From Old to New
I’ve always been interested in espresso beverages. And that interest has skyrocketed after being exposed to third wave cafes.
The specialty coffee for espresso are roasted in a way that flavours unique to their origins are highlighted and preserved. This usually means that the roasts are much lighter than that of the more traditional espresso roasts.
Perhaps the concept of adding steamed milk to espresso was to enjoy a new kind of beverage. And also to reduce the strength of the coffee, making it more pleasurable to drink as well as taking time to drink it.
But now the third wave movement has added another dimension to all of this.
Never in my wildest of imaginations did I actually think I’d be able to discover the unique flavours of single origins through a cappuccino.
I’ve had that fear of espresso beverages with milk; the prejudice that milk overwhelms coffee/espresso and just tasting the same thing whatever espresso it may be.
But after trying and comparing two cappuccinos, each made with espresso from their respective origins, I can honestly say that the third wave movement has changed the whole landscape of espresso beverages.
Cappuccino: A beautiful marriage of milk, foam and espresso
Out of all the espresso beverages, they say that the cappuccino is the best way to test a barista’s skill as well as palate the unique and flavourful profiles of the espresso. Perhaps that explains why it’s quite often showcased in world barista championships.
The first espresso beverage I’ve had since I can remember is the cappuccino. And that’s what I’m most comfortable with. If I truly want to compare and discover the amazing flavour profiles of single origin espresso, it’d be disappointing not to go with the cappuccino.
And so I headed down to F-Annex, a third wave cafe in Imaizumi Fukuoka city. The cafe is actually a unique sector in the cafe branch of Cafe Fadie, one of the bigger coffee & food corporations in Fukuoka as well as Kyushu. They’ve always been acquiring quality coffee and F-Annex was setup as a laboratory cafe to pursue the great flavours of specialty coffee.
Into the unknown
There were two espresso beans served that day.
Espresso Beans A: Nicaragua, Buenos Aires Farm, Villadares Family, Washed Processed
Espresso Beans B: Brazil, Vatiya Farm, Catuai variety, Pulped Natural Processed (this one had been awarded sixth place of the 2015 CEO Brazil Early Harvest)
I ordered two cappuccinos. One made with espresso A, and the other made with espresso B.
Since I didn’t want the flavour definitions of the espresso beans interfering with my thoughts, I quickly took a picture for later use. I made two columns with the labels A and B on a piece of paper.
The lovely barista Rina first made sure the machine was functioning properly by pulling some espresso shots. Once everything was in order, she extracted espresso A and B in two separate cups and skillfully made the cappuccinos.
She told me that the steamed milk was roughly about 65°C, as well as using the same pouring method for both cappuccinos. ( I’ll be giving out numbers but they won’t be exact since I didn’t use any thermometers )
The tasting process was divided into three parts.
1. Cappuccino tasting between 60°C to 65°C (right after they were served)
2. Cappuccino tasting between 50°C to 55°C ( a few minutes after being served)
3. Cappuccino tasting below 50°C (more than 7 minutes passed after being served)
Let’s take a look at what flavour profiles I was able to catch and compare with the two cappuccinos.
The first sip was quite amazing. First, a gentle yet noticeable nutty aroma enveloped my nose, succeeded by a vibrant, hazel-nutty flavