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Sep 13, 2009 10:22 AM

Is there a "funk" in Ritual's coffee?

I've always liked Ritual Roasters coffee, though for some reason I've never liked how their beans brewed at home in a french press for me. So at home I drink Peet's or Blue Bottle, but I've never disliked being served Ritual at a restaurant or having it at their cafe.

Recently, my friend said she had Ritual at Salt House several times, then again at a cafe in Oakland (I can't remember the name) and each time there was a funky taste to it. She described it as almost rotten, like spoiled milk. My first reaction was to think maybe they'd let the beans sit too long before using them, but she said she heard Ritual ages their beans because some people like that funky taste.

I have a pretty high tolerance for funny flavors, so I'm probably just not tasting whatever she's tasting. But maybe subconsciously it's why I've never liked Ritual at home. Does anyone know what she's talking about?

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  1. I’ve noticed that sometimes when I have gotten Ritual's beans at home they tend to have a stale aroma. I think they have better roasting quality control and/or techniques at Blue Bottle.

    1. Not so much of a funk, but a sour taste. For some reason that is the taste desired by all those new wave coffees like Ritual, Four Barrel and Dynamo. I hate that quality. Ritual didn't have that taste when it only had the one shop. When they started to be more available, that's when that quality started.

      2 Replies
      1. re: rworange

        The "Gatina" (92 points Coffee Review, apparently) that they sometimes offer at Local 123 is another coffee that's too sour for my taste.

        I've occasionally had coffee (can't remember if it was Ritual or not) that has a faintly urine-like taste to it (sorry to be gross about it). Don't know if that's what the O.P. was talking about.

        1. re: abstractpoet

          I think I know what you're talking about. Sometimes that sour, urine...i usually call it peroxide taste can come from the beans being roasted too recently. It's impossible to get rid of in a lot of fresh roasts. They need a few days. But it could also be any number of things...

      2. What your friend is describing is likely poor storage or preparation at the restaurant, like coffee that's brewed and left on a burner, or beans that aren't in a sealed container away from heat and moisture. Beans or grounds that aren't fresh typically have less taste, not more. Although the restaurant may then try to compensate by letting them sit in a press longer, which could taste muddy.

        But that's not the same as mildness, which you describe at home, and which I've also found occasionally. I've bought many different Ritual beans and agree some of them tend to be a bit mild for drip (I use an Aeropress). One solution is to buy their espresso roast, or someone else's.

        When Ritual first opened, they used Stumptown beans. They then began roasting their own, which were variable in quality and to my palate had less character. However I find them more consistent now since Jeremy left and started Four Barrel. (Dynamo Donuts serves coffee made from Four Barrel beans; they are not a roaster.)

        With coffee as with tea, if it's too mild, first try using more of it and less water. If it's too strong, water it down. Letting a weak brew steep longer will not produce richness, only bitterness or other off flavors.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Windy

          No. It is not storage. It is the way they roast those beans. Coffee geeks love that quality ... tho I'm kind of loving the urine-like description. Yeah, I know Dynamo is Four Barrel. I have the flu (oink, oink, oink) and am not thinking clearly. I was thinking of that new place on Valencia whose name escapes me right now.

          1. re: rworange

            The new place on Valencia is Four Barrel. Feel better.

            1. re: Windy

              Oh yeah. Thanks. I thought swine were supposed to be intelligent, butthey made off with my brain

        2. In the past I've posted an admission that my tastebuds couldn't recognize what stale coffee tastes like (granted, I take milk and sugar, which disguises a lot, I guess), but I'm here to say Ritual, and Four Barrels, have both changed all that for me. I've had trouble buying beans from both these shops that didn't taste like pencil led, tobacco, sourness. They have fresh roast dates, but it's meaningless if their green beans are sitting around.

          I've also posted wondering if anyone else was having problems brewing it at home. I still think part of the problem is they're focusing more on pricier small batch single origin beans with too much change over in their stock to really master their roasting now. I've had the same imported beans from different roasters which tasted complex and fit their descriptions, but with Ritual, I do better with the less exciting darker beans they sell, like say, their Sumatra, when they have it.

