I’ve been drinking coffee for the majority of my life. In fact, my mom likes to tell a story regarding a 4 year-old version of myself overindulging in 'expresso' at a wedding. Ever seen a wind-up toy bounce off walls and then come to a sudden stop? That was me. Of course, there were only a few drops of actual caffeinated brew in the cup, along with a whole lot of cream and sugar. Not really an 'expresso' at all. Anyway, to put things succinctly, I've had a lot of coffee in my life.
My real coffee epiphany, however, occurred 22 years later. I'd downed a true espresso. Previously, I’d had what I thought was espresso at local independent coffee bars and the traditional commercial establishments; Starbucks, Caribou, Peet’s, etc… Espresso was a means to an end. That end was to get myself caffeinated. On a trip to New York, I discovered that espresso could be both the means and the end.
My girlfriend (who's very happy to see herself mentioned) had found a nearby café in the Chelsea neighborhood of NYC. So, I headed to Café Grumpy (I assume there are six other dwarves with similar chic cafés) to grab myself a couple of ounces of espresso. I didn't pay much attention to how it was made, or to the barista’s description of its body and flavor profile, but once it arrived on my table, it commanded my attention.
In the cup, it looked glossy and marbled. One of my friends and I later went over its appearance and both of us, oddly enough, thought it looked like a refined piece of wood. Think a nice, pretentious piece of mahogany.
In my mouth, the espresso felt heavy and smooth. It was like whipped cream, almost. I hadn’t even tried the fancy 'microfoamed' milk yet. While my palette was as-yet unrefined, I tasted some of the notes the barista had informed me about, orange in particular. This was a first.
When I had tasted coffee for the first time, it was sweet and its aroma was a perfect complement. Admittedly, my skewed perspective arose from the heavy handed use of cream and sugar as an adolescent. Unfortunately, as an adult, I had become resigned to the harsh bitterness and ashy flavors found in most of my cups. I had always found this confounding and maybe a bit infuriating. When I’d open a bag of fresh beans, they didn’t smell ashy or bitter, so why’d my brewed coffee always taste this way? At Café Grumpy, this wasn’t the case. I could only perceive the good in the cup, as in the sweet, nutty, and chocolatey. I've made it my mission to recreate this experience and I plan to chronicle each step of the way.