Heartbreak Coffee is one of the most beautiful companies in this industry that you may or may not know about. Hailing from Long Beach, CA, Gretchen Williams and Michelle Bandach epitomize craft coffee through their hands on and grassroots approach with every step - to actually craft everything that you see that represents them. What started as a simple seed, Gretchen’s desire to open a coffee shop, has grown into this grandiose adventure of being a people for the community that is passionate about the community.
From humble beginnings on a stove top blowing batches, to a Hot Top roaster turning out some tasty ones, to now a Diedrich IR-3 turning out a more full scale operation - it didn’t come without its heartbreaks. What sets the girls apart, however, is not allowing those heartbreaks to prevent inspiration from thriving. Michelle built the brand and identity of Heartbreak with Gretchen’s experiences in mind, with fluidity and boldness both being showcased. With a strong social media presence too, the girls see their hard work both making an impact and paying off. It’s like there is this light they see when it comes to a coffee shop, or what a coffee shop should be: people coming together to share and experience one another, to experience coffee, and create memories - create life. It is that passion- that light that burns, that has Gretchen and Michelle setting up pop-up shops around Long Beach to serve up their amazing coffee. That light that burns until the late hours of the night hand writing the tags and labels on every hand packed jar of beautifully packaged coffee. It is that light that fuels Heartbreak, and they want to share in it with all of us to grow creativity like a fire. The girls at Heartbreak know why they do what they do, and they don’t stray from that.
Several weeks back I had roasted up a few coffees: a Sulawesi Tano Toraja Djember and an Ethiopia Zonegediyo Kochere Yirgacheffe. I was really pleased with their end roast stage, especially the Sulawesi that I think showcased really well as a little darker profile more similar to the Wrecking Ball offering I tried previously. Talks of a coffee trade had occurred earlier and so I reached out to let the girls know I’d be sending them out. My friend Jake and I were pleased with how they brewed so we plopped them in the mail. A few weeks later we received a lovely package pictured above from the girls with a few samples of their El Salvador Bourbon Natural and Rwanda Tumba Cocatu, and a beautiful note. Today we’ll look briefly at both of these lovely coffees from Heartbreak Coffee.
El Salvador Bourbon Natural
Roaster: Heartbreak Coffee
Farm: Bello Horizonte
Elevation: 1,550 - 1,750m
Gino Dripper | 40g © to 554g (w) | 3:55 total time | 203 degrees | 1.33 TDS | 18.81% Ext.
What an interesting cup of coffee!
Immediately I am greeted with fruity and moderately bright notes of blueberry, strawberry, blackberry and banana, but too I find a very herbal body with syrup and spices (anise notably) in the finish. It’s quite velvety it seems at first with a full immersion of flavor to my taste buds. It most similarly reminds me of the Wahaha Natural Sumatra for that fruity yet herbal bed. It’s quite complex and compelling, as I initially thought of FRUIT BOMB when I saw natural El Salvador would be on the agenda.
The notes are slick as they slide around the mouth, but the flavors stick to the walls of my mouth like they are drenched with honey. The finish also leaves some darker notes that are a bit more tricky to pinpoint, but amidst I sense cedar or pine, blackberry cobbler, cocoa powder, dark honey, and ginger. Even harder to articulate but noticeably there are these floral hints that seem to drift around both the bright fruity introduction as well as the long finish as I smack my lips and tongue together in attempts to draw out every last possible flavor.
Cooling further it both brightens and sweetens as more syrupy notes come out, descriptive of not only flavor but in body, with blackberry and grapefruit leading the way most noticeably and a licorice finish.
Fruity, herbal, captivating.
Rwanda Tumba Cocatu
Roaster: Heartbreak Coffee
Region: Tumba, Rulindo
Farm: Cocatu Coop
Elevation: 1,820 - 2,100m
Gino Dripper | 40g © to 552g (w) | 3:45 total time | 203 degrees | 1.52 TDS | 19.75% Ext.
A brisk introduction to the cup, with Initial sips carrying notes of vanilla, cherry, dried fruits, raisin but most specifically are detections of raspberry and blackberry coulis and an herbal finish that’s really pleasing- among which I am finding notes of cinnamon nut bread. There’s butteriness to the finish too that reminds me of croissants. The cup is rather alert with a tangerine acidity staying persistent with each sip and as it cools revealing nutty notes in the finish, with floral spreads coming in too that ultimately find themselves at the brightest moments of the cup just before it glides off the tongue.
Incredibly juicy with a heavily fragrant mouthfeel as berry sweetness begins to coat the sides of the tongue making me think of blue raspberry Gushers exploding in the mouth. The notes are soft and sweeping before slightly drying with hazelnut and cream in the finish. The cup continues to grow deeper as it cools.
The final sips of the cups are the icing on the cake, quite literally if we were talking about strawberry cake with fresh slices of berries and a French vanilla cream cheese icing. Juicy and sweet, still with piquant notes of blackberry or raspberry drizzled atop.
Juicy, complex, sweet, alert.
If only there was more of this coffee to enjoy! I had my friends Matt & Jake over initially to dig into the coffees, but you know how coffee creates space for conversation - and conversation can take you away from complete focus on the brew. In that way, though, I guess that can be a nod to a great coffee - to allow that space for conversation to take place.
It was in my second makes that I was able to make notes on the coffees. The El Salvador was such a treat and a surprise to what I was expecting to find in the cup. I always revel in a coffee that can showcase herbal elements without being a distraction or disgusting, as they can be off putting to me. Also, there was no imbalance to fruit notes like previous natural processed El Salvador offerings I’ve had. It was captivating, and it was engulfing, and when alone could consume all your attention.
The Rwanda, too, was a delicious offering. While the TDS shows it was a little on the strong side, I would have never guessed. The notes had great balance, there was a compelling complexity, and it was quite evocative the cooler it became. I’ve been overly enjoying Rwandan coffees the past few months, and this one specifically reminiscent of notes I was pulling from the Workshop Mahembe that were as memorable as they were mesmerizing.
While now it might just be me drinking coffee on the other side of the US, but I hope that one day my travels take me to the places, the roasters, and the people that I’ve had contact with. While I journey through trying all these different coffees from different places, I hope to meet face-to-face and shake the hands of the people who I’ve been able to have these memories and experiences with, just trying their coffee and forming relationships. I’m glad there are companies like Heartbreak I can build into that believe in relationship and community in the same way I do, and also build back into me.
I want the girls to know that the community they are creating doesn’t just stop in Long Beach. The community reaches out to every person who has ever tried a jar, a bag, a cup, a conversation - a taste of heartbreak.
Cheers to good people and good coffee. We are so humbled and excited to be growing alongside all of you.
- Gretchen & Michelle
And us, you.
Co-host of the I Brew My Own Coffee Podcast and always has all the chocolate. I also love to play board games. Yea, let's go do that right now.