At this weekend’s croissant smackdown event, a few of us went the extra distance and orchestrated a Stumptown vs. Zoka coffee comparison. I’m generally an espresso/macchiato/cappuccino drinker, with Espresso Vivace providing my caffeine source at home. But I appreciate a good French press coffee, and the coffee cuppings and classes I’ve participated in at Victrola were all enlightening. So I was all for it when our friend Michael suggested we stage this comparison.
Stumptown, based out of Portland, is the current darling of the coffee roasting world. In addition to five coffee shops scattered around Portland, they opened up two coffee bars in Seattle in the past year-and-a-half, and now have their sights on the NYC market. The New York Post even gave their beans (served at Momofuku Milk Bar) a “Post pick” earlier this month over several serious contenders.
Zoka is a much smaller roasting operation based in Seattle, with two popular coffeehouse hangouts in the city and a third in Kirkland. In addition to their wide range of coffee beans, Zoka has a nice selection of high-quality teas and decent baked goods in their cafés.
We compared three freshly-roasted beans from each roaster:
Sumatra: Stumptown’s Blue Batak vs. Zoka’s Lake Tawar
Ethiopia: Stumptown’s Wondo vs. Zoka’s Sidamo
Costa Rica: Stumptown’s Don Mayo vs. Zoka’s Helsar de Zarcero
This was a single blind tasting – our non-coffee-drinking administrator assigned a letter to each region and a number 1 or 2 to the roaster, which was randomly chosen for each region (that is, “roaster 1” in the first round did not necessarily match “roaster 1” in the second round). The participants sampled five-minute French press brews, one region at a time.
The result was surprising to all of us: Zoka crushed Stumptown across the board, with zero votes for Stumptown! Zoka’s Sumatra was nutty and its aroma immediately reminded me of a favorite coffee I’ve had in Europe, whereas the Stumptown Sumatra was too acidic with little aroma. The Ethiopia brews were distinctly different, with the classic blueberry flavors coming through clearly in Zoka’s roast, while Stumptown’s offering seemed muted and again too acidic. The Costa Rica beans were the only ones where everyone agreed the difference was subtle, and yet all votes swayed toward Zoka.
Finally, we ranked our favorites across the regions:
3. Costa Rica Helsar de Zarcero
2. Sumatra Lake Tawar
1. Ethiopia Sidamo
I think this warrants several follow-up competitions. Victrola vs. Caffe Vita? Zeitgeist vs. Lighthouse? Zoka vs. Blue Bottle? The possibilities are tantalizing. Post your favorite roasters, and we’ll see about organizing more face-offs.
2901 NE Blakeley St, Seattle
1115 12th Ave, Seattle