IMG_7820 When it comes to coffee quests, vacations and traveling pose both opportunities and challenges. On the West Coast, where I am visiting friends and relatives this month, it is a chance for me to sample selections from Peet's Coffee and Teas. In December, I enjoyed the Sumatra and Aged Sumatra. This week, upon arriving in Los Angeles, I bought what was billed as a high-end blend -- JR Reserve -- and a heavily promoted single-source bean from Costa Rica. More on that one later. Name Peet's JR Reserve Blend

Origin Blend, unknown.

Roasted June 17, 2009.

Purchased June 27 at Peet’s Coffee and Tea, 12215 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City, Ca.

Description "An exquisite blend of full-bodied coffees with exceptionally complex flavors revealing hints of spiciness and chocolate." Ranked as full bodied and bright.

In the Cup I had a slight premonition of trouble when the harried fellow at the counter had to check to see if the shop had any JR Reserve Blend left in the shop. At $25 for a half pound, it was easily the most expensive selection on the menu.

When they finally dug something up, the roasting date on the bag gave me pause. Peet's likes to boast on its Web site that nothing for sale was roasted more than a couple of days earlier. Exceptions are the specialty blends like this one:

JR Reserve Blend was created by our roastmaster emeritus, Jim Reynolds, a widely-respected coffee expert with perhaps the most discerning palate in the specialty coffee industry. We asked Jim to create this unique blend to his exacting specifications from rare lots that satisfy him.

To ensure freshness, Reserve coffees are available in limited quantities, and roasted to order only once a week on Wednesdays.

This batch had been roasted about 10 days earlier. I took it back to my in-laws' and found the French press I had stashed there on a previous visit. Here is where things can get complicated. I prefer espresso, but I can't easily travel with an espresso maker. I also like the guaranteed no-muss no-fuss push-button consistency that comes with my Jura at home. Here I had to do some trial and error with the press and the scoops and the water and the timing. My daughter timed each brew for 4 minutes in the press with her iPod Nano. She also shot some video of me extemporizing in the kitchen. This is vacation, whoo hoo.

I was struck by the variety of the reviews of this blend from customers and employees at the Peet's site.

It is described as smooth and bright, spicy, rich, woodsy, earthy, with bittersweet chocolate notes, some citrus, etc. Quite a grab bag.

My experience: It is deep, smooth, rich, with little or no acidity. This is probably a highly satisfying cup for someone not looking for any surprises. But I have had richer, smoother cups. I didn't really catch much in the way of a spicy finish, or any of the berry citrus flavors, all mentioned in several reviews. It was definitely a balanced cup from start to end, and I think the people raving about it are those seeking a certain consistency and mellowness. It is certainly far better than the bold, bitter offerings of Starbucks and the like. I like the smooth, mellow taste, but I also tend to prefer flavors that are a bit nuttier than this, with stronger hints of sweetness, caramel and chocolate. Even a strong fruit and berry citrus flavor might be preferable in some ways. I don't know if the older roasting date would have had any effect on the freshness or subtler flavors.

After a few days, I have taken to mixing this blend with a bit of milk or soy milk, and the vanilla in the latter complements the flavor of the coffee nicely. The richness really seems to be accentuated. This would make a good daily cup, except for the expense. This half-pound is almost gone. I have paid far less for better blends and single-origin coffees. But I do understand its appeal, and it might have appealed to me before I started trying some of the more exotic varieties on this quest.

Update, July 29: The Costa Rican beans mentioned above were heavily displayed and being sold at an attractive price. It was a mellow and acceptable selection, but nothing special. I did make a side trip to Intelligentsia Coffee in Silverlake, and hope to write more about the beans I bought there, which I took home to New York and have been enjoying for much of July.

AuthorPatrick LaForge