Sway Coffee Roasters Espresso

Good morning and welcome to today’s review of Sway Coffee Roasters’ Espresso! Let’s dive right in!

Sway Coffee Roasters website

Purchase this coffee directly for $14/12oz (and free shipping with orders over $25)

McClain’s Bakery website

Social media links: Sway Coffee Roasters | McClain’s Bakery | Kris Carlson (brand manager/kickass coffee human)

Other reviews in this series: Guatemala Direct Trade | Sumatra Kerinci Honey Process


Sway Coffee Roasters are one of the newer additions to Kansas City’s thriving specialty coffee market, having opened at the end of 2019. I just got a chance in early March to do some coffee tasting with Kris Carlson, who is the brand manager (among other hats she wears) and got my first taste of their coffee and what they’re hoping to bring to the specialty coffee scene. Sway is a sister company to McClain’s, a well-loved local bakery. Around September of 2020 Sway moved its roasting into a space shared with the beautifully built-out new McClain’s in downtown Shawnee, Kansas (for those not from around here, Shawnee is one of the many suburbs/smaller towns that are part of the Kansas City sprawl). McClain’s opened in Kansas City, Missouri in 1945 and was run by the McClain family for three generations. It changed hands in 2001 and again to the current owners in 2014. The flagship location in Shawnee has their awesome baked goods and is headquarters for Sway Coffee Roasters, in addition to having lunch items and an alcoholic beverage menu, patio and even a drive thru.

Sway Coffee Roasters is under the watchful eye of Kris, who has an extensive resume with many of the top roasters and cafes here in Kansas City, lots of barista experience, and with an infectious personality, seems to know everyone there is to know in the coffee scene! I think I caught in our conversation that Kris is a Q-grader, meaning she has the palate and knowledge to go along with all of that experience, and Sway Coffee Roasters is poised for big things because of it! In addition to providing coffee for the McClain’s locations, Sway is set up to be an independent brand and is looking for wholesale partners and cafes who want to share their coffee with their patrons. Sway has a nice website and can ship coffee anywhere, and they have a LOT of options right now, so you will find something for every taste on Sway’s site, for sure. Currently they are shipping for free with any order over $25, so don’t miss out on that promotion.

This morning’s coffee is Sway’s Espresso, which is a blend they describe as “Our rendition of a classic Italian espresso blend. It is darker than some more modern espressos while maintaining a delicate sweetness and subtle notes of raspberry and rose.” This coffee sells for a very reasonable $14 and is a blend of Colombian, Brazilian and Ethiopian coffees. Brazilian coffees often make up the base of blends, whether for filter or espresso, because they tend to be affordable, somewhat neutral tasting, and generally able to handle a variety of roast levels from light to dark. I’m assuming, but don’t know for sure, that the Ethiopian component is a natural, which is a common tactic used by roasters to add some fruity berry notes to the blend, and Colombian coffees can vary wildly, but can add some acidity, brightness, citrus, etc. to the mix.

Your truly traditional Italian blends tend to be darkly roasted, with no fruit notes in them, and a load of bitterness from the addition of Robusta to add caffeine and enhance the crema of the espresso in the cup. When roasters mention “modern espresso” they usually mean something on the polar opposite of the spectrum roasted very light to maximize origin character, acidity, florals, fruits. The downside to this style of espresso is that it can be bracing, taste sour to a lot of palates, impossible to balance, and may not play well with milk-based drinks.

So, the happy medium that Sway is going for with this blend and roast is to get the best of both worlds, sweetness, balance, some fruits and origin notes, and produce a coffee that is both good on its own as well as being a great based to build milkies on. I would assume that AT LEAST 90% of the espresso sold in Kansas City is going into milk drinks rather than being drunk by “purists” like me, so playing well with milk would be a must-have quality for any espresso. I don’t drink dairy and wasn’t able to try it out this way (plus my Quick Mill Carola Evo is strictly espresso and doesn’t steam milk), but I’m sure based on my experience with this bag that this is a good ‘spro for any size milk drink. While there is a lot more to roast level than color, the Espresso Vision Roast Vision measures this coffee as a 21, at the dark end of it’s “medium light” spectrum. This converts to an Agtron of about 82. With the Roast Vision, the scale is from 0-35 with higher numbers being lighter in color.

On the equipment side of things, I use a Quick Mill Carola Evo machine that I have modded with a Quick Mill variable pressure valve (manual, to control flow/pressure of water through the coffee bed) and mostly an Orphan Espresso Pharos 2.0 grinder. Occasionally I’ll use a OE Lido E, too. I pull all shots on a bottomless portafilter to look for channeling, etc and use precision baskets from Decent or IMS and a precision 58.4mm tamper. I had just gotten my manual pressure profiler around the same time as Kris gave me this coffee, so I did a wide variety of shots with this coffee over a period of about 3 weeks. I am finding that timing these pressure profiled shots is really tough to accurately do, many of them run a lot longer than they would without the pressure profiling. My coffee was roasted on 3/9 and I started drinking it on 3/17 and into early April.

For the most part, I’ve settled on using a 19-20g dose for most coffees, grinding a lot finer, then doing a pre-infusion in between 1.5-2 bars of pressure until the entire bottom of the portafilter is saturated and some drips are making it into the cup. I’ll do a slow ramp up to full pressure, taking maybe 5 seconds, then run at full pressure until I have upper 20’s to low 30’s of grams of ‘spro in the cup, then ramp back down to low pressure. This attempts to mimic an old lever-style of machine.

My first drinkable shot was interesting, with big body and a lot of intensity. There was a peppery aftertaste and a salty note. Saltiness can be associated with either overextraction OR under extraction, so not the most helpful in determining what to do next. A few days later I took another run at it and went 19g in, 42g out with the ramp up – full pressure – ramp down method I described above. This shot was really nice, with a dairy-like sweetness, balanced, nutty, and my notes said, “good for milkies.” Another shot a few days later was a lot fruitier, with some lemon candy, orange and tangerine notes coming through. After this, most of my shots had a mix of a lot of sweetness, hints of chocolate and nuts, and a citrus component. I occasionally described a hop-like bitterness in some shots that I really enjoyed. Orange was a common note, and I started to pick up berries when the coffee was nearing 1 month off roast, so each shot was a little different, but that was also because I was manually screwing with the pressure profile on every single shot, an art much, much more than a science!

Even with all my manipulation of this coffee, it ended up being quite consistent… always sweet, balanced, some nutty components, citrus, and then an occasional wild card depending on what I had done to it and how my palate was working that day.

I really enjoyed this coffee. It was well-behaved on my machine, never channeling or choking. I think Sway accomplished the mission for this coffee, landing somewhere between modern and traditional. The flavors I got from it would definitely work well in milk-based drinks and I consistently pulled sweet, balanced shots with a lot of low-end and enough acidity to make it interesting without too much that would give a “curdled milk” note to a milk-based drink. A big success and I think this espresso would be a hit as† the house ‘spro in any cafe!

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