Passion House Coffee Roasters // Rwanda Buf Cafe Red Bourbon

Good afternoon, one and all! Welcome back to my table here in the corner of this cafe. Today’s entry is going to be a double-headed coin, serving as a follow-up to two previous reviews: Heart Coffee Roaster’s Rwanda Buf Cafe, and Counter Culture Coffee’s El Gavilan. On the one side, this entry is a comparative cupping as we’ll see how Chicago-based newcomer, Passion House Coffee Roasters‘ Rwanda Buf Cafe stacks up against that of the Portland-based veterans, Heart Coffee Roasters. On the flip side of the coin, this entry is a follow-up to yesterday’s Counter Culture review as I got to try Passion’s Rwanda at this past weekend’s CoffeeCON.

Ready to refresh your memories and your palates? Feel free to pull up a chair.

As I mentioned, Passion House Coffee Roasters is a bit of a newcomer in the city of Chicago; but within a very short amount of time, they’re already making a name for themselves. Though the company is just entering their sophomore year, the man at the helm, Joshua Millman (status: El Capitan), has been garnering leadership and roasting experience for several years within the coffee industry. He’s also recently brought aboard Shannon Steele (status: Rock Star), a Chicago resident and barista extraordinaire formerly of Caffe Streets. This dynamic duo is seriously bursting onto the scene in a big way.

In passing conversation with them, I remarked, “Before much longer, people will be saying Metropolis? Intelligentsia? Who are they?” Okay, I’m being facetious here. That’s clearly a big stretch – Metropolis and Intelligentsia are both famous and well-respected for very good reason. However, it’s not that big of a stretch to say that it won’t be long until the names Millman and Steele will be coupled with the likes of Tony Dreyfuss and Geoff Watts.

After I reviewed Heart’s Rwanda Buf Cafe, within a mere couple of hours, I received a Tweet from Miss Steele informing me that I had to try Passion House’s Buf because it “trumps” Heart’s. Of course, as you’ll recall, I liked Heart’s Buf – I thought it was a really soothing and relaxing cup of coffee. So I am very eager to taste for myself.

Since we already discussed this farm last week, let’s get down to brass tacks.

the basics:

Origin: Bufundu, Nyamagabe, Rwanda
Farm: Buf Cafe
Elevation: 1600-1900 meters above sea level
Varietal: Red Bourbon
Process: washed, sun-dried
Certifications: standard

the coffee:

Before we get into Passion House’s offering, let’s first recap what I thought of Heart’s version: I found the coffee to be grassy and herbal, but then cooled down to a subtle fruitiness.

Immediately, this Passion House’s rendition of the Buf Cafe is much, much different – it’s almost like a totally different coffee. Rather than a grassy, herbal aroma, this coffee smells much brighter. Fruity and floral – violet and jasmine, mingling with strawberry and citrus zest.

The flavor is also radically different. Post-brew, Heart’s Buf was really muted – grassy, with a hint of clove, but not enough to spice things up a bit. Shannon informed that Passion House set their roast profile to downplay the clove features of the coffee and rev up the more delicate flavors. I supposed it worked, because this coffee is much sweeter, and much more refined. This medium-bodied coffee has such a fine clarity, each individual flavor shining out like it’s the star of the show. Notes of sweet strawberry tartness, spicy citrus zest, and burnt orange dance across the palate and tingle the tongue, while a rush of dark chocolate and brown sugar propel them out of the cup. As the cup cools, the chocolate/brown sugar transforms into a more earthy, floral nuance – those violets that were so present in the aroma come back in the flavor, really hitting the back of the throat and leaving a somewhat drying, but pleasant, astringency.

Smooth, but crisp body, sparkling clean finish, really well balanced, and all-around refreshing.

the bottom line:

I’ve always been of the opinion that the true magic of coffee is found at the farm level – not the roaster. It’s the farm that dictates the magic of the coffee’s flavor – all the roaster does is bring that magic out. However, every now and again, something like this comes along and I’m forced to eat crow. Passion House Coffee Roaster’s Rwanda Buf Cafe Red Bourbon is an entirely different cup, and the only explanation I have is that Joshua Millman and Shannon Steele are roasting dynamos. Looking back, now that I’ve tasted this version, I’m have to agree with Jamie, from Coffee Adventures, that Heart’s Buf Cafe is kind of… dull.

I can’t say enough about it – genuinely. A truly wonderful cup of coffee.