We recently had the opportunity to try out fresh coffee beans from Storyville, a Seattle coffee company that sends their beans direct to your door. But this isn't just any mail-order coffee service. Storyville is on a serious mission: they are utterly determined to help you make a great cup of coffee, and they go to great lengths to see that happen. Here's how.
At first, we were rather skeptical of Storyville and its efforts to promote its beans. Why? Well, first of all their packaging and marketing are extremely beautiful. Call us cynics, but we used to work in marketing, and we don't usually associate this high level of detail in packaging and promotion with hardcore indie coffee roasters!
Also, Storyville has a unique approach to selling coffee beans. They do not offer a range of single-origin beans and special blends — unlike most high-end coffee roasters, who tell loving back-stories about each of their carefully culled single origins and developed blends, with long notes and descriptions more suited to a wine list than a coffee shop. There aren't any fancy wine-like descriptions here of their coffee: it's just good coffee, they say, provided you brew it right.
We were taken aback by this; I love a good Ethiopian coffee, with notes of wine and berry, while my husband is all about the rich, darkly roasted Guatemala and Puerto Rico. There's just one blend? We were puzzled.
Storyville seems to value the simplicity of just one good cup of coffee, and they aren't going after coffee snobs like us anyway. They want to win the halfhearted coffee drinkers, the ones sipping over-brewed, over-burnt beans at a Coffee Chain that Shall Go Unnamed. They also want to win the hapless home-brewers, making coffee from ground beans stored in the freezer for months at a time. No, no, they say — coffee should be fresh. It should be brewed like this, and if you follow our directions to the letter, you'll have a great cup of coffee.
We admire this devotion to the bean and cup of coffee; coffee is a great pleasure in life, and I do feel that it should be taken seriously. Or at least brewed right. Storyville is definitely on a mission to make good coffee-drinkers and to give people tools to make their coffee much, much better.
So, all this is good. But it would all fall apart if their beans weren't really stellar. And guess what? They are!
There are actually two blends offered by Storyville: Prologue, their regular blend, and Epilogue, a decaf. We tried both, starting with Prologue. We followed their directions down to the letter, just to keep things scientific, and were delighted to find a really excellent pot of French press.
The coffee is very, very balanced. It doesn't have the muddy lows of Latin American coffees, or the sour highs of African coffees. There isn't a strong peanut flavor, like in Mexican coffees, or the berry notes of Ethopian coffees. Instead there's a good strong balance of flavors, with a smooth start and a lingering dark finish. Their beans certainly aren't burnt or over-roasted, but it's still a dark medium roast.
The Epilogue has similar notes and flavors; it's a very well-balanced decaf, with some good compensation for the natural deficiencies of decaffeinated coffee. We can definitely tell that it's decaf when we drink it, but it's one of the better decafs we've tried.
If you want to try it for yourself you can order a bag from Storyville. They ship the coffee immediately after roasting and print the roast date prominently in large numbers on the front of the bag. You're supposed to drink the coffee within one week of receiving it. The beans are certainly fresh, and it shows in the taste.
You can find out more about the coffee and their recommended brewing methods at their site, too, in some rather tongue-in-cheek dramatic videos emphasizing "The Truth" about good coffee. They have excellent instructions for making French press coffee (a burr grinder really makes a difference).
We have only a couple criticisms of the method. First off, we are still pretty loyal to our Aeropress, and it gives very reliable results with a greater range for error in grind and water temperature. It might be an even better product for them to promote with the coffee, although Prologue does seem to be calibrated to a French press at this point.
Also, it seems that they recommend water for French press coffee to be heated to boiling. (Although, it's not clear - this is one point we weren't quite sure of, from the recipe card.) Just for the record: French press coffee should be brewed at 200°F -
a full 20 degrees, which is lower than boiling. Anything over that can scorch the coffee, resulting in that bitter taste people usually dislike. If you're going to the trouble of getting a burr grinder and electric kettle, do keep an eye on the water temperature, too. It may be the most crucial element, after the beans, in getting a good brew.
But those are just coffee snob quibbles, perhaps, and as I've already stated, Storyville is looking to help a much broader range of people with their coffee. If you'd like a convenient way of getting fresh beans, or if you have no local roaster close by, check them out.
(Images: Faith Durand)