Kicking Horse Coffee Review
Kicking Horse Coffee grew from a small passion project to a multi-million-dollar business. They’ve been roasting coffee in the heart of the Rocky Mountains for 25 years. As an old-school fan of Kicking Horse, this Canadian Home Grounds writer was curious about how their delicious coffee has weathered the big changes.
Figuring our readers might be curious, too, I bought a bunch of Kicking Horse Coffee to find out. I’m happy to say Kicking Horse will still appeal to its original fans, but it’s not keeping up with more current coffee trends. Read on to learn more.
Summary: Kicking Horse Coffee
- Canadian coffee roaster specializing in medium and dark roast blends.
- All Kicking Horse coffee is 100% Arabica and certified Organic and Fairtrade.
- Well-balanced flavour profiles make these coffees suitable for many brewing methods.
I absolutely love this coffee! The Smart Ass blend is smooth and robust in flavour. It isn’t too strong and doesn’t have a burnt aftertaste!– Customer review
The Full Kicking Horse Coffee Review
Kicking Horse Company started in a garage in Invermere, Canada, in 1996 and quickly found success – first among locals and then as one of the best coffees available on Amazon. In 2017, Italian roasting powerhouse Lavazza acquired them, but old fans will be happy to hear that little has changed (1). They still roast in Invermere and are headed by original CEO Elana Rosenfeld, who credits the locale with much of their success (2).
Mountain culture here has really fed into our brand and our style; it’s played a huge role in our coffee
The coffees are still the same crowd-pleasing blends the company made its name with. So let’s learn more about them.
Coffee Quality and Flavour – 3.5/5
Kicking Horse coffee is all certified Organic and Fairtrade 100% Arabica coffee beans. This label ensures quality because farmers must produce organic coffee with more care and attention. Therefore, paying above-average prices for fair trade coffee means getting a farmer’s best crop.
Kicking Horse Coffee is known for blends, and it’s clear their head roaster is an expert, using both pre-roast and post-roast blends to best showcase each coffee. A pre-roast blend combines green coffee beans before blending, while a post-roast blend is done after roasting – so you’ll see medium and dark beans in the same bag, for example.
Kicking Horse Coffee sources its green coffee from farming cooperatives in Peru, Colombia, Sumatra, East Timor, Uganda, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, Honduras, and Ethiopia. But unlike many roasters, their coffee isn’t traceable, so it’s harder for consumers to determine quality. When you buy a Kicking Horse blend, you don’t know which country the beans came from, let alone the region or farmer.
How does Kicking Horse Coffee taste? Well, the taste is personal, and I’m not here to tell you what to like. I sampled five Kicking Horse coffees for this review: a light, medium, and dark roast, an espresso blend, and a pre-ground dark roast. While each was unique, I would describe them as balanced and easy-drinking – what you expect from a well-crafted blend.
Selection and Variety – 3.5/5
This section will briefly examine every coffee available from Kicking Horse without taste tests. As I’ve said, the taste is personal, and everyone has their idea of the best coffee beans.
Kicking Horse Coffee only sells blends, the most popular of which are available as whole bean or pre-ground coffee.
So if you’re looking for a single origin, keep scrolling. I’ve got some suggestions for you later.
If there is a clear indicator that Kicking Horse isn’t trying to keep up with current Third Wave coffee trends, they offer only one light roast closer to light-medium. The Hola blends Central and South American beans for a cup of coffee with flavours of red fruit, honey sweetness, and a creamy body.
There’s nothing more crowd-pleasing than a medium roast blend, so it makes sense that this makes up most of the Kicking Horse lineup. As with the light roast, they skew dark, and I sampled both were quite oily.
Kicking Horse’s signature medium roast is the Smart Ass medium roast, a blend of coffee from Central and South America that is gently sweet, with silky smooth milk chocolate, honey, red berries, and a vanilla aroma. The Lucky Jim adds Indonesian beans to the mix for a creamier body, milder acidity, and earthy flavours of spice and pine. The Three Sisters medium roast is a post-roast blend, so you’ll see lighter and darker beans in the mix. It’s nicely balanced, with flavours of stone fruit, cocoa powder, and a toasted coconut aroma.
The Kicking Horse Cliff Hanger Espresso roast is available only as whole beans. It is one of the darker medium roasts and offers traditional espresso flavours like dark chocolate and wild berries, plus a sweet syrup mouthfeel.
The next three are less popular but offer more unique flavours. The Z Wrangler medium roast blends South and Central American beans for a sweet-and-spicy cup of coffee with notes of cinnamon and dried fruit. The Pacific Pipeline medium roast is an earthy coffee with a heavy body, and you’ll taste tropical dried fruit, cola, and walnuts with a molasses-like aroma. Finally, the Hoodoo Jo, another blend of Central and South American beans, has blackcurrant flavours and chocolate and makes a fantastic espresso.
The brand-new Happy Camper blend uses Central and South American beans – it would be great to get more detail – and has smooth and satisfying flavours of brown sugar, roasted hazelnut, and chocolate, with a marshmallow aroma. I’m willing to bet this sweeter medium roast will soon become a top seller.
Along with the medium-roast Smart Ass coffee, the other flagship Kicking Horse brew is the Kick Ass dark roast. This is a classic dark roasted coffee, perfect as the basis of a latte or cappuccino; it is a bold brew with flavours of chocolate malt, molasses, and liquorice, plus a sweet vanilla bean aroma.
If you like a full-bodied cup of coffee with earthy flavours, the 454 Horse Power is as mighty as its name. Using Indonesian wet-hulled beans, it offers sweet tobacco and black liquorice flavours, with a heavy body, creamy mouthfeel, and spicy aroma.
Finally, the Grizzly Claw dark roast is perfect for lovers of the classic sweet chocolate-and-nuts flavour profile. It is sweeter and less earthy than the last two, with a lighter body and cleaner cup.
Kicking Horse’s decaf roast, simply called Decaf, is an easy-drinking dark roast with tasting notes of chocolate and nuts, similar to the Grizzly Claw. The beans are Swiss Water Decaffeinated, widely considered the cleanest and most effective method of making decaffeinated coffee. They also offer a half-caff option, cleverly named Half Ass roast, which combines Kick Ass coffee beans with the Decaf.
Sustainability and the Environment – 3.5/5
All Kicking Horse Coffee is certified Fairtrade and Organic. Indeed, Kicking Horse is the largest roaster of only Fairtrade-certified coffee in Canada. This guarantees that producers are paid fair wages and that the growing environment is protected from the use of pesticides. The company mentions that their coffee is shade grown and comes from small-scale farms less than 5 hectares, though no details are given to support these claims.
With the push for greater sustainability and transparency in the coffee industry, Kicking Horse is doing well but has room for improvement.
They don’t specify where their coffee is grown or what they pay. They don’t offer recyclable or compostable packaging, use a low-emission roaster, or purchase carbon offsets – all measures being implemented by more sustainable brands.
The Kicking Horse Coffee roastery has recently been rated one of the best places to work in Canada, which is a positive sign (3). Concern for employees suggests a considerate management team, so I’m optimistic we’ll see this ethos continue throughout the product chain.
Brewing Methods – 4.5/5
Kicking Horse coffee is very versatile, and their preference for crafting well-balanced blends means you can enjoy Kicking Horse coffee no matter how you brew it. Because most are darker roasted beans, the obvious brewing methods are espresso, French press, Moka pot, AeroPress, and drip coffee. Even the Hola light roast extracts quickly for a delightful espresso. You can also make a hearty cold brew.
The most popular beans are available as whole bean or pre-ground coffee, but only one grind size is suitable for a drip coffee maker. If you want espresso, you’ll need to grind your own, and kicking Horse’s espresso roast is only available as whole beans.
Kicking Horse coffee can be brewed as a pour-over and makes a pleasant cup. But if you’re a Third Wave coffee fan who wants a crisp Chemex brew filled with bright acidity and complex flavours, you won’t find it. Consider other coffee beans that make good pour over coffee instead.
Things we liked:
- Crowd-pleasing, well-balanced coffee blends
- Offer both whole bean and pre-ground options
- Large selection of different flavour profiles and roast levels
- All coffee is Organic and Fairtrade certified
Things we didn’t like:
- No single-origin coffee
- Only one light roast option
- Coffee beans aren’t traceable
Don’t Buy Kicking Horse Coffee If…
- You want a true light roast: If you like the bright acidity of a blonde roast, Driftaway Coffee has some beautiful options, which rotate monthly, so they’re always fresh. Volcanica Coffee is another great online retailer with a vast selection.
- You want single origin: To taste how a growing region affects flavour, you must try a single-origin coffee. Consider Lifeboost coffee, which offers high-quality beans from Nicaragua, or Kicking Horse’s parent, Lavazza, which has recently introduced some noteworthy single origins.
- You want more caffeine: If getting peppy is a higher priority than taste or quality, don’t pass up the strong coffee beans from Death Wish Coffee. It uses a blend of Robusta and Arabica beans to deliver twice the caffeine of a typical brew.
The rapid expansion of Kicking Horse coffee is an excellent indicator of its popularity. This is coffee for everyone.
If you like balanced coffee blends that are versatile enough for all brewing methods, pick up a bag of Kicking Horse Coffee. You won’t be disappointed. However, consider another coffee brand if you prefer a light roast single-origin coffee with unique and complex flavours.
- Evans, P. (2017, May 24). Canadian coffee roaster Kicking Horse sold to Italy’s Lavazza. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/kicking-horse-lavazza-1.4129446
- Hempsall, V. (2018). Meet the CEO of Kicking Horse Coffee – Elana Rosenfeld. Retrieved from https://mountainculturegroup.com/kicking-horse-coffee-ceo-elana-rosenfeld/
- Dupley, Z. (2018, May 2). Kicking Horse Coffee is Canada’s best place to work. Retrieved from https://kootenaybiz.com/invermere/article/kicking_horse_coffee_is_canadas_best_place_to_work