By Wes D. AKA Tex300BLK
Jon Wayne Taylor’s Cabot article struck a particular chord with me when he said, “I’ve killed a lot of men, but never with a coffee cup in my hand.” I’ve never met Jon, but I am fairly confident that while I’ve never killed a man, the probability of it happening diminishes significantly with a hot cup of coffee in my mitts. As a combat veteran-owned company, Counter Strike Coffee understands the business of killing men and the importance of good coffee . . .
About a year ago, after I had spammed one too many of his KeyMod hand guard reviews asking when he would review the BCM KMR, Tyler Kee dropped me a line over email to let me know that he had finally ordered one for review. That line of communication remained open on and off as we both realized we had graduated the same year from college and were both living in TTAG’s HQ city, Austin, Texas.
It was inevitable that our paths would eventually cross, and as it would happen we are both currently signed up to RO this year’s Pecos Run and Gun event. Our talks have since centered mainly on gear, training, and overall preparation for the upcoming event. Naturally, the discussion landed on one of the most important items we would be packing for the weekend – coffee. One does not simply wake up at dawn to run seven miles in the deserts of West Texas without first drinking a cup (or two) of aromatic black goodness.
Like many people my age, I graduated college right in the pit of the economic downturn. Only a handful of the people I went to school with had jobs waiting for them when they graduated. The rest went to graduate school to wait for things to blow over. A select few of my fellow graduates, me included, went home to live with mom and dad.
That’s when I realized there are few things more miserable than being unemployed and living at home. So I rang a good family friend who runs a commercial real estate and construction company in my hometown to see if he had any openings on one of his construction crews. To my surprise, after he read over my resume, he looked up and said, “Wes, I know you are looking for something temporary, but I have a unique problem that I think you can help solve if you are interested.” Two weeks after that meeting I was on an airplane headed to Nicaragua to start my new job as his technical director for his medium-sized coffee growing and export operation. Coffee very quickly became part of my life. Here is a picture from what was my office down there.
During one of our coffee discussions, Tyler mentioned that the guys at Tactical Shit, one of Counter Strike’s distributors, had offered to send some coffee to review. While Tyler likes his coffee, he figured he would defer to my hands-on experience with the subject matter. So he gave the Counter Strike guys my address, and then told me to expect a package.
American coffee culture is an interesting study in people’s behavior. More often than not I see people gagging as they try and muscle down a nasty cup of swill, believing that if it is darker than the deepest pits hell and tastes strong enough to de-chrome a trailer hitch, it must be good. More is better right? With that in mind, I was a little skeptical after reading about scorched earth and dark shadows in the descriptions of the three varieties offered by the folks over at Counter Strike Coffee.
“If you don’t plan on quitting your post until properly relieved, you may need to get yourself a hot cup of Fire Watch in order to keep those little peepers open. This caffeine loaded canteen cup of goodness will get your freedom blood pumping in order to keep always on the alert and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.”
“What is left over when Napalm is deployed? Blackness! That is what this coffee is all about. Napalm is a Brazilian Arabica that creates the perfect dark roasted coffee. There is nothing like the smell of Napalm in the morning. If you miss the manly military mug of awesomeness that was brewed out on post, then you need this in your life.”
“For those of you that want the taste of coffee to resemble the war fighting tactics of a combat hero; Smooth Operator is the coffee for you. This fine cup of combat juice is as dark as the shadows you stalk in, and as smooth as the movements made on target. Don’t let the name fool you, for as smooth as the taste is, the stimulating effects is fast and on point.”
My first impressions were quickly changed, though, when I opened the box I received and was greeted by the intoxicating aroma of fresh roasted coffee. Opening the large padded envelope therein revealed the three bags of Counter Strike Coffee that Tyler had promised. Counter Strike Coffee continued to impress when I opened those bags to reveal some beautiful, oily, dark colored beans.
Here’s a snapshot of some Napalm next to some unroasted “green” coffee I had in the cupboard
I’ve already shared my opinions about some of the popular trends in American coffee, and I will repeat that a dark roast doesn’t guarantee a good cup of coffee. You can roast coffee beans to within a few seconds of them turning into charcoal and they will still look and smell delicious. I know this because my brother-in-law and I once tried roasting our own. It took us drinking a lot of truly abominable cups of coffee before we got it right.
