To paraphrase a Norwegian saying, “There’s no such thing as bad coffee, just bad roasting.” The same can be said for motorcycles. Certain machines are preferred by one rider over another, in the same way certain coffee roasts are preferred. Sometimes it’s based on nostalgia or budget, sometimes it’s for purely visceral reasons. We pulled together four coffee connoisseurs from different backgrounds and arranged a taste test of five motorcycle-themed roasts from different parts of the country. Our objective wasn’t to select the best, but to discover the highlights of each roast.

five roasters
Five roasters provided fresh beans: Flat Track Sidepipe blend (Austin, TX); Moto Brew medium roast Chiapas (Seattle, WA); Blip Ethiopia Kochere (Kansas City, MO); Cafe Moto Blue Sky global mixture dark (San Diego, CA); and Two Stroke house blend (Portland, OR).Gaz Boulanger

Here's a quick breakdown of the cupping protocol of Tyler Toy, director of coffee at Red Rock Coffee in downtown Mountain View, California, where our taste test was held on March 19:

  1. We weigh 12.8 grams of coffee for an 8-ounce cupping bowl,
  2. Grind coffee at a medium setting,
  3. Smell the dry fragrance of the coffee,
  4. Add hot water (200 degrees Fahrenheit) to each bowl,
  5. Smell the wet aroma of the coffee after breaking the crust,
  6. After about 18 minutes, taste the coffee.
Surface test.
Surface test.Taylor Jones

We evaluate the coffee based on these factors:

  • Acidity (sourness, like lemons or vinegar)
  • Sweetness
  • Bitterness (like biting into a pill, not usually a desirable characteristic)
  • Body/mouth feel
  • Dry fragrance/wet aroma
  • Cleanliness of the coffee (does it have defects?)

What’s third wave? It’s a movement to produce high-quality coffee, like artisanal foodstuff or wine, rather than a commodity. This involves all stages of production, from improving coffee plant growing, harvesting, and processing, to stronger relationships between coffee growers, traders, and roasters, to higher quality and fresh roasting. Some call it “micro roasting” (like microbrewed beer). Sounds highfalutin, but it tastes 10 times better than that diner coffee most Americans have been settling for. Third wave coffee is a relatively new thing, with roots in Portland, Oregon, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

With Starbucks commoditizing coffee across 27,000 locations, third wave aspires to the highest form of culinary appreciation of coffee, so that one may appreciate subtleties of flavor, varietal, and growing region—similar to other complex consumables like wine, tea, and chocolate. Distinctive features of third wave coffee include direct trade coffee, high-quality beans, single-origin coffee (as opposed to blends), lighter roasts, and latte art. It also includes revivals of alternative methods of coffee preparation, such as vacuum coffee and pour-over brewing devices.

Our testers were Matthew Park, parts manager for BMW Motorcycles of San Francisco; Katie Coleman, music director and pianist; John Riemenschnitter, pastor of Highway Community; and yours truly. Five roasters provided fresh beans: Flat Track Sidepipe blend (Austin, Texas); Moto Brew medium-roast Chiapas (Seattle); Blip Ethiopia Kochere (Kansas City, Missouri); Café Moto Blue Sky global mixture dark (San Diego); and Two Stroke house blend (Portland, Oregon).

Tyler Toy
Red Rock’s director of coff, Tyler Toy.Taylor Jones

To begin, Toy had each of us smell the dry fragrance of the coffee. He then added hot water (200 degrees Fahrenheit) to each bowl, and had us smell the wet aroma of the coffee after breaking the “crust” or surface of the pour. After about 18 minutes, we tasted the coffee by slurping from a spoonful.

Here are the results, with direct comparisons to the motorcycles each roast represents; going over our notes, I noticed that Matt scribbled in some motorcycle models:

Flat Track Sidepipe
Vintage Triumph
Vintage Triumph.Triumph Archives

Acidity: Neutral
Sweetness: None
Bitterness: Light
Body/mouth feel: Smooth
Dry fragrance/wet aroma: Smooth
Cleanliness of the coffee: Oaky
Tasting notes: Red berry sweetness

Moto Brew Chiapas
Honda Sport 90
The Deus Ex Machina Honda Sport 90 racer.Deus Ex Machina

Acidity: Neutral
Sweetness: None
Bitterness: Light
Body/mouth feel: Rich
Dry fragrance/wet aroma: Smooth
Cleanliness of the coffee: Creamy
Tasting notes: Herbs

Blip Ethiopia Kochere
Ducati Monster 1200
Ducati Monster 1200.Ducati

Acidity: Neutral
Sweetness: Pineapple
Bitterness: Faint
Body/mouth feel: Thin (like a rich tea)
Dry fragrance/wet aroma: Mild
Cleanliness of the coffee: Sweet
Tasting notes: Peach/pineapple

Café Moto Blue Sky
Harley-Davidson Knucklehead
Harley-Davidson Knucklehead.Harley-Davidson Archives

Acidity: Strong
Sweetness: None
Bitterness: Mild
Body/mouth feel: Dark
Dry fragrance/wet aroma: Intense
Cleanliness of the coffee: Dark
Tasting notes: Tobacco/charcoal

Two Stroke House Blend
KTM two-stroke enduro
KTM two-stroke enduro.KTM

Acidity: Strong
Sweetness: Flowery
Bitterness: Faint
Body/mouth feel: Smooth
Dry fragrance/wet aroma: Smooth
Cleanliness of the coffee: Smooth
Tasting notes: Neutral/clean

two stroke
Two Stroke is based in the St. John’s neighborhood in northwest Portland, Oregon.Taylor Jones
Blip Roasters
Blip Roasters are based in Kansas City, Missouri.Taylor Jones
Cafe Moto
Cafe Moto is based in San Diego.Taylor Jones
Gaz aroma testing.
Left: Gaz aroma testing. Right: Does it smell like two stroke? Nope.Taylor Jones
Katie
Katie chats about Moto Brew.Taylor Jones
Tasting time.
Left: Matt going in for the aroma test on Flat Track. Right: Tasting time.Taylor Jones