building. The outside looks old-fashioned – and they have a good reason to, with the roasters being founded back in 1995 in Boise and serving specialty coffee since. To give you an idea of how old it is, here is a quick comparison with other notable roasters: Verve was founded in 2007, Ritual was founded in 2005, Philz in 2002, Stumptown in 1999, and Counter Culture in 1995.
I have checked their online shop beforehand. They offer a wide range of single origin selections at a very competitive price. I was especially interested in the Misty Valley Ethiopia Yirgacheffe natural process. Yirgacheffe is perhaps the most praised coffee producing region in the world, but I had yet tasted any coffee from this region (Footnote 1). Moreover, I did not think I have tried any natural processed coffee from Ethiopia, which according to many coffee experts tastes distinctively different than wash processed Ethiopian coffee (Footnote 2).
Asking the barista for more information regarding it, he commended my choice and gave a short overview of its tasting notes. I bought the bag and brewed it the morning I got back to Berkeley. It was difficult to not get overly excited, but I did prepare myself for potential disappointment. However, it has exceeded my expectation. I brewed it using 4:6 method on the V 60, with 25 grams of coarse ground coffee, five equal pours of 75 ml, finished brewing at 3 minutes and 30 seconds (Footnote 3). It has an appealing apricot and peanut aroma. The primary notes are grape, wine, blueberry combine with a hint of honey. It is interestingly salty, giving it an unusual taste of green olive. Just like wash processed Ethiopian coffee, it maintains that light and clean body of tea. When it has cooled down, the blueberry and grape-related notes are even more noticeable, leaving a strong grape aftertaste. It is also amazing to brew for Japanese iced coffee (Footnote 3). The grape and blueberry notes provide the right amount of acidity and excitement which are perfect for cold drinks, also leaving some brown sugar taste in the mouth. It is something truly exotic and special. Borrowing the comment from a friend who has tried it, “they taste beautiful.”
Slow by Slow Coffee
403 S 8th St, Boise, ID 83702
The third stop of my coffee journey in Boise. One of the highest rated coffee shops on Yelp and Google Maps. The general atmosphere and style give the impression of a classic example of Third Wave coffee shops. The shop does not roast their beans in-house but rather purchases beans from a wide range of popular roasters in the states. Besides the normal espresso drinks, they offer three pour-over selections, Kenya Karuthi AA from Coava Roasters in Portland, Colombia La Florida from Evans Brothers Coffee Roasters in Sandpoint, and Ethiopia Wuri from Huckleberry Roasters in Denver. The menu also gives a comprehensive overview of the coffee beans, including the processing methods, tasting notes, the elevation, as well as their varieties. The Kenya Karuthi AA is of varieties SL 28 and SL 36 with the elevation of 1845m; the Ethiopia Wuri is of variety Heirloom with the elevation of 2000m (Footnote 5 & 6).
I ordered the Kenya Karuthi and the Ethiopia Wuri, two of my favorite coffee origins. The coffees were brewed in V 60s. The general recipe, if I remembered correctly, was medium grind size, bloom, then three pours in similar volumes. Besides the V 60s, I also noticed a Kalita Wave as well as an Aeropress paper filter holder on the shelves in the back. Some nice easter eggs. The barista is well-experienced in brewing, and we had a nice conversation about brewing methods on V 60. Asking for some other coffee shops to visit in Boise, she recommended the Form and Function. Sadly, I ran out of time to visit other coffee shops. Maybe next time.
I originally intended to simply enjoy these two cups of coffee. However, I was genuinely surprised by how different they taste. The contrasting flavors are obvious when tasting side by side. Even the aromas are distinctively different. The Kenya Karuthi is an excellent example of what Kenyan coffee should taste like. Notable notes include tomato and carrot. I also find coconut milk to be a fitting description of the heavier, sweeter taste in the cup. The Ethiopia Wuri is also a classic representation of washed Ethiopian coffee. Strong Earl Grey tea aroma, with pear and raspberry notes.
They are slightly bitter than my usual preference. However, they also have richer flavor and fuller body. They are… very enjoyable. Normally in my own brewing, I aim to clear out any bitter taste that I sacrifice its strength and parts of its flavor, even sweetness. These two cups let me realize that increased extraction can still yield an enjoyable, flavorful, and rich cup.
