At a Glance: single origin (Bali); medium body; fudge, nuts, strawberry, orange peel, rosehips; low acidity; natural

Good afternoon, coffee geeks! Welcome back to my table here in the corner of this cafe. One of the things I’ve noticed trending on this website is that the very vast majority of my reviews are of coffees that find their home in Chicago. As much as I love all of my roasting neighbors, and as much as I love this city, it was never my intention to make the Table area-specific. So another resolution for 2012 is that I’m going to make an effort to be more broad in the cities I buy my coffee from. Today, for example, we’re going to be sipping a coffee from Rowster, a coffee company based in the Midwest’s third coolest city, Grand Rapids, Michigan (third only to Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin, obviously).

Are you ready for a change of scenery? Feel free to pull up a chair.

A few weeks ago, I headed up to Grand Rapids to spend Christmas with Ashley’s family; a couple days before I left, I ran into Richard Futrell (of Counter Culture Coffee fame) at Swim Cafe. We chatted about the holidays and whatnot, and when I told him that I was planning on visiting MadCap while I was in Grand Rapids, his eyes lit up and he exclaimed, “While you’re there, you have to visit Rowster! R-O-W-S-T-E-R. It’s a really great coffee company and cafe, run by some cool folks, and they roast some awesome stuff.” I had never heard of it, so I wrote it down and made it a point to stop by.

When I got there a few days later, I was very surprised to see how small of an operation it actually was. I had stopped by MadCap earlier in the day and it was everything I thought it was going to be—a big cafe, with an equally big roasting operation in the basement. Rowster, on the other hand, seemed like it was primarily used as a space for roasting coffee and then, later, they decided to expand into the cafe market, so added a few chairs and a table or two. It was as though being a cafe was merely an afterthought.

As it turns out, I was right.

While I was talking with the owner and a couple of guys working there that day, they told me that they originally started off primarily as a coffee roaster. It wasn’t until a few years later that they decided to have a cafe operating in addition to the roasting; and, even now, their primary focus isn’t on the cafe end of things. Grand Rapids is such a small market for coffee, so a cafe isn’t what they want to pour all of their energy into. However, they told me that if Grand Rapids were to suddenly become a hotspot for the “third wave,” they wouldn’t be opposed to expanding their focus. Besides, GR already has MadCap’s cafe to champion the craft coffee revolution; if they do everything right, the door will open up for Rowster—besides, they’re already doing a great job anyway.

It was very obvious to me that they are pouring a considerable amount of energy into their coffee. While I was there, they offered to let me a try a shot of espresso (which they brewed using a Colombian bean); it was one of the best shots of espresso I’ve had in quite some time. So sticky and honey sweet. What impressed me most about that shot, though, was the care and precision that the barista put into pulling it. You could tell that he had a great amount of respect for the coffee and for his job. It was refreshing.

When I asked the guys which coffee of their’s I should write a review about, they immediately pointed me to their Bali Kintamani Natural.

This coffee comes from Kintamani, a region located in the small Indonesian island of Bali. Bali is a very volanic region, with several volcanoes dominating the landscape of central Bali. Kintamani is on the western side of Gunung Batur (or, Mount Batur)—a very large active volcano. The coffee grown here is done so at elevations of up 1,700 meters above sea level. One of the most interesting things I discovered while researching Bali is that the island (which was once very Dutch following their invasion in 1900) produced coffees that were originally sold exclusively to the Japanese market; it hasn’t been until recent years that these coffees were available here in the United States, so I’m very fortunate to have this opportunity to try it.

The aroma of this natural coffee was very pleasant, and reminiscent of chamomile tea. It was very flowery and perfumy, with scents of rosehips and orange blossoms. Very light and delicate.

The flavor, on the other hand, was much different. This naturally processed coffee had a big, bold, full mouthfeel that coated the entire palate. Rather than having a very aromatic flavor, it was instead very deep and rounded. It tasted very strongly of chocolate fudge (which I assume is the island’s Dutch influence coming through) and nuts—hazelnuts, cashews, and almonds. There was also a little bit of a vanilla creaminess in there. As the cup cooled the nuttiness dissipated a bit, and a very fruity flavor came to the forefront. Black cherry sweetness, mixed with strawberry juiciness and acidity. Underneath all of this was a solid earthiness and it finished very cleanly and crisply, leaving behind a very nice creamy aftertaste.

The Bottom Line

I’m very happy I ran into Rich Futrell when I did, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have heard of Rowster: The New American Coffee until they became a wildly popular roaster. Then, of course, I would have to break all the laws of “cool” and jump on the inevitable Rowster bandwagon. I was very impressed with the people working there and their approach to the business, but I was even more impressed by the amount of energy they pour into producing great coffee. Their Bali Kintamani Natural is a really great roast with a very unique taste—a light and delicate fragrance of chamomile tea, followed by a full-bodied, full-flavored onslaught of chocolate fudge covered nuts and fruit.

I bet that if as many people who knew about MadCap also knew about Rowster, Grand Rapids, Michigan would have a very good shot at becoming a “third wave” powerhouse.

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