          As an aside, Four Barrels supposedly roasts their own, but the green beans still come through their partner at Stumptown.

          14 Replies
          1. re: sugartoof

            What difference does it make if green beans sit around? The unroasted bean is good if stored correctly for up to a year. Much longer than any of these roasters hold them.
            As far as FourBarrel partnering up with stumptown. Many small roasters do this so they can compete for price and availability with the big companies (Peets, Starbucks etc)
            If you are having problems brewing these beans at home, maybe you should look at your technique and equipment.

            1. re: chipman

              A small local roaster thinks all the talk about bean source is hilarious. I forgot the name of the company but almost all locals roasters buy their beans from the same supplier who also supplies Pete's. He says occasionally coffee auctions come up and the source might be different ... some small plantation ... but usually almost everyone is buying from the same company.

              He does talk about handling those green beans correctly. He was saying the reason that places like Costco can sell inexpensive coffee is they often buy beans that have been mishandled. For example, a country has a war or uprising and beans that were about to be shipped, sit around in less that optimal conditions way too long. None of the local roasters will touch something like that so they get snapped up by the discounters.

              Four Barrel does buy from Stumptown and since they are out of the area, don't know where those beans come from.

              Why should beans be so tempermental that one must have the correct technique and equipment?

              1. re: rworange

                mostly true yeah, but more and more roasters are buying those auction beans or microlots.

                gimme coffee on the east coast has what they call "relationship coffee", which i think means they visited the farm once. the last time i checked, gimme and ritual had almost identical offering (give or take the "relationship" stuff) and if you do mail order, the gimme version is much superior right now. unless it's just a coincidence, it appears they're using the same importer with entirely different results.

                1. re: sugartoof

                  Hey there,
                  I just resigned from Gimme coffee in Ithaca. I was their quality control specialist. I'm moving back to Cali! The relationship coffees, and I am not bullshitting here, were not about just visiting farms but truly making a commitment to have that relationship in regards to CONSTANT feedback with the exporters/producers and being committed to buying their coffee every year. Pretty simple. We get samples from these noted coffees every week, and every week we cupped and sent feedback. They came to Ithaca and Gimme's director of coffee went down there a couple of times. This is a new thing for Gimme! so it will be a while, but I get the feelings from cupping the results of the efforts, that it is something they will continue doing. btw, what is you email address?

                  1. re: lamaquina

                    Thanks so much for posting and sharing some insider knowledge!

                    I actually didn't mean to be that flippant about their relationship coffees. The website is pretty compelling, and it's certainly an exciting extra element to picking out coffee, now that everyone is doing fair trade, and/or single source. Ritual also seems to be doing this, with pictures of farmers on their site, and the claims of paying above the going rate, so they can upgrade/refine their growing equipment.... and I'm a sucker for it, as far as marketing goes, but taste wise, their product has declined. Rather then just describe the coffee as wine, it's great to see a more personalized approach above and beyond the sales aspect of it. In the case of Gimme, I didn't think they could compete with our local roasters, but I've tasted a huge improvement, and somehow or other the brewed coffee does really reflect all the eccentric flavors, as described. So you all have been working hard. Welcome back to California, by the way.

                    1. re: sugartoof

                      Thanks Sugartoof! I brought a little west coast style to Gimme! But the coffee has improved due largely to a change in QC/roasting personnel and really trying to push the envelope of what coffee should be. I like to think Gimme succeeds because it really doesn't buy into any roasting style except what suits a particular coffee best...seriously. I am no longer a company man, so I am not sucking up...I am speaking from a place of having worked for several roasters and Gimme! is going great places...keep them o your list. You are right, there is NO WAY Gimme can compare to other roasters in regards to scale. Gimme is not in the league alongside Stumptown or Intelligentsia, but I would say they are definitely toe to toe with Ritual.

                2. re: rworange

                  "Why should beans be so temperamental that one must have the correct technique and equipment?"