In short, this is the best coffee shop that I have ever been to.
Here is the end. I had a great time exploring the coffee culture in Reno and Boise. I also had a great time writing this post (or these two parts). More than three thousand words and countless hours of work. I don’t think I will ever write something this long again, but I have enjoyed writing it. So hopefully, it is a good read for you too.
(Short note: read the footnotes if you are interested! I had a lot of fun writing the footnotes and would love to share these fascinating trivia with others.)
1. Coffee producing regions of Ethiopia
The “Coffee Regions of Ethiopia” map by Trabocca
Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. It is the world’s 5th largest coffee producer and the largest in Africa. The high elevation of the Southern mountainous area and the rich soil make Ethiopia the perfect growing condition for coffee. Most coffee varieties from Ethiopia are named after the region the farms are in. Some notable regions include Yirgacheffe (Yirgacheff), Sidamo (Sidama), Harar (Harrar), Guji, Limu (Limmu)/Jimma.
2. Ethiopian natural process and Ethiopian wash process
Natural process and wash process are two mainstream ways of processing coffee beans. Coffee cherries (the fruits) are processed to remove the seed (the bean) from the skin and the pulp. In the natural process, coffee cherries are left to dry under the sun for three to six weeks, then the beans are separated from the dried fruits. In the washed process, the cherries are first de-pulped, then washed to remove the remaining parts of the fruit before they are dried.
Coffee processing has a huge impact on the taste of the coffee. Natural processed Ethiopian coffees are fruity and bright, usually have berry, grape, and wine notes. Wash processed Ethiopian coffees are floral and light, usually have jasmine, lemon, and tea notes.
In Ethiopia, the Harar region mostly favors natural processing, while the Sidamo and Yirgacheffe regions mostly favor wash processing.
3. Coffee brewing methods
All brewing methods mentioned in this post can be found here: Coffee Brewing Methods Collection (Continually Updated).
4. Coffee varieties
There are two major species of coffee plants, Coffea arabica, more commonly known as Arabica, and Coffea canephora, more commonly known as Robusta. Arabica plants produce around 60% of the world’s coffee production, while Robusta plants produce the rest 40%. Arabica is generally regarded as the higher quality kind. It is more difficult to plant, grown at a higher elevation, yields less, but produces a better taste. Robusta tastes bitter and harsh, while Arabica tastes sweeter and more acidic. Most if not all specialty coffees are made from Arabica beans. The varieties mentioned below are of the Arabica species.
Ethiopia as the birthplace of coffee has an estimate of six to ten thousand coffee varieties. The name Ethiopia Heirloom is given to describe all varieties of coffee in Ethiopia. Each region in Ethiopia has its own variety, and these varieties are usually named after the region itself (Check Footnote 1).
Coffee was brought to Yemen, then developed into two major varieties, Bourbon and Typica. The French brought coffee seeds from Yemen to the Bourbon Island off the coast of Africa in the early 18th century. This variety, known as Bourbon, was later introduced to South and Central America in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
The Dutch brought coffee seeds from Yemen to India in the late 16th century. It was then brought to the Island of Java in Indonesia, separating from the Bourbon branch. This variety, known as Typica, was later introduced to South and Central America in the 18th century.
Geisha, or Gesha, was collected from the village of Geisha in Ethiopia to Boquete region in Panama in the 1930s. This variety is generally regarded as one of the best coffees in the world.
SL 28 and SL 34 are varieties developed by Scott Laboratories hired by the Kenyan government in the 1930s. Though they failed to develop higher-yield varieties, SL 28 and SL 34 can produce exceptional flavors.
5. Kenyan coffee grading
Kenyan coffee beans are graded and sorted before roasting according to their size. Larger beans are generally assumed to be higher quality. The grades include AA (largest), AB, C, TT, T, MH/ML. Kenyan AA is viewed to be one of the finest specialty coffees. There is also a special grade called PB (peaberry). A peaberry bean is a result of a genetic defect where the coffee cherry produces one large, round seed rather than two normal, flatter seeds. Peaberry is viewed as a higher grade, usually separated and sold at a higher price.