Many readers ask us about the best way to brew coffee, and the short answer is: whatever way is best for you and your tastes is the surest way. Although there are some worthwhile guidelines that can help even a first-time brewer prepare a good cup of coffee, I follow three fundamental rules: How-Hot, How-Much, and How-Long. Which can be elaborated to: What is your water temperature? What is your coffee-to-water ratio? And how long are you going to let the coffee saturate (and thus extract) in the water?
A basic frame for brewing a good cup of coffee is based on the standard brewing recommendations from the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America). Brew water temperature ≈195°F-205°F (which is a minute or two offboiling); 10 grams (about two level tablespoons) correctly ground coffee per 6 ounces of clean, slightly mineralized water (100ppm-200ppm; if you’re not sure about mineral content in your water district, bottled supermarket “drinking water” is about right). The time on the other hand is very dependent on the coffee brewing device used and preference, and can be anywhere from 1 to 6 minutes of saturation. Coffee is best when ground fresh and brews best when the grind is consistent, which means that the best option for a really good cup is an electric or mechanical (hand-powered) burr grinder. These devices make producing the right grind for your brewing device a cinch.
Although all of those numbers are important to know, there is no reason to fuss over them every morning. With enough practice, and a keen sense of what kind of cup you’re looking to taste, anyone with enough diligence can produce a delicious cup by looking and watching how the coffee reacts to the water, over time; and most importantly, how the coffee tastes at the end of your extraction. It might be helpful if you’re just beginning to keep a small notebook with the grind setting, water-to-coffee ratio, and brew time annotated with your experience with the flavor; and then adjust the ratio, time, and grind until the cup matches what you enjoy.
For example: I wake up and start the slow rolling boil of a water kettle, then turn the kettle off, calmly open the bag of whole-bean coffee I will be enjoying, pour my preferred amount into my burr grinder set to fine, hum along with the quiet whirr of the burrs, tap the ground contents into the gold-filter basket sitting inside a ceramic cone above a glass mason jar, then slowly pour the water until the grinds are evenly wet. Then I pause; at this point no water has traversed the grinds into the mason jar. I wait a few moments until the foaming crust begins to settle, then I slowly and carefully continue pouring to keep the grounds wet, but I don’t pour with enough force to make the water pass through too quickly; I pour with a motion and tempo that is right for me and my taste. I continue until the (now yellow-white) foam breaks, as gaps in the foam form, and then I stop, my personally crafted extraction done.
Of course, you may have a different method which is equally valid; this ever-changing dialectic is what pushes each of us to find that inspirational morning cup. Amid the chirping birds and honking cars, good days or bad, regardless of where you are in your life, something can truly be said for that moment of ecstatic clarity a sip can bring.
Sneak peek from the lab… According to Kenneth:
“We have cupped about twenty Guatemalas with about ten more to go. We’ve encountered a very wide and impressive range of cup profiles, particularly in the way they reflect the cup tendencies of various botanical varieties of Arabica, from deep, meaty Pacamaras to intense, high-toned, perfumy Geshas. Highest rating so far is 95; lowest is 85. The average rating will be quite high, probably close to 90.”
Our September article, featuring coffees from Guatemala, should post on or about next Tuesday, September 3.
Did you know, the first Guatemala we ever rated was a Starbucks Antigua in April, 1997? What do you think it scored?
Our August issue, featuring specialty coffees from Honduras, should post tomorrow, Sunday, August 4. The cupping is complete. Nine coffees scored 90 points or higher. We’ll include all of them in the article.
We’re currently testing new capsule espresso systems for July’s featured article. There are three: the Starbucks Verismo, the Keurig Rivo (with coffee capsules produced by Lavazza), and a dark horse, the Singolo, with machine and capsules produced in Italy and imported by a Canadian company with distribution in the United States. We are benchmarking these three systems against the dominating diva of the category, the well-established and very successful Nespresso system.
One of the major difficulties faced whenever one tries to review proprietary coffee systems is how to maintain a level playing field when evaluating coffees produced by different machines and systems. The most dramatic example of that difficulty among this month’s three systems resided in the milk heating and frothing functions.
And, in the case of the Starbucks Verismo system, the identity of the milk, since the Verismo comes with its own proprietary milk capsules. I am sure that in Starbucks meeting rooms far above the folk who know something about coffee, the idea of selling proprietary milk as well as coffee (We can sell the milk too! Holy cow [sorry], that way we can sell twice, no, three times, no four times as much product!) was a persuasive bottom-line argument, bolstered by the idea that milk capsules remove the guesswork element from the beverage production. And, indeed, the photocopied “Reviewer’s Guide” to the Starbucks system was a superb model of clear, engaging communication.
But the milk! It is beyond bad; basically, it is no exaggeration to report it tastes like detergent and old sponge, and utterly ruined any potential positive characteristics imparted to it by the Starbucks espresso capsules.
Turning to milk delivery with the other two tested systems, the Keurig/Lavazza Rivo comes with a click-in milk-frothing jug that lets you choose your own milk, and which performs very well, almost as well as the stand-alone milk frother for the Nespresso system. In cappuccino mode it produced an impressively dense micro-froth.
And the Singolo? Hey, you’re on your own when it comes to milk, friend, because this is an Italian machine and from an Italian perspective drinking espresso with hot frothed milk is a habit mainly limited to children and Americans.
So, when we came to evaluating the espressos delivered with these machines in the “With Milk” category, what were we to do? On one hand, we could accept the milk option presented by each of the systems. Use the Starbucks milk capsules with the Starbucks espresso capsules, whole milk in the Rivo milk frothing jug with the Rivo/Lavazza capsules, and for the Singolo … what? Heat three parts milk to 150F as we usually do, using the steam wand on our La Marzocco, I suppose.
My colleague Jason Sarley argued that this approach would not be fair, because the Starbucks coffees would labor under a huge disadvantage and because they would constitute exceptions to our general testing protocols. On the other hand, I argued that scores arrived at using whole milk properly steamed would mislead beginning consumers tempted to buy the Verismo system.
I ended agreeing with Jason, though we decided to insert a caveat at the beginning of each review of a Verismo capsule warning consumers that using the Starbucks milk capsule reduced the overall rating by a minimum of two to three points. This is a number we arrived at through testing, by the way, in which the same coffee prepared with steamed whole milk consistently scored 6 to 7 for the With Milk category, but 4 when we used the Starbucks milk.
Machines that utilize a pod, capsule, or K-Cup packed with ground coffee to brew a single serving of coffee (or espresso) are very popular. According to the latest data from the National Coffee Association, thirteen percent of the U.S. population drank coffee made in a single-cup brewer.
We first evaluated coffees brewed on single-serve machines in our January 2004 article – At What Cost Convenience? Testing the New Single-Serve Coffee Systems. We compared the systems from Flavia, Melitta, and Keurig, the emerging market leader. Keurig-brewed K-Cups earned the six top scores (85+) and even produced a 90-point cup: Timothy’s Colombian La Vereda.
We reviewed single-cup brewers again in two December 2005 articles:
In January, 2009, we reviewed single-serve brewing systems that use pods or capsules to brew espresso: Convenience First: Espresso Pods and Capsules. Both the Nespresso and IllyCaffe systems fared well, with scores in the high 80′s and even a 90-point review.
We revisited single-serve systems again in April 2011 – The Single-Serve Compromise and, most recently, in April 2013 – The (Not Quite Arrived) New World of K-Cups.
With the growing demand for convenient single-serve coffee and espresso brewing systems, and strong margins for manufacturers, new and upgraded single-serve coffee systems are coming on the market quickly. In July, we will evaluate four of the newer single-serve capsule espresso systems, including the Keurig/Lavazza Rivo, Starbucks’ Verissimo, the Canadian/Italian Singolo system, along with the well-established Nespresso system.
What does a 96-point coffee taste like? Well, you can find out for yourself. Three coffees in 2013 have received ratings of 96 points… and at least two of them are still available from the roasters. Our blind assessments of these remarkable coffees appear below.
“Delicate but lush; piercingly sweet. Honey, jasmine-like flowers, tangelo-like citrus, hints of chocolate and fresh-cut fir in aroma and cup. Lyric, flower-saturated acidity; full but lively mouthfeel. The tangelo note in particular resonates inside immense sweetness in the finish.” – Kenneth Davids, February 2013
Note that another 96-point coffee reviewed in 2012 is still available at George Howell Coffee:
“Crisp, sweetly pungent, elegant. Guava, citrus, backgrounded caramel and dark chocolate in aroma and cup. Rich, active, juicy acidity; syrupy but lively mouthfeel. Very sweet, long, flavor-saturated finish.” – Kenneth Davids, October 2012.
In March, Papa Lin’s Coffee Roasting earned 96 points for its Ethiopia Ninety Plus Kemgin W2:
“Succulent, richly intricate. Wild strawberry, dried blueberry, rich mousse-like chocolate, fresh ginseng, lush flowers in aroma and cup. Complete, exhilarating acidity; full, syrupy mouthfeel. Flavor-saturated finish, crisply drying with a persistent ginseng note.” – Kenneth Davids, March 2013.
Finally, Temple Coffee also produced a 96 point Ethiopian coffee:
“Immense and intricate in flavor and aroma, balanced in structure. Crisp, nut-toned chocolate; lush night-blooming flowers; ripe tangerine; pungent sandalwood in aroma and cup. Sweetly tart acidity; full, syrupy mouthfeel. Quietly but profoundly flavor-saturated finish.” – Kenneth Davids, April 2013.
We understand that Temple may have sold out of this lot but check on their current Yirgacheffe.
About five years ago or so Alan Adler, the inventor of the Aerobie Flying Disk, created the Aeropress because he wanted a cup of coffee was full and rich, similar to the results from a French press but with cleaner, less acidy attributes. After some experiments and prototyping, Alder solicited feedback about his creation from well-known coffee professionals before releasing it to the market. The critics loved it and the popularity of this device and new ways to use it continue to grow.
I will totally admit that it took me a long time to get on the Aeropress band wagon. When I first saw the device a few years back I even outright dismissed it. There was no way I was going to brew a cup of coffee for myself in something entirely made from plastic. This really had nothing to do with any BPA poisoning fear, but far more to do with my numerous experiences with cheap drugstore coffee makers and plastic lined travel mugs that destroyed coffee by giving the brew a clear and distinct plastic flavor taint. In fact it was not until 2008, and the first Aeropress World Championship that I started to think that maybe there was something to this gizmo. This, plus my growing love affair with single cup, manual brewing methods and devices that made me want to test winning brewing methods with the Aeropress as well as create my own special technique.
With so many baristas and home coffee geeks fooling around out there there are plenty of Aeropress brewing techniques available for viewing on the Internet, and The World Aeropress Championship web site displays the winning brew recipes from past competitions. There are also instructions that come with the brewer, though I did not like the results that I got from them. I must say that the method I developed is inspired from many that are on the net and has been altered to satisfy my taste. I would encourage experimentation to achieve a brew that suits you, and is easy for you to replicate.
To start, you will need:
The Aeropress is a three piece device that closely resembles a syringe. There are two cylinders, one of which fits snugly into the other. Both are flanged at one end. The smaller of the two is the plunger and has a rubber piece at the non-flanged end that creates a water tight seal when inserted into the brewing chamber (the larger of the two cylinders). The third piece is a black perforated filter holder that is about one half inch deep. A filter is placed inside and secured to the brewing chamber with a quick twist.
My technique, and those that are similar, are collectively called the upside down brew method. To start out you’ll need to disassemble the Aeropress by removing the black filter cap as well as the plunger. Set the black filter holder so that you can place the Able Disk into it with the words facing up. Next you’ll want to wet the black rubber on the plunger in order to create some lubrication when you press out your final brew. The Aeropress had graduation markings from one to four and you’ll want to push the plunger to just above the four mark so that you’ll be able to get the right amount of water into the chamber. After this is done place the Aeropress on a flat surface plunger side down.