Dark roasting is a double-edged sword. The longer you roast coffee the more some of the more subtle, earthy and citrus flavors will be overcome by the overall smokiness of the roast which can become overpowering and then bitter as the sugars begin to burn off if the roast is overdone. The tradeoff is that darker roasts tend to be a lot less acidic than the lighter roasts.
I’ve been drinking this coffee for the past week, and so far I have to say it’s pretty damn good. One of my simple pleasures in life is to start the weekend off by enjoying a large mug of very strongly brewed coffee, that has been liberally laced with cream and sugar, accompanied by some sort of savory, flaky breakfast pastry. That’s actually where really strong coffees shines for me. In spite of the milk and sugar, the strong flavors of the coffee are still there. Since I was sitting on a pile of what looked like very dark roasted coffee, I decided the weekend coffee test was an appropriate way to start this review – and I was immediately hooked. The strong smoky flavors of the darker roasts did a good job of complementing the sweetness and creaminess of my brew. Needless to say, the weekend test was passed with flying colors.
Since some people think it’s downright heresy (including myself on some occasions) to spoil perfectly good coffee with milk and sugar, more testing was warranted. So I ground up a few servings of each variety, and carted it off to work with me to try it in my single serving pour-over that I keep in my desk as part of my EDC (every day caffeine-saturation). A pour-over is a good test of a coffee because of the amount of time the coffee stays in contact with the water. It has a tendency to exaggerate some of the less desirable flavors in a bad coffee.
To really get an idea of how the different varieties of Counter Strike fare head to head, I tried all three, back to back on the first morning. In hindsight that maybe wasn’t the best choice. I was pretty jittery for the rest of the morning, but I learned a lot about this coffee in the process.
Namely, it’s some fine-tasting, smooth-drinking coffee with a nice clean finish to boot. There are some kinds of coffee that I just can’t drink black. That’s mainly due to the unpleasant bitter aftertaste that can linger until you eat something or brush your teeth. Decidedly absent from any of the varieties of Counter Strike was any hint of that bitterness. That tells me that the roast isn’t overdone and the coffee is very well balanced. The pour-over tells no lies.
After an overly caffeinated week here are my thoughts:
Napalm – Counter Strike says this is their darkest roast. Based on the color of the beans I would say this is the equivalent of a French+ or an Italian roast. Especially when I was drinking my weekend coffee, the darker, smokier flavors definitely stuck out in a really good way. Even with the milk and sugar added, it’s nice to know you’re still drinking coffee. I found myself reaching for this bag over the others when I made my morning coffee the past two weekends. For this I would recommend you grab a French press and brew it extra strong, add croissant(s) and enjoy! For summer months I might recommend brewing some and leaving it in the fridge to chill overnight as I bet it would make one hell of an iced coffee.
Smooth Operator – On the other end of the spectrum Counter Strike calls this their lightest and smoothest roast. By my eye it was still pretty dark; the oily sheen on the beans right out of the bag was a little more of a matte finish which makes me think this is on the lighter side of French roast, maybe a Full City or City+. As the name suggests, this stuff is some smooth-drinking goodness that finishes really clean on the palate. There was no bitter aftertaste that I could detect at all. I recommend you drink this one black any time of day. It’s already lightly sweet from the natural flavors of the beans, and just doesn’t need anything else. It would probably also make a good espresso to serve as a sort of aperitif with dessert after a heavy meal.
Fire Watch – Counter Strike claims this is a “caffeine packed” roast. I’m not sure what that is supposed to mean, and I’d be curious to know what variety of bean they used and how it’s prepared. As far as taste and appearances are concerned, I couldn’t pick it out of a lineup vs. the Smooth Operator. As for the extra caffeine claims, I’m undecided. I can’t tell if the extra jitters I experienced this week were from the Fire Watch or from the fact that I was drinking 3+ cups of black coffee each morning. There may be some truth to this, but I am unconvinced.
Rating (out of five stars):
Overall: * * * * *
There really isn’t anything not to like about Counter Strike Coffee. It’s very good coffee, but by the same token it’s not what I would call a gourmet coffee. And that’s fine, because it doesn’t cost as much as gourmet coffee. Counter Strike sells each of their varieties by the pound for $13.95 plus shipping. That’s probably on the expensive side for some, but hands down beats the hell out of a lot of chain offerings from the likes of Dunkin and Starbucks on flavor. Counter Strike gets an additional nod considering that, per their website, a portion of their sales go to charitable organizations serving Veterans.