/files/u707/iStock_000008004636XSmall.jpg" alt="Hazelnut Syrup" title="Hazelnut Syrup" align="left" border="0" height="240" hspace="10" vspace="10" width="161" />Before we get to the main thrust of this post, I want to say a few words about the importance of coffee freshness. Again and again, the experts drone this refrain: COFFEE FRESHNESS IS PARAMOUNT. There are many examples – both regarding roasting (“coffee tastes best when consumed not more than a few days after it’s been roasted”) and grinding (“the oils responsible for so much of the flavor begin evaporating within seconds after grinding!!!"), and I really experienced the mantra’s truth this week.
Still cupping my way through the major single-origin coffees, I recently picked up some Costa Rican coffee. It’s worth noting that unlike my other ROASTe purchases, where I bought coffee at an indie coffee shop, I bought the Costa Rican at one of the large coffee chains prominent in the U.S. I’m not saying the beans they ground for me were ancient; the paper bag they handed me was soaked through in spots with coffee oils by the time I arrived home. But I definitely knew it wasn’t the freshest after taking my first whiff. Something was just off about it.
So, it’s not really fair to cup it, since it wasn’t really fresh. But whose blog is this anyway? Let’s do it! First thought – earthy. I noticed a sweet secondary taste, followed by a very strong aftertaste that was not unpleasant. A few more sips revealed buttery notes. While it was not my favorite upon hitting my tongue, it did finish nicely.
Also, allow me another side-point, please: I noticed this was the first time my beans were ground to the correct “coarse” size that suits my new French press. This really made a big difference in how easy it was to press the, er, French press. It was much easier than the more finely ground coffees I had previously used with it, which must have been clogging my press’ filter.
OK, the main event. This week, I wanted to see how a bunch of different coffees – both single-origins and blends – were affected by the addition of a tablespoon of flavored coffee syrup. I chose hazelnut syrup for this experiment. First, let me say that as someone with a monster-sized sweet tooth, it was very difficult to follow the packaging’s recommendation of one tablespoon per cup. I was ready to, like, pour the whole bottle in the cup every time.
My next observation was how annoying it was to get my hands sticky from using the hazelnut syrup. Even being very careful and deliberately not making a mess, my hands came away sticky after opening the bottle, pouring a spoonful of syrup and stirring it into my cup. Huge turnoff.
First, I tried it with a bold and full-bodied coffee blend that’s usually one of my favorites. The result was a resounding….meh. It did not taste dreadful, and the hazelnut syrup did not completely murder or overpower the blend’s normal taste. But it was like I was drinking….hot sugarwater. :-ǀ I hunted for the coffee taste that should have been underneath, and maybe it was there, but verrry faintly. Already I’d learned that if I was going to add any syrup to my coffee, my line in the sand was drawn with a teaspoon.
Next I tried the hazelnut syrup with the single-origin Kenyan I enjoyed so much a few weeks ago. You know what it tasted like?.....hazelnut. There was maybe the slightest difference of taste underneath (lighter body than the blend?), but the aftertaste was same – a clean, strong, sweet (sharp?) hazelnut taste. I did notice that the darker roast/bolder taste of the blend complemented the syrup’s sweetness better. The Kenyan was already too sweet on its own.
The single-origin Brazilian coffee I tried next was actually quite good – better than the others? There was no overload or redundancy of sweetness. Instead, I tasted a pleasant equanimity of coffee flavor countering the hazelnut syrup. But – was this because the Brazilian really wasn’t such good coffee in the first place? Was sweetness merely trumping mediocrity?
I finished with the single-origin Costa Rican that I cupped at the top of this post. This turned out to be another of the more pleasant combinations. There was a buttery finish with the Costa Rican that did mesh nicely with the strong hazelnut aftertaste. But – like the Brazilian before it, was this another case of the hazelnut syrup masking an inferior coffee?
My summary is this: syrup – hazelnut or otherwise – is the same as training wheels. Give it up for a riskier but more thrilling ride.