This is a review of Kicking Horse Coffees. We review Cliff Hanger espresso, Kick Ass Dark, and Grizzly Claw for dark roasts and Three Sisters for medium roast.
I’ve been brewing their coffee beans for a while now, on and off, along with other two of my favorites. So I thought it was about time I shared my opinion about them in a review.
Kicking Horse Coffee History
Kicking Horse Coffee is a Canadian company, located in Invermere BC, in the Rocky Mountains. It started out as a home-based business, founded in 1996 by Leo Johnson and Elana Rosenfeld. The company values are not profit-centered, and we can see that from the company’s relationship with society and industry. Kicking Horse Coffee is one of the first 10 companies to sign on with TransFair Canada. They made the top 15 Best Workplaces in Canada in 2015. You almost feel that good vibe in their coffee. In 2003 Kicking Horse decided to only roast and sell 100% organic coffee beans, and in 2007 they dropped all the producers that were not “Fair Trade”.
OK, I have to disclose my strong preference for Kicking Horse coffee beans. In fact, the history bit was only to explain my admiration for the company. I absolutely love their business approach and care for small coffee growers.
Cliffhanger Espresso Kicking Horse Coffee Review
Kicking Horse Cliff Hanger Espresso is as the name suggests it a blend created for the espresso lovers. That’s not to say you can’t use it for other brewing methods, in fact, we are making the perfect Turkish coffee with these beans. I tried it a couple of times in my Aeropress and it is fantastic. Forget the name, these beans are really versatile, and you can use them for any brew that needs a medium roast.
The beans in this blend are selected from three continents, America, Asia, and Africa. The Central American beans impart the specific acidity, which is great for an espresso, if it’s limited. The African beans, (Ethiopian we hear), give your espresso blend the fruity tones, and tone down the overall acidity. Finally, the body of this fantastic blend comes from the Indonesian sourced beans.
The blend does not focus on crema volume. You will get a lot of it, don’t get me wrong, but there are other espresso beans with more crema. This blend focuses on taste and body. You will get overwhelmed with the whole range of specific espresso tastes, a bright start, continued by cocoa and fruity middle tones, and finished with a heavy caramel taste. The espresso brewed with Kicking Horse Cliff Hanger is very smooth but very distinctive at the same time. No bitterness, just a little acidity, and no burnt aftertaste as with Starbucks beans.
It is a strong coffee, and as vague as this sounds, it is true. Some people define strong coffee as dark roasted, some think that full-bodied coffee is stronger, and some measure the strength by the amount of caffeine content. I don’t have a way to measure the caffeine content, but I can tell you that Cliffhanger Espresso does its job pretty well, of kicking in in the morning when I need it. As for the body, it has a full body, that’s why I like to use it for my occasional Turkish brew. The roast is not very dark, but espresso roasts can’t be too dark.
I experimented a lot with this blend, and I found that the best results when pulling a shot are with a slightly finer grind than my other favorites. The shot will be pulled slower than the average, but you get the richest taste and the most crema. The beans in Cliff Hanger espresso are slightly denser than the average beans, and they are smaller in size than most other espresso blends.
Cliff Hanger espresso is one of my favorite blends, but this might not be for everyone. The beans are on the oily side, this means that not all grinding machines will “like” these beans. They are definitely not for an automatic espresso machine. Do not buy them for a super automatic espresso machine, because they will clog the grinder.
You need to play with the grinding size since these beans are slightly denser than your average. You might need to adjust your tamping as well. (I know it is against the rules of pulling perfect shots, but this blend is finicky.)
Despite these shortcomings, this is one of my favorite espresso blends. The taste and the aroma of a shot pulled from Cliff Hanger makes it up for everything else, and once you got your first decent shot, you’ll never want to buy any other beans. When you get the perfect shot, it will change your perspective about espresso.
If you already tried Kicking Horse’s “Cliff Hanger”, and you want to explore more espresso blends, check our article about Six Amazing Espresso Coffee Beans. I list there some of my favorite beans for espresso.
Kick Ass Dark Roast Kicking Horse Coffee
Kick Ass Dark roast are some of the darkest roasted beans that I have used. I normally am not a fan of dark roasts, because the more you roast beans the more you lose any trace of the bean personality, and you get instead a predictable dark roast taste. I was, however, very curious to understand the hype around a very dark roast, (Spanish roast), and to see why people rated this blend so overwhelmingly well.
A dark roast has a few advantages, and the interest is legitimate. First of all, dark roasts are easier on the stomach, and for people with an upset stomach from coffee, drinking a very dark roasted blend is the difference between pain and pleasure. Secondly, dark roasts are bolder, because of the content of soluble solids. In a dark roast there are more ashes, and these dissolve easier in water.
The problem with very dark roasts is that you almost always get the burnt matter aftertaste. I absolutely dislike the smoke taste in my coffee, and this is one of the reasons I never go to Starbucks, and I don’t like their beans. Hat off for their marketing skills, but their coffee sucks. This is where Kick Ass Dark Roast impressed me.
As dark as their coffee is roasted, does not have that overwhelming smoke taste that ruins it for me. I am not sure what is their roasting secret, I would venture to guess that longer roasting at lower temperatures, but I could be totally wrong. It’s simply a guess.
If you are still not convinced, watch the video below. This is a video review from a guy that was like me before trying these beans. Burnt beans? Hmm… Not going to bother to try them.
Kicking Horse Kick Ass Dark
I have never been a fan of dark roasts. In fact, I always liked lighter roasted beans because they have a longer shelf life and because they didn’t completely kill the bean’s personality. All the dark roasts I tried before had a unique dimension, caramel with a strong campfire component. Not my cup of coffee.
All this changed when I tried Kicking Horse Kick Ass beans. This was the first time I enjoyed beans roasted so dark.
I brewed the Kick Ass in a French press and with an automatic drip coffee machine, at work. Both brewing methods stood out with these beans. I am not a fan of automatic drip coffee, but I get a cup from time to time when I don’t have other options. The French press coffee prepared with the Kick Ass beans was great, and I recommend it to any French press enthusiast who loves dark roasted coffees.
If you want some more coffee beans ideas, here is an article I wrote, and where I recommend some great beans for French press.
What Are the Best Kicking Horse Coffee Beans
As you probably guessed it, two of my favorites are Cliff Hanger Espresso and Kick Ass, and they are the featured products in this Kicking Horse coffee review. Two other great dark roast blends are the Grizzly Claw, and 454 Horse Power. I have tried them and they are equally great.
Grizzly Claw is a dark roast, somewhat similar to Kick Ass, though enough distinctive to deserve a special spot in my pantry. Grizzly Claw is a strong coffee, (read bold with ample body), which amazingly still has a great dark chocolate taste. Usually, such dark roasts lose any coffee aroma, but not Kicking Horse’s dark roast blends. The beans are of Central American and South American origin, specifically selected for dark roasting.
454 Horse Power from Kicking Horse is another dark blend, but the beans are from Indonesia. Many love this blend more than the already renowned Kick Ass. At the end of the day, they are all great, you can’t really pick a definitive winner.
I finally tried the Three Sisters, after hearing a lot of good things about it. I believe “Three Sisters” is one of their lightest roasts – a medium. (Hola is the lightest.) The tasting notes remind of toasted coconut and cocoa. I recommend this coffee for French press and cold brew. You can also check my personal preferences for cold brew coffee beans, for more ideas. You can also purchase these beans on Amazon by following this link: Three Sisters Coffee Beans from Kicking Horse.
For more info about the Kicking Horse Coffee beans visit their website.