Monday, October 5, 2009

Local 123

I'm in Berekely for the week, visiting a friend. This morning I strategically took my run in the direction of a coffee shop called Local 123, at 2049 San Pablo. The love/hate reviews on Yelp! were so enticing that I had to check it out.

For those that love good coffee, the coffee purists, this is your place. However, if you're looking for a shot of hazelnut in your half-caf iced mocha, go to Starbucks- the ladies at 123 won't hook you up, and will tell you stone faced exactly why: icing your espresso ruins the flavor. And they don't carry syrups. While I realize that a business should provide what the customer wants, I salute them for providing the best coffee possible and not giving into requests that deter from their mission.

Their beans are roasted by Flying Goat in Healdsburg, CA. I had a pour-over of the Sumatran and the Don Mayo from Costa Rica via drip, and granola with house-made cherry preserves. And also a croissant. I couldn't resist- they were quite dark and I was so curious!

The Sumatran was interesting- it's usually one of my favorite origins, but this one was unusual compared to what I'm accustomed to. The full body was there, with a nice cedary sweetness, but I was surprised by all the high notes and lack of a strong base. I'd drink it again for sure, but I missed that lingering thick earthiness on my palate.

I consulted with the barista and she said the Costa Ricans were her favorite, directing me to the Don Mayo, which they could only do via drip this morning. Upon first sip it tasted like food- full, like a bacon breakfast. As it cooled it became more elegant and balanced, with a creamy mouthfeel, chocolate notes and a brown sugar sweetness. I'm forever pleased with the way the flavors evolve as the coffee cools- it makes me feel like Veruca Salt experiencing her multi course meal (before she blows up into a giant blueberry).

While I'm still learning to articulately distinguish the subtleties of beans from different origins, I find it easy to identify different roasters' flavor profiles. The Flying Goat coffees were not too heavily roasted and both of the ones I tasted seemed to sing with their high notes- lots of citrus notes. I still love to languish in the complexities of Intelligensia's roasts- they seem to be able to hit all ends of the spectrum without being over-bearing and I've yet to have a bad cup from their coffees. Zingerman's coffees are fully charged, strong, bold and up front. There are many roads to Mecca, and many different roasters to match a mood.

Which leads me to the question that plagues me: at what point, and why, did I switch from seeking out teas to coffees? It's an unfortunate reality that tea is not where coffee is in terms of access to quality, fresh product that is properly made. If I could, I would wave a wand and POOF! all teabags the world over would suddenly disappear. The thirsty masses would be required to use loose tea and brew it at water temperatures that don't damage the flavor of the leaves. They would take their time and treat it not like a quickie espresso but a different class of beverage altogether. They would seek out different harvests, different vintages, different countries of origin. They would fall in love with the orchid-floral aromas of a high mountain Taiwanese oolong, the winey depths of a second flush Darjeeling, the way a Ceylonese tea brightens up with a little bit of lemon juice. Shops like Zen Cha in Columbus Ohio would spring up in cities and towns all across America- a synthesis of good service and tea made and served the way it tastes best. Goodbye to improperly rinsed teapots that make everything taste like peppermint! Goodbye to white tea brewed (and subsequently destroyed) with boiling water! Hello to a thirsty and informed public that forces shops to know what they're selling, how to store and brew it, and demands more than the low-grade 'dust' in bags that we've been being duped with for so long. We'll finally move beyond the stigma that has stuck ever since the Bostonians tossed tea off boats and denounced the British tradition of 'tea time.'

Wouldn't that be nice?

1 comment:

Nils said...

well written (as always) :)