In case you missed it, Alejandro Mendez of El Salvador just became this year’s World Barista Champion and the first champion ever from a coffee-producing country outside the U.S. I watched his finals performance the day *after* he won via livestream and was intrigued by his signature drink, in which he attempted to reconstruct 100% of what a coffee tree produces (according to Mendez, 50% coffee beans + 30% pulp/mucilage + 20% skins and parchment).*
“Alejandro’s signature drink was comprised of an infusion of coffee mucilage [unfortunate term for the coffee fruit surrounding the bean], a tea made with dried coffee flowers, and a tea made from cascara (dried coffee cherries) [specifically, the dried cherry *skins*]. The espresso used, which was separated from the crema, was a single-origin El Salvador called Finca La Illusion. It was grown by Ernesto Menendez on the slopes of the Santa Ana volcano and roasted by Steve Leighton of Has Bean Coffee in the UK.”
Judges were supposed to taste the first three ingredients separately in a particular order (coffee mucilage infusion, coffee flower tea, cascara tea) before trying them all combined with espresso made from the beans. Cool, right?
Since I couldn’t actually experience what the judges tasted, I watched the video closely instead and wrote down whatever tasting notes I could extract from what Mendez and the commentators said. The action happens pretty quickly, so it’s easy to miss little details.
1. Coffee mucilage infusion: Sweet, honey, juicy melon. Thick, syrupy watermelon juice. The cherries used were frozen the same day they were picked and presumably thawed immediately before each performance in the competition for maximum freshness.
2. Coffee flower tea: Primarily jasmine notes. The flowers were dried for 2 weeks. Only those flowers that fell onto little carpets Mendez had placed below the coffee trees for collection were kept for drying (!).
3. Cascara tea: Fruity taste and acidity. Tobacco notes. The skins were dried for 5 days (and taken exclusively from Orange Bourbon cherries). I’ve tried another El Salvadorian farm’s cascara before, and it tasted like how this one was described.
4. Espresso: A mix of dry-processed and fully washed beans from the same crop. Shots were pulled separately (2 for each processing method) at 14 days post-roast. Mendez filtered out the crema from his shots before combining the espresso with ingredients 1-3 above.
In the end, how did this signature drink come across? Mendez described it as “balanced and sweet, with a juicy body and a refreshing finish under delicate jasmine notes.” I’ll take his word for it. Well-done!
*Fortunately for the judges, the drink didn’t contain 100% of the coffee tree itself, i.e. stems, leaves, wood, etc.!