                  Light roast beans have a lot of flavors that are destroyed by heat. If you make coffee with super-heated steam/water (most drip machines, or boiling water in a french press), you'll obliterate the flavors that were preserved in the lightly roasted bean. Darker roasts have a wide range of other flavors produced by roasting, which do not get obliterated by over-heated water, and thus are more dependable with a variety of styles of home equipment. Those flavors are also less volatile, so the coffee can survive grinding before sale.

                  Put another way, instant espresso will always taste the same regardless of equipment or technique. Maxwell house will not be harmed by passing it through a coffee maker loaded with rancid coffee oil residues. Peets or Starbucks are clean enough they benefit from clean coffee makers, most often a french press that cycles through the dishwasher, with clear glass that shows when it needs cleaning. Then you get to nerd levels of coffee where requirements get more complicated...

                  As for bean sources, the reason Blue Bottle, Stumptown, Ritual, Four Barrell, and Mr Espresso are notable is they source beans outside of the commodity market where Peets, Starbucks, Costco get their beans. Starbucks & Peets make fail-safe blends that stand up to a lot of abuse, but the other roasters, and especially single-source beans, are very finicky in terms of what temperature and amount of time they need to be brewed at to show off the good qualities of the single-source coffee and avoid accentuating the negative qualities. That said, it would be nice if they were a little less snobbish and just put a recommended brewing temperature on the side of their bags so the home consumer doesn't have to experiment and only work out the right temperature by the time they've finished their bag of beans. One of the primary skills of a barista is figuring out exactly the right temperature/extraction time for a good espresso with a particular batch off beans, which may change during the course of the day as humidity and temperature changes.

                  1. re: SteveG

                    Wouldn't the extra heat from a grinder, or the boiling water, just cook the bean some more to alter the taste?

                    1. re: SteveG

                      >>"If you make coffee with super-heated steam/water (most drip machines, or boiling water in a french press), you'll obliterate the flavors that were preserved in the lightly roasted bean."<<

                      Well, yes, but the only way to get superheated water is to put it under pressure. Cheap boiler-driven espresso machines are notorious for extracting at temps that are too high. That isn't the problem with drip machines, though - they tend to use water that's too cool, not too hot. And when you put boiling water into a (room temerature) french press, it immediately drops to near the ideal temperature for making coffee.

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        If you use a filter-based system or a french press, you can try different temperatures and divine which temp is best for your beans and taste. I like about 170.

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          To each their own, I suppose. The SCCA recommends 200 +/- 5 degrees for optimal extraction, and I tend to agree.

                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            I find the optimal extraction temp depends greatly on the roast. I have found a super light roast that I like, and prefer a low extraction temp on it - I've tried 200 and it makes the taste "brittle".

                            I simply suggest people try various temps!

                            1. re: bbulkow

                              My experience matches bbulkow's, which is why I commented above that I wish the roasters would just put a recommended brewing temperature on the beans. Doesn't have to be totally specific, but some beans do better for me in the 170-180 range, and others do better in the 190-200 range. A hint would help.

                  2. re: chipman

                    I've read 9 months for green beans at best, and some regions have one harvest a year.

                    Four Barrels is literally partners with one of the Stumptown people. It's not a matter of pooling resources, Stumptown is their supplier from what I understand. If you have an opinion of Stumptown, one way or another, that may be helpful to know.

                3. "but she said she heard Ritual ages their beans because some people like that funky taste. "

                  I think your friend might be referring to the resting period freshly roasted beans have to go through in order to eliminate all the CO2 or as commonly known as degassing. This is standard procedure for all coffee roasters.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: chipman

                    I think she might be mistaking de-gassing (which all coffee needs and doesn't impart sourness) with a roasting style that favors bringing out the sourness or other underlying flavors in coffee that more traditional places don't. I've definitely tasted that sourness in coffee before and not particularly enjoyed it, but I always figured (perhaps incorrectly) that it was more due to the type of bean than the roasting process.