By now you should have started a kettle of fresh cool water to boil. Keep in mind that you’ll want to let the water cool from boiling to between 200 and 203 degrees Fahrenheit for optimum flavor extraction.
Weigh out 16.5 grams of coffee and grind slightly just finer than you would for an automatic brewer and pour it into the Aeropress using the funnel that is included. It’s important to level out the grounds in the chamber so that when you pour your water you’ll be able to evenly saturate the coffee. This can be done by simply shaking the entire brewer gently from side to side or lightly tapping it with your hand.
Next, place the brewer on your digital scale and hit the tare/zero button so that the display reads zero, start your timer counting up and start pouring in your hot water. I have found that to properly saturate all the ground coffee that I need to employ a bit of technique when I pour. Start the pour slowly and aim a thin stream of water straight down the side of the brew chamber and slowly twist the entire brewer 360 degrees. When the water level is just about between the two and three marks remove your hand so that you will get an accurate weight reading on the scale and pour directly in the middle of the brew chamber. The total amount of water that you pour should be 235 grams and the pour itself should take approximately 15 to 25 seconds.
If you have very fresh coffee, one to ten days off roast, you will notice foam develop while you are pouring. This is the coffee releasing gases that are still trapped within the grounds; this foam will mostly dissipate in about 20 seconds. Once it has, secure the filter holder with the Able Disk inside onto the brewer and at one minute twenty five seconds carefully flip the brewer onto the top of you mug. Wait about five seconds for the brewing coffee grounds inside to rise to the top and begin to press the plunger down. Your total press time should be between thirty and forty five seconds making the total brew time right about two minutes. Now all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the coffee.
Clean up of the Aeropress and the disk is simple and takes only seconds. You just remove the cap and the disk and push out the spent grounds by pressing the plunger all the way in, then rinse off the disk. I like to hold the disk up to a light source after rinsing to make sure that there are no grounds stuck in it. If there are, you can use a tooth brush or some other soft bristled scrubber to remove them. The brewing chamber has already been cleaned by the plunger so you just need to rinse the coffee off the end, wipe it with a clean dry towel and you’re finished.
The Aeropress can be found in use and for sale at many quality coffee shops for around US$30.00 and the Able Disk for around US$15.00 so the investment is miniscule when you compare it to the quality of coffee that you are able to achieve.
If you frequent any one of the high end specialty coffee shops around the country these days you have observed the popular revival of manual, hands-on brewing. The movement has spawned books and blogs and even contests world-wide, but I think that the most beneficial thing to come out of it all is the consumer education that happens when the barista shows off their methodology while talking about their technique and the coffee that they are serving. This in turn creates not only customer loyalty, but also serves to inspire people to want to create great coffee at home themselves using the same techniques and equipment that their morning cup is created with. I find that the simple design of the manual brewing devices adds an intimate connection to my morning cup and the brew time and technique myself encourages a more direct and sensory connection to the process. Unfortunately the manufacturers of these devices had somehow seemed to forget one of the fundamental café experiences,–espresso.
There have been home “espresso” machines on the market for a long time now and the refinement of their capabilities and the advent of “pro-sumer” machines have put the ability to pull a great shot into the hands of the home barista but the price tags are large enough to keep most impassioned coffee lovers at bay. The closest thing I had found to a manual, inexpensive, “espresso” brewer was the Mokka pot, which produces something close to espresso if you pay close attention to the brew cycle, but makes it very easy to accidentally produce a bitter, over extracted, beverage. Then a friend of mine introduced me to the Presso Espresso Machine. I was hugely skeptical when I first started playing around with it, but being such a coffee geek I couldn’t help but experiment. I was pleasantly surprised at the results that I achieved: authentic espresso.
The Presso is a well-made machine requiring no electricity and only a small dent in your bank account. It retails somewhere in the neighborhood of $150.00. It is light-weight and small enough to throw in a backpack to go camping and is attractive enough to keep out on the kitchen counter. I found that it produced a good ristretto shot of espresso but there is a method that I found personally to be somewhat essential to follow. It works well for me to consistently get proper extractions however I would highly encourage experimentation.
What you’ll need is:
The first thing you’ll want to do is preheat the Presso. Fill up your kettle and bring some water to a boil. Since the Presso is made of metal it will act as a heat sink causing the water to drop from the desired extraction temperature which is around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Lower temperature extraction produces sour tastes in the final brew. With the arms of the machine in the down position pour boiling water into the water chamber all the way to the top, being careful not to scald yourself. The chamber has small openings on either side of the levers so having a kettle with a small spout works better because it allows for more control of the water stream.
Place a glass at least six ounces in size under the portafilter. Next pull the levers all the way up in order to draw the water into the chamber. Do this slowly to avoid spilling the hot water out of the top then press the hot water out of the chamber by pushing the levers down. You have now successfully preheated the Presso. This step also serves to clean the Presso from any residue from previous uses.
Sometime between setting the water to boil and actually pouring the boiling water into the chamber to preheat the Presso you will want to grind your coffee. I use about 18 grams for a 1.5 ounce shot of espresso. If you don’t have or want to use a scale the scoop that comes with the Presso holds about 9 grams of ground coffee when you level it.
It may take several attempts to find the grind that works best for you. Too fine a grind will stop the water from going through the bed of ground coffee, and forcing the arms down in the face of such resistance may damage the machine. Too coarse of a grind will result in the water gushing past and under extracting the coffee and create a thin, bitter brew. What you want is a steady, narrow, tapered stream of coffee that appears thick and viscous.
Now that your Presso has been preheated remove the black handled metal brew-basket called the portafilter from the body of the machine, wipe it out with a clean dry towel and scoop the coffee in. Eighteen grams of coffee seemed to produce the best results and will most likely end up creating a mound protruding from the top of the portafilter, but you can use a finger to evenly distribute the coffee in the basket. Sometimes a light tap on the side may help as well. Now take the scoop, which doubles as a tamper, and use the back of it to evenly compress the coffee down into the portafilter. The scoop works okay for this step but if you find yourself attached to your new brewer you may want to invest in a 49 millimeter metal tamper, available through web sites like http://amzn.to/p7EDbg.
Lock the packed portafilter back in the machine securely and place a receptacle for the brew underneath. Add the water just off boil into the chamber only this time filling it up to the top of the two cups that are just above the fill line for a double shot. Filling it to the line just below the two cups didn’t produce the beverage that satisfied my taste and I believe that a bit more water helps to create more pressure during extraction and provides a bit more heat stabilization.
Now slowly lift the arms all the way up then press them down until you start to get some coffee dripping into your cup. At this point bring the arms all the way back up, and press then down all the way until you gotten the desired 1.5 ounces of brewed coffee. During the extraction you will notice that the stream of coffee lightens color and this is a great indicator of when you have extracted all the good tastes and aromas from the bed of coffee. I always stop the extraction when the stream starts to turn pale by stopping the downwards pressure and pulling the levers back up again, because at this point you are just getting a bitter brew and I certainly don’t want any of that in my cup.
This is, of course, not the only way to use the Presso. Let your inner lab rat get the best of you and experiment with every variable you can think of to find a way to produce a great cup of coffee that fits your palate and style. I think that the ability to do this with manual brewing methods is what makes these methods such a great fit for the coffee geek within as well as for those that just need a really good single cup in the morning to get up and going.
Clean up the Presso is simple, just knock out the spent grounds from the portafilter into you garbage can and rinse the underside of the machine that come in contact with the coffee and water and you are set to pull your next shot. I think for the price and the results you would be hard pressed to find a better machine to produce your morning shot whether it is at home or in some beautifully scenic state park.
For more information and tips go to: http://presso.us/
There is hip and there is hip. The Hario V60 is definitely what the doctor ordered for the new slow coffee movement, that is brewed coffee done by hand, one cup at a time. I heard some marketing guru state the other day that the single-cup coffee market was going to be big. Really? That would have been big news a few years ago. Frankly, I’ve been using one-cup brewers for a dozen years, but I’m not claiming to be psychic. They are just what the doctor ordered for upscale expensive beans, and my desire to drink a brewed cup par excellence. Manual drip brewing is a superb extraction method. Realize that brewing 10 cups at a time is difficult for drip because it takes so long for hot water to get hot and get through the grounds without over-extracting and becoming bitter. One cup? No problem.
Let’s look at what’s different about the Hario and why it’s getting such a buzz.
Brewer – the power of this brewer is the bottom, where the coffee exits. Usually it’s a tiny hole. This allows the brewer to regulate the water to help control how long the water is in contact with the grounds. If the water goes through too fast, you just get hot water. If it’s too slow, you get bitter coffee. The Hario hole is so big, it hardly controls the flow at all. This allows you to grind super fine and that is mostly a good thing. The Hario presumes you will grind your own coffee. If you use preground drip grind, it the water will run through too fast. The key to grinding is to grind fine enough to slow the drip, ending up with between four and six minutes contact between the water and grounds. In this way, it is similar to the Chemex, which also has a large gap at the filter bottom.
The filter is an extension of the philosophy of the exit hole. The filter appears designed to encourage flow, not hold it back. Again, this will encourage you to grind fine. The filter paper is designed to be practically transparent, quite different from Chemex’s, which seem thicker and slower in comparison.
Grind – so what is the grind you should use? I said between 4 and 6 minutes is the ideal contact time. But, why such a large spread. Well, this allows for your personal taste, but also when you grind finer for drip, there’s a double effect. The finer grind slows the flow, but it also increases contact area between the water and grounds, so trial and error is necessary. I found when brewing four cups, which this brewer is capable of, I ground slightly coarser, still a fine grind, but just a bit less fine, so that my entire batch was ready in six minutes. When I only needed to brew one cup, I ground superfine, but it still took less because there was less water to run through the grounds, so I had to grind very fine, almost a powder, and due to the increased ground surface exposed to hot water, I got the same strength in about four minutes. Is that clear? I hope so.
The Hario has these swirling fins inside. One colleague of mine was just overwhelmed with this brilliance of this innovation. I must just be different, but I fail to see how important these are. They add a nice design touch, but I seriously doubt if they really encourage a specific flow in any significant way.
Here’s my method: Boil some good tasting water. Place one 10gram scoop of coffee. I used Counter Culture’s Peruvian Valle de Santuario for my tests. Grind fine, finer than for auto drip, but definitely not espresso grind. As grind is so important to this brewer’s performance, expect to do some futzing to get the taste you like. Also expect to alter your grind if you change the amount of coffee you brew. For four cups, I weighed 40 grams coffee, and did almost an auto-drip grind. That prolonged the contact time between grounds and water to just shy of 6 minutes. This particular coffee has vanilla, fig and chocolate notes in it and the Hario brought out all the noble acidity and richness I could ask for. I suspect the filter paper webbing has a lot to do with the extraordinary success of the Hario V60. The filter is the closest to a glass or fine mesh filter with all the flavor and oil you could ask for, yet absolutely no sediment.
The Hario V60 is a fine brewer. It does not displace either the Melitta cone nor Chemex, but it offers a fun and good tasting option to manual brewing, and places a healthy emphasis on grinding fine, rather than counting on the exit hole or filter to regulate contact time. With its innovative filter paper that offers the best in flavor transparency, the Hario is a winner.
A few weeks ago I took a few steps across a relatively new frontier of coffee connoisseurship known generally as “pairing,” i.e. recommending certain coffees that best pair with certain foods. Although I’ve always found the pairing process interesting, I’ve never pursued it in any depth. But when I was offered an opportunity (in this case a modestly paid opportunity) to attempt to pair coffees with chocolates I took it up.
Pairing coffee and chocolates has always seemed a bit more apropos to me than pairing coffee with porcini mushroom soup or pomegranate braised duck leg. For one thing, coffee and chocolate share origins and processes that both overlap and diverge in fascinating ways.
Plus I had as my co-taster Mark Magers, currently CEO of the North American distributer of Divine Chocolates, the producers of a line of attractive chocolate products that incorporate cacao produced by a Fair-Trade certified cooperative in Ghana. Mark, with whom I have on occasion worked before, is, in the old vernacular, a cool guy, calm, incisive, and very fair-minded. Mark coincidentally also has a long connection with coffee, most recently as a manager at TransFair USA, the organization that provides Fair Trade certification and promotion for coffee and other products in the U.S.
The “deliverables” for this project, as they say in the business world, were sets of notes for six pairs of chocolates and coffees, with the coffees provided by Paradise Roasters and chocolates chosen from a selection from four different companies. We ended by including chocolate bars from three companies in our pairings: Amano Artisan Chocolate, Divine Chocolate and Lake Champlain chocolate. Readers interested in the results can find them at https://www.paradiseroasters.com/categories/Merchandise/Gifts-And-Samplers/For-Chocolate-Lovers/. Keep going past the rather fervent sales pitches for the paired products (for which we bear no authorial responsibility!) to the product description pages, where you will find the actual tasting notes I delivered with Mark’s help near the bottom the pages devoted to specific chocolate/coffee pairings.
Most of the relatively small selection Paradise coffees made available for our tasting were familiar to me. On the other hand, we had a huge stack of chocolates to choose from. Mark agreed with my essentially purist’s decision simply to not test the chocolates that had things added to them: hazelnuts, fruit, etc. We experimented with all of the pure chocolates, however, both dark (minimum 70% cocoa solids) and milk (30% cocoa solids).
Basically, we approached the pairing experiments with a simple two-part schema: we started by testing coffee/chocolate pairs that promised intensification of similar or overlapping characteristics (like +like), then went on to pairs that contrasted in certain dramatic ways while promising to complement one another by creating balance through difference.
Here are a few things I learned from this experiment:
– Properly tasting chocolates requires patience. One is asked to allow the chocolate to slowly melt on one’s tongue, observing the changes in sensation as it melts, including texture or mouthfeel, basic taste structure (particularly bitter and sweet) and the development of various flavor notes. The long melt on the tongue could be taken as analogous to the coffee cupper’s practice of repeatedly sampling the same coffee as it transitions from dry fragrance to hot aroma to room temperature cup, a sequence of acts aimed at capturing the full trajectory of the coffee’s sensory expression.
– The beauty of the coffee-chocolate pairing is the opportunity to literally combine the coffee and chocolate by waiting through the melting-on-the-tongue routine until the chocolate is almost liquid, then taking in a mouthful of coffee into or over the liquefying chocolate and experiencing the interaction from first contact to finish. I found it interesting to experiment with introducing the coffee at different moments in the trajectory of the melt; the best and most telling moment for me was the point at which the chocolate had almost but not quite resolved into a heavy liquid.
– Some chocolate companies, like Divine, offer only two (both excellent) pure chocolates: dark and milk. I suppose this is roughly equivalent to coffee programs that build their businesses around a medium roast and a dark roast of the same single-origin coffee or blend. On the other hand, such chocolate companies have the opportunity to diversify their offerings by adding dried fruit, nuts, etc. to the two basic chocolate styles.
– Other chocolate companies, like Amano, offer diversity through a geography of single-origin chocolates. For years I have trundled back from northern Europe with gift assortments of origin-specific chocolates for family and friends. I always enjoyed nibbling on them myself, but this was the first time I systematically worked my way through an entire range of origins. I found this experience remarkable, both owing to the quality of the sensory profiles of the single-origin chocolates as well as to the clear-cut differences among them. I also was struck by how much overlap exists between the sensory repertoires of single-origin chocolates and single-origin coffees. It’s true that coffee appears to offer considerably more sensory range, both positive and negative, than chocolate, given that coffee is a much less processed product than a single-origin chocolate bar. Experiencing cacao in a chocolate bar is, I suppose, analogous to always tasting coffee with some milk and sugar added. Nevertheless, the various Amano single-origin chocolates, particularly the dark chocolates, were impressively distinct and immediately recognizable once one had cracked their sensory code.