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Review: Birds & Beans, Chestnut-sided Warbler Blend

August 19, 2011

I am a die-hard coffee drinker.  And while I’m fortunately not the sort that goes through withdrawals if I miss my morning cuppa, there’s barely a day that goes by that I don’t manage to get one or more cups of that sweet sweet bean juice in my system.  I’m also a conscientious birder, so I’m well aware of the very strong connection between coffee agriculture in Middle America and many of the birds I enjoy here in North America.  Heck, I’ve even had the pleasure of seeing the connection with my own eyes.  Migratory birds are under a lot of pressures here and in their wintering territories far to the south.  Agricultural exploitation of important habitat is an ongoing concern, and coffee is a big-time cash crop in much of the Neotropics, grown by both multinational industrial food interests and small plot family growers.  It goes with very little saying that sustainable and bird friendly are adjectives that describe the impact of trending towards only one of those agricultural extremes.  The secret is in the shade.  The thing is, we as American consumers have the amazing ability to make a choice with our purchases that resonates there in ways that have a positive impact on our recreation here.  It’s the free market baby, and it’s always nice to score one for the good guys with our hard earned yankee dollares.  Very rarely does that happen with bird people, let me tell you.

But I’ve just spent more than 200 words describing what you, dear reader, probably already know.  So hopefully my delightful prose has kept you reading, because thanks to the kind folks at Birds & Beans I received in the mail a pound of ground goodness, their medium roast Chestnut-sided Warbler blend, to try out for my very own.  I’m fortunate, in my corner of the erudite south, to have the opportunity to get shade grown coffee at several local establishments, from the famous Counter Culture Coffee to my local gourmet grocer, A Southern Season, both of which sell many varieties of legitimately shade-grown stuff from around the world.  But those without the surfeit of options living in a college town affords, Birds & Beans offers mail order, and Chestnut-sided Warbler is one of their most popular varieties.

It’s really good coffee, great even.  I’m hardly the sort with the refined palate anyway, and with coffee I’m worse.  I enjoy my coffee dark and strong, like a sledgehammer on my tongue.  The problem I’ve found with pushing lesser beans this far is that this generally brings out a bitter aftertaste that’s often unpleasant.  Not so with this coffee.  Brewing it at home releases a rich, thick aroma  that’s emphasized when you take the first sip.  I’m sure had I had whole beans it would have been even better.  The flavor hits hard just the way I like it, with an pleasant earthy overtone that I can’t describe any more plainly than robust.  Brew this one strong and it can handle it.  It’s a high-quality bean.  And that’s sort of the key with shade-grown coffee.

The coffee at Dunkin’ and Starbucks is ok, but it never translates well to brewing at home.  This coffee, and shade-grown in general, consistently makes a more flavorful cup of coffee in my home pot, and since that’s where I drink most of my coffee that matters to me.  Sure, there’s the cost.  Shade-grown coffee is going to run you $3-4 more per pound than the regular stuff you get in the big cans, but I’ve responded to that by simply drinking less coffee.  I used to be a two cup a day drinker, three on weekends.  And while there are special occasions where I’ll splurge, I’ve cut that in half.  So while the shade-grown stuff is more expensive, I’m actually drinking less coffee and spending less on coffee.  Besides, I decided that drinking fewer cups of a superior coffee was more enjoyable than drinking more of a lower quality coffee.  That, plus the bird connection, made the decision to go shade-grown only, or at least try to go shade-grown only, a no-brainer.

So I’d encourage any avid coffee drinker who really wants to really enjoy their coffee on both a gustatory and ethical level, to make the switch.  And if you do, Birds & Beans makes a great coffee that’s worth spending a little extra on.

Thanks to Birds & Beans for providing me with a sample of Chestnut-sided Warbler blend coffee

  1. August 21, 2011 10:24 pm

    Having tried both, I prefer the lighter Wood Thrush roast, which brings out more of the beans’ flavor. It is really good coffee, too.

  2. August 21, 2011 10:57 pm

    Great review!

    Up front I’ll say I’d rather drink appropriately-grown coffee (that is, “bird-friendly”) over environmentally-damaging beans anyday. But, that said, I can’t say I’m all that high on the lighter roasts from Birds & Beans. I love encountering Chestunt-sided Warblers and Wood Thrushes in the field, but in the coffee pot I find too much of a fruity taste (or something along those lines , I’m no connoisseur and don’t know the lingo). The dark roast, Scarlet Tanager: that’s the way I prefer roll.

    And while this may damage my coffee-drinking reputation, the decaf (yes, I’ve immersed in decaf!), the Baltimore Oriole roast: tastily dark as well.

    And all of that said, cool on scoring a free sample of the coffee! It is a bit pricey to feed the habit. Wish they’d come out with more roasts than the simple, three-tier “dark, light, and lightest” offerings they currently have.

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