We’re very fortunate to have so many great coffee roasters here in the Chicago area, but there are so many roasters across the United States that we wanted to explore some from other states. Today, we focus on a roaster from the Left Coast, Red Whale Coffee (http://www.redwhalecoffee.com/). We were introduced to Sean Boyd (founder of Red Whale Coffee) through a mutual friend. We follow each other’s efforts through Instagram. Because we follow each other through social media, Red Whale had an advantage over most roasters we review. They knew why we began discussions. Your Daily Coffee Shot wanted to review their product.
Red Whale Coffee is a company with its beginnings in the kitchen due to its founder, Sean Boyd, and his background as a chef. Although their efforts began in the early 2000s, they have made a splash recently via the web and social media platforms, using new media to gain a share of the market. Red Whale uses a digital map on their site to help you identify the coffee by region you wish to purchase. With that in mind, we hadn’t reviewed any African coffees outside of Ethiopia in some time, so we went to the map of Africa.
In most instances, Red Whale Coffee makes several choices available per region, but quality will dictate the offerings. At the time of ordering, and then publishing, there was no coffee available from Hawaii. We decided on a Kenya AA Lenana (http://www.redwhalecoffee.com/collections/africa/products/africa-aa-lenana), and went through the process to order the coffee.
We placed the order for the Kenya AA from Red Whale Coffee before 9am on Friday 02/14/14, and received the standard email confirmation. The coffee is a little over priced at close to $20, but what really caught us off guard was the roughly $10 for shipping and handling. At close to $30 per pound all-in, our expectations were raised.
Unfortunately, this is where the experience went awry…
With almost every roaster that we have ever ordered coffee from, the normal delivery time post-order is 5 days maximum. This order took 11 days to arrive at our door from the date of order. When the Kenya AA from Red Whale Coffee did not arrive by Day 5, we began communications with the company. Someone responded in a very professional and friendly manner. They explained that they did not roast the coffee on Friday when ordered, and not over the weekend, and then not on the Monday holiday, but the day after. So, from a service perspective, the coffee we ordered actually took 4 days to roast post-ordering. To date, this is the first time ever that has happened to us for a private or professional order.
Unfortunately, the USPS then lost the order, and shipped it to Minnesota, and not Illinois, from California. We remained in contact with Red Whale, and they were friendly with the updates, but at this point, we expected even more from Red Whale Coffee. They may not control the shipping vendors, but they do choose and utilize them. Red Whale later informed us that this is the first time this has ever happened to one of their shipments.
Red Whale Coffee explained to us that they would make up for the problem with all of the “Swag” in the order. Their definition of “Swag” was stickers and temporary tattoos. While it may make an 8-year old happy, my displeasure only grew. In the end, the coffee arrived 11 days after ordering, but supposedly 7 days after roasting. They emailed me again to apologize, and offered free shipping on my next order.
We were stunned. Remember, Red Whale Coffee knew ahead of time that this coffee was going to be reviewed. Think about that.
Any way that we dissect it, the service end of the Red Whale Coffee experience lacked in every aspect. They were very friendly, but had no concept of how to make good when serious service issues occur.
This Kenya AA was beautiful; a strong fruity nose highlighted by dark cherry and cocoa notes. The beans were dark and oily (not as dark as an espresso roast), and the roast only served to highlight. Kudos to Red Whale Coffee on this. When we opened the bag, the smell was intense as it was beautiful.
When ground, the scent of the Kenya AA took over the entire kitchen. It was amazing.
We performed 2 tastings; 1 by french press, and 1 by V60 pour over. Both tastings were conducted using filtered water at 198 degrees, and coffee to water ratios of 10 grams of coffee for every 6 ounces of water.
After tasting the Kenya AA Lenana from Red Whale Coffee 2 different ways, we preferred the French Press. It allowed the full body of the coffee to come through onto our palates. Our three Average Joes that helped conduct the review stated that although they normally drank their coffee with cream and sugar, this coffee was so good that it stood on its own.
We have to agree. the Kenya AA from Red Whale Coffee was very good. Had it arrived on time, it may have even been great. That said, we can’t justify or recommend $30 for a pound of coffee for the Average Joe. Maybe Red Whale Coffee will look at their operations, from ordering/roasting time lapse to delivery vendors to meeting expectations, especially in light of major issues, and will address these. Although the pricing of high-end coffee falls in line as part of the mission of the company, it doesn’t work for even some of the most devout caffeinds. We would like to try Red Whale Coffee again some time, but the experience (not the coffee) left a bad taste in our mouths.
Special thanks to John B., Adam S., and Paul M. for their help with this review.