Product Review: Onyx Holiday Origins

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen (or scrolled through) some of my coffee product reviews, where I’ve talked about new coffees, brewing methods, and schools of thought within the industry. What better way to revive the blog than with a special holiday edition, starring my favorite coffee roaster (outside of my own company, of course).

Behind The Bean

Onyx Coffee Labs, based out of Northwest Arkansas, has been operating since 2012. Their full story is on their website, so I won’t spend too much time on their history. But, my history with Onyx goes back to 2014. While working in south Atlanta, my good friends began talking about this killer shop in their hometown that was making really good coffee. We got some samples in at the church cafĂ©, and my mind was blown by how tasty their coffee was. We had been regulars at Octane in downtown Atlanta, since that really was the closest high-quality spot, but this coffee was a game-changer.

Fast forward to 2017, and I’m working in a shop here in Nashville. I struck up a conversation with a customer who was passing through about good coffee spots, and she mentioned a shop that was in her hometown in Arkansas. “You mean Onyx?” I asked her. She was shocked that I knew about it, since Onyx hadn’t opened a partner shop in town yet. I hadn’t had any of their coffee in a few years, so of course I was reminiscing about how delicious it was.

The next week, someone walked into the shop and said, “Hey are you Jacob? My friend who you were talking to had me pick this up for you before I came to Nashville.” She handed me a bag of the Sugar Skull blend, and the rest is history.

Naughty Or Nice?

Onyx’s holiday origins are some of my favorite coffees of the year. Among the larger specialty coffee roasters that produce a limited edition release, Onyx does it the best. Not only do their coffees taste the best, they also have some of the best branding for their releases.

Within roasting and flavor profiles, roasters like Onyx categorize each coffee as more traditional or more modern. Traditional flavor profiles include more robust and “coffee like,” with notes of Early Grey, baker’s chocolate, and cacao. Modern flavor profiles, however, are fruitier and unexpected, with notes of strawberry jam, watermelon, and floral.

Onyx switches up their categorization for the holidays with a whimsical, child-like distinction: is it naughty, or nice? Will it get presents from Santa, or a lump of coal?

 

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On the naughty side is Krampus, a Kenyan that’s been roasted more traditionally.

With notes of burnt sugar, black currant, cinnamon, and dark chocolate, these intense flavors marry together to create a darker, bolder cup. Think diner coffee, but with depth and tastes good at all temperatures.

As you brew it, it’s really hard to mess it up. If you accidentally grind it too fine, it’s not going to be ridiculously roasty or bitter, and it’ll bring out more of the caramelly notes you’d expect in the burnt sugar description. If you accidentally grind it too coarse, you’ll find some hidden citrus flavors that are quite pleasant. Grind it just right, and the deep spice notes extend throughout every sip.

 

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On the nice side is Framily, an Ethiopian that’s been roasted to a more modern profile.

Full disclosure: I’m a sucker for Ethiopian coffees. As the birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia has some of the most diverse and complex varieties of plants, some that have yet to be named (see Ethiopian Heirloom Varieties). After serving a naturally processed coffee from the same region at my shop, I’ve gained a huge respect for Guji and the beans that come from there.

While more modern-roasted coffees have fruitier profiles, the flavors inherent of the coffee bean always end up showing themselves in the roast. The Early Grey and dark chocolate round out the berries and sweet cream, giving this coffee a smooth taste all the way from first sip to lingering aftertaste. But beware: while it tastes deliciously warm and sweet, it can be unforgiving if over- or under-extracted. It may take a few tries to get it dialed in just right, but it’s worth the work.

The Final Verdict

Whether you’re spending time with your family this holiday season, or grinding hard to get year-end deadlines met, this holiday release set is the perfect choice for your at-home brewbar. For the times when you have a million things going on, as the family is trying to pull your attention in all different directions, Krampus doesn’t require that much focus and will taste great. And for the times when you just need a moment of zen and a silent night (or morning), Framily will warm your heart and soul with homey flavors and love.

Buy your own holiday cheer right here:

Framily
Krampus
Holiday Box Set

Road Trip Recap

Like I said in my previous post, I spent the final 10 days of April traveling through North Carolina! It was so great being able to go from city to city, visiting different stores with Alley that sold Tevas. Our route looked a little something like this:

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I’m quite certain we hit every single REI and Mast General Store that exists in the state, which should warrant that we earn some kind of award from Teva for most miles driven. Ambitious, I know, but I don’t think I’m wrong.

CHARLOTTE

I’ve been to Charlotte a handful of times in my life, but I haven’t spent as much time there as we did this trip. While we spent 4 of the 5 days there at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, we were able to check out some really cool spots around the city both in our off-time and on the 5th day as we hit stores around the perimeter.

One of my goals on the road is to find good coffee and good shops that can go on my recommendation list when people ask me about what there is to do in different cities. So, my favorite coffee here in Charlotte came from Not Just Coffee and Summit Coffee Roasters.

NJC served Counter Culture, which is an incredible company that trains, resources, and does business with wholesale accounts across the country. Along with Onyx Coffee Labs, Counter Culture is in my top 5 favorite roasters, so I was super pleased with the cappuccino I ordered at NJC. Summit Coffee Roasters was the official coffee company for Tuck Fest, and they served their own roast, which was really flavorful and fruity. To top it off, one of the baristas gave me a sample bag of Kenyan coffee, which is really delicious.

RALEIGH/GREENSBORO

There’s not much to speak about when it comes to the RDU/Greensboro areas, unfortunately. It was such a whirlwind driving around these cities this trip, so it was convenient that they’re relatively close to each other.

From past experience in the areas, the best things going on between these two cities is (obviously) the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Greensboro Arena where loads of concerts happen.

If you’re looking for coffee suggestions, right outside of Greensboro in High Point is a local roaster called FosterHobbs Coffee. They work closely with Premier Productions, CCM’s largest promoter, and the company that puts on WinterJam & Outcry, so from the couple dates I spent with the crew I got to taste this great brand. Counter Culture also has a distribution center in Durham, in the metro area of Raleigh.

ASHEVILLE

Ah Asheville. My favorite city in North Carolina. I grew up visiting this area growing up, since my family is from 20 miles west of the city. This, my friends, is NC coffee mecca (in my opinion). From High Five to Trade & Lore, there are so many different shops to enjoy and visit.

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Trade and Lore Coffee

If you’re into the outdoor scene like I am, this is the perfect city around which you can center your travel, especially in North Carolina. You’re within 20 to 30 minutes of some great trails, parks, and outdoor features that are breathtaking.

I seriously could spend hours talking about how much I enjoy Asheville, so I’ll sum it up into a few short words: Go. Visit. This. City.

WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA

The last few days of the trip were around so many different cities with such a short time in each that it’s way too difficult to write something about each. Western North Carolina is truly my favorite area in the country (so far), and everything is so accessible. Whether you’re spending time in the Nantahala Forest or on Black Mountain, you’re never going to be disappointed.

If you’re traveling through the town of Black Mountain, you HAVE to go to Dripolator Coffeehouse.

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I first visited this shop in Summer 2016, and every single time I’m around Asheville I make sure that I can go visit. The Iced Killer Bee (honey, vanilla, cinnamon latte) is incredible.

Nestled just 20 miles outside of Asheville is honestly my true 2nd home. From the time I was born, I’ve been visiting Waynesville almost yearly. Both my mom’s and dad’s sides of the family are natives here, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I was related to the whole town. It has touches of commercial chain and small town vibes, from the necessities of grocery stores and fast food spots to the local artisan craft shops and diners that make the city what it is. And since Alley had a store to visit there, it was a must to stop and see the family.

 


This trip, obviously, was an incredible time of rest, travel, and enjoyment. But, it also birthed a wonderful new venture and something that gets me really excited.

Over the course of the trip, Alley and I said to each other multiple times, “This whole travel thing is fun. Let’s do this more often and write about this kinda stuff.’

So, I’m excited to announce the launch of Chasing Rays!

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We love traveling, going on adventures, and doing all sorts of fun things. This new endeavor is a way for both Alley and myself to tell stories of all kinds that pertain to life on and off the road. You’ll find trip recaps (like this), gear reviews for the products that help us adventure well, and stories from and based on the experiences that we’ve had.

This is more than a blog though. Combining other social media outlets with the site, we want this to be a brand and avenue to invite people, both believers and non-believers, to enjoy the outdoors from a perspective of faith and the joy that comes from our beliefs. We want to encourage and empower others to take advantage of the world and resources around them, awakening awe and wonder for the things that we sometimes take for granted.

We’ll be posting regularly on the blog, as well as on Instagram and Facebook, so if this sounds like journey you want to take, give us a follow and a like!

-JR