(Article Updated 6/14/2017)
Disclaimer: When I visited Kohana Coffee in Austin for this interview, they supplied me with four pounds of coffee and two 16 oz. bottles of cold brew to take home at no charge. However, all the opinions in this article are mine and gratis products did not sway my views.
I love coffee. There is something about opening a fragrant bag of freshly roasted beans, grinding some up, adding the ground beans to my press, and pouring in steaming, hot water from my kettle. It’s a morning ritual shared, using one method or another, by many of us.
Several years ago, I was writing a coffee and tea blog for a large network. I happened to see a little blurb about a small, artisan coffee roaster in Austin. I contacted Kohana Coffee and asked if they’d send me a sample of their coffee to review. I loved the coffee, and the rest is history.
Over the next several years, I got to know Piper Jones and the Kohana team through email, Facebook, and Twitter. We became friends and, thrill of thrills, I got to name one of their coffees, Alamo Joe.
So what if it’s not in production anymore – I named it.
I really wanted to visit Kohana and spend the day photographing the roasting process. Every year I swore I would do it and every year I didn’t. Until now. Emails were sent, plans were made, and my husband, my daughter, my son in law, and me hopped in the van and began the three hour drive.
The idea for Kohana was birthed while Piper and her partner were in Hawaii. As they sipped coffee in a local coffee shop, they became interested in the roasting process. Piper met with the roaster and learned about roasting, the characteristics of different beans, and all the other secrets of making the perfect cup of coffee. She learned her craft well. Kohana is one of the best coffees I’ve ever tasted.
The Roaster – That Sucker Is Big, Y’all
The first thing that surprised me was the size of the roaster. I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t a huge, red contraption that was so tall you had to climb a ladder to add the beans!
The roaster has two parts. The part where the beans are roasted is attached to an afterburner. It’s a tall cylinder that cleans the fumes from the roasting process. It makes the roaster cleaner and more environmentally friendly.
The room was full of bags of green coffee beans and, as you can imagine, it smelled heavenly. Piper let my daughter, Erin, and me choose which coffee to roast.
Piper showed us how the beans were carefully weighed for each batch. I climbed the tall ladder and poured the beans into the roaster.
Once I was off the ladder, Piper let me push the lever that sent the beans down into the roasting chamber. Every once in a while, Piper would pull a piece out of the chamber to check on the progress.
Coffee goes through stages where you can hear the beans pop and crack. Someone with experience roasting can tell what’s going on by how it sounds. Kohana makes it look easy, but I think there’s a coffee Zen that happens where the roaster knows instinctively when each variety has reached perfection.
Once the coffee is roasted, it has to be cooled. The beans are released from the machine and fall into a pan that looks like a colander. A huge brush moves the darkened beans around to cool them quickly.
The Part Where I Learned About Cupping
While the beans roasted and cooled, we went into the other room to learn about cupping. I knew cupping was similar to wine tasting in that you sniff, you slurp, you spit. It definitely is much more involved and scientific than it sounds.
Piper put the same ground coffee into three cups. She carefully weighed the coffee to make sure that each cup was the same. Next, she poured hot water over the grounds and let them steep. At that point, we sniffed the cups and tried to describe what we were smelling.
The reason three cups are used is to ensure that if there happens to be a bad bean in one of the cups, the other two would be alright. Using a spoon, you dip into the cup and get a spoonful of coffee. Then you pull the coffee into your mouth with a quick, loud slurp. This allows you to pull in as much oxygen as possible. The coffee also spreads over your entire tongue and each of your taste buds. Hopefully, you can do this without choking yourself, but it isn’t easy. You rinse the spoon in water between tasting cups.
Describing coffee is difficult. I have a pretty good vocabulary, but using words like tobacco, dirt, and wood to elaborate about flavors, for me, is like speaking a foreign language. Luckily, Kohana had three, large posters on the wall with tons of words representing various flavors. You’d think tobacco would be a nasty flavor but it wasn’t. It reminded me of the way my uncle’s pipe used to smell. It was comforting.
After cupping, we went back into the roasting area to bag up our coffee. It should sit for several hours after roasting to allow the gasses to dissipate. That’s why there are those plastic vents on coffee bags. They let the gas out but don’t let air in.
Try It, You’ll Like It
Did you know coffee beans have different characteristics depending on the type, where they are grown, how they are handled, and what the weather was like?
Some of Kohana’s coffees are blended and others are from one plantation. I like all of the flavors Kohana has. If I had to choose one, however, I’d recommend Rockin’ Like Austin. If you prefer a dark roast that doesn’t taste burnt, you’ll love this coffee. It’s an East Indies and Central American blend that is smooth, sweet, and winey.
The first time I tried Rockin’ Like Austin, I described it like this:
The aroma was interesting, just a hint of citrus with a full fruity aroma. First sip was smooth with a definite milk chocolate essence followed by a hint of pepper and orange. This is a sweet brew in more ways than one. Not quite the sexiness of an Italian roast…more like a Boho poet. Romantic and deep, with flashes of the unexpected. This is a barefoot coffee, one for gazing at sunrises and sunsets, walking barefoot in the park, listening to jazz with your best friend. For me it was a gypsy skirt and leather fringe.
See? I loved it.
Another dark roast I loved is Panama. It’s silky-smooth and tastes like a combination of smoked cinnamon and rose. If I ever create a signature perfume, it will smell like this.
The most popular coffee is the Kohana Blend. If you buy the beans, they are so pretty you may be tempted to store them in a glass canister on the counter. Don’t do it, though. It’s not good for the coffee. The Kohana Blend is mild and smooth. The beans are a beautiful mixture of light, medium, and dark roasted beans that are individually craft roasted. You know what that means? It means that Kohana took a lot of time to make their coffee special.
The First Shelf Stable Cold Brew Coffee
Kohana has grown by leaps and bounds since I first discovered them. The coffees are now in many Whole Foods stores around Texas, and in several Austin coffee shops.
One of the most popular items Kohana Coffee makes is a cold brew coffee. This coffee is a concentrated liquid that can be used for coffee drinks, baking, cocktails, and hot coffee.
The cold brew is made from organic, Fair Trade coffee and pure, filtered water. The masterminds at Kohana got together with some engineers and came up with the first shelf stable, cold brew coffee. The patented process was used to conjure up several versions – French Roast, Decaf, French Vanilla, and a regular cold brewed coffee.
The people who make up the Kohana team are perfectionists. You can taste it in the coffee but you can also see it in the way the business is run, the knowledge the team has, and the lengthy process they go through to come up with the best roast for each type of coffee bean they buy. No doubt Kohana is already planning their next coffee coupe as you read this.
Where to Find Kohana Coffee
Kohana coffee is available in Austin, of course. You can also find it at Whole Foods, Central Market, and Specs. If you can’t find it locally, you can buy it from Kohana’s website.
Wrapping It Up
Was it worth six hours in the car round trip? It sure was. We had a blast! It was a nice micro-mini vacation for the four of us. I got to roast coffee for the first time ever, I got to meet an online friend in person, and I got to hang out in Austin for the day. I am just so grateful to Piper for showing us how it’s done!
I hope you enjoyed your virtual tour. Be sure to stop by Kohana’s website and check out their coffee. And tell them I said, “Hi!”
Kohana Coffee’s office is located on 1221 S. Mopac Expressway, Suite 100, in Austin, Texas 78746. The phone number is 512/904-1174. Kohana’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is here and the company’s Facebook page is here.
Images courtesy of Marye Audet.