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Learning From the Masters, Part 2

January 31, 2011

Remember good old Coffee Thursdays? The days where my coffee buds Neo and Alex and I would get together to indulge in caffeinated pleasures, pooling together our resources (aka our respective coffee beans)?

It was Friday, not Thursday, but no matter. On the agenda:

  • My Sulawesi from Ipsento, done as a pourover on the V60
  • A Stumptown Ethiopia Michelle
  • Most importantly: a special latte art blend Neo brought  back from Japan.

The real focus of our meeting up was to try this blend, tasting it first as espresso, then seeing what kind of latte art we could make with it. Not that Neo and I did anything– we merely sat back and watched Alex in all his barista glory. But let me backtrack a bit.

I was a bit skeptical that the Sulawesi would still be good, but it tasted intense as ever. Just a really nice, full-bodied but not over roasted cup.

As for the Michelle, it was bright and sweet– a little too much so for me, but I’m always jumping at the opportunity to taste African coffees, since I rarely buy them myself.

Now, on to this “latte art blend.” I’m hoping to have Neo do a guest post on this blog regarding coffee in Japan, since I don’t have much to compare this too. However, I am going to shamelessly steal the photo from his Facebook of the latte that the 2008 barista champion made him with these beans.

Yes, this is reality.

First of all, what makes beans “suitable” for latte art? I suppose this is the kind of question I could ask on Coffeegeek, but I figure these beans produce an incredibly thick crema (could this be a matter of Arabica vs. Robusta beans?). There is a Barista soy milk “latte art blend,” but obviously milk and coffee are two completely different dimensions of latte art.

When Alex opened the bag, the first thing he said was “AAA, DARKNESS.”

The apocalypse? His tone did suggest impending doom, but no, more just that the coffee was really over roasted. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Alex, it’s that “dark roast” originated to mask imperfections, and that today what we think of as dark roasted coffee beans are actually medium. But this latte art blend was dark.

Next, Alex pulled a few shots. The first was a failure– apparently very dark coffee should actually be ground a bit more coarsely. The second shot we tasted. Even without milk, the crema was so thick it was practically oozing out of the portafilter. But the taste– again: “AAA, darkness.” The taste itself was fairly one-dimensionally bitter and acidic, but with an incredibly unpleasant burnt aftertaste. The next shot was better, but it was strange to drink an espresso with such a round mouthfeel that could taste so astringent.

We figured this is why the blend is meant for milk and not for drinking straight up, but as it turned out, despite the beautiful rosettas and hearts Alex poured, milk actually brought out the flaws in the beans.  All you tasted was milk, but a second later, there was that aftertaste again.

The latte art blend reminded me a bit of one of those beautiful wedding cakes that has cardboard on the inside, or how egg whites beaten into stiff peaks actually taste vile.

Still, if I ever have the opportunity to actually learn how to do latte art (a life goal), the latte art blend could prove useful for practicing. And as for the Japanese aspect, let me just say this: They definitely don’t have anything along the lines of this blend in China.

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