One of the first things to accept concerning specialty coffee is that you might not get every flavor note listed on the bag. Seems odd, right? It’s one of the primary reasons why you buy in the first place.
The thing is…there are just too many variables for something as subtle as coffee. Your own unique tastebuds are a huge factor in what you taste or don’t, for starters. The freshness of the roast and grind is another, literally grounded in the science behind flavor chemicals. Then there are the unique brewing methods, up to and including whether you use filtered water! As such, I’ve learned not to be entirely disappointed if I miss out on one or two of the coffee’s features. Maybe I won’t give it a round of applause, but I won’t necessarily deem it a failure, either.
So we transition into Onyx Coffee Lab and their specialty decaf variety, advertising an impressive medley of flavors that include apple, brown sugar, almond and dark chocolate. Even better? They boast some of the most beautiful packaging I’ve ever seen. If you’ve missed my previous decaf coffee reviews, check out my breakdown of Sightglass Coffee’s Hunky Dory or Counter Culture Coffee’s Decaf Kuichi.
You’re going to love this one:
This specialty decaf coffee is a Colombian blend from the Huila region. It’s washed, raised-bed dried and decaffeinated with the EA method. It’s neat realizing I’ve gotten to the point of sampling Colombian coffee from several origins. For the longest time the origin conversation wasn’t something I got into, but now I’m seeing the appeal. You get both the commonalities that tie a country together as well as the complexities of each region and microlot.
Onyx Coffee Lab hails from Arkansas, founded in 2012 and proceeding to make waves with quality seasonal coffee that needs to be snagged while it’s hot. The co-owning couple pride themselves on refurbished coffee equipment and were once baristas themselves, using their experience as inspiration to keep the ball rolling. They currently offer local delivery and curbside pick-up, right alongside subscriptions, classes and wholesale supply.
This deceptively simple packaging is just brimming with complexity. Ooh, I’ve been excited to talk about this one.
The Decaf Colombia Huila comes in a bold, squat black bag, instantly eye-catching for its earthy green sticker and swirly text. That would’ve been well and good enough, but peer closer and you’ll find ornate illustrations coating every inch. On the bottom you have a decorative skull framed by greenery and stars, the sort of design you’d find on the t-shirt of a melodic death metal fan. On the back you have a box of old-fashioned text decorated by an ornate border filled with little details, like a mug of coffee or a banner.
It’s a fanciful approach with a muted scheme that impresses on both an illustrative and design level. Think that’s where it ends? We haven’t even gotten started.
I’ve seen quite a few cute little decaf coffee boxes so far, but none as lavish and artful as this one. Right off the bat it’s a huge contrast to the bag itself, bright and pale to the dark and bold. It was neat enough to be greeted with a quaint gold logo…then I opened it up and got whiplashed by a lovely illustration of a glowing rose, leading down to a swirling cursive that states: “Better than roses.” As a certified flower fanatic I would claim there’s no such thing, but this packaging argues a mean case.
I mean…damn. It’s a visual delight that pulls you in from every angle. I dare say this is one of my favorite examples of packaging not just in coffee, but of all time.
The sweet apple is the most pronounced, though I could catch a strong hint of the nutty almond. This is a bag that boasts a lot of delicious flavor notes — some outright contradictory — and it already lives halfway to that promise. Sometimes I just pop this bag open to smell it, even if I’m not making a cup. Yeah. I’m at that point.
Yes! I finally have a Moka pot to further bring out my flavor notes. It’s nothing short of remarkable how much coffee can change depending on how you approach it. It’s so subtle I’m convinced that blinking at your coffee funny could change the way it tastes. Over the months I’ve grown pickier: exclusively using filtered water, steering clear of boiling temperatures and experimenting with paper filters.
After comparing the French Press, Moka pot and pourover? The Moka pot wins by a landslide. Not only is the mouthfeel thick, almost creamy…
…it’s another specialty decaf coffee that’s very easy to drink straight. To think, I’ve been working with coffee for years and it took freshly roasted and freshly ground specialty bags to have me drinking plain cups. What a twist.
Now, don’t mistake me! Milk and brown sugar are still my favorite additions to any brew, but I’m getting to the point I’ll occasionally skip that and go for simplicity. This coffee isn’t bitter in the least, a little tart and ever so faintly nutty in both the French Press and pourover. It pairs very nicely with brown sugar (indeed, it’s one of the notes on the bag), though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it sweet. The only way to get those dark chocolate notes singing is with the more concentrated brew of the Moka pot. It’s my favorite way to drink it.
The Decaf Colombia Huila is a solid coffee all-around, particularly if you have a Moka pot. It’s difficult to get all the flavor notes in one brew, but that’s what makes it complex.
Almond and apple are the most consistent flavor notes of this tasty bag, with dark chocolate coming to a head with espresso. This pairs brilliantly with brown sugar, even more than the other coffees I’ve tried, and compliments the fruit notes sharply. Some may be a little put off by the inconsistent flavor, however, and may want to try a decaf coffee with a more reliable throughline. While it’s far from bitter and easy to drink plain, I also wouldn’t call it sweet (which can seem odd considering two of the flavor notes).
All in all, I am very happy with my purchase (and what better choice to justify several brewing methods). So far Colombian coffee is hitting all my high notes, and if you want a complex and tasty decaf, this’ll hit yours, too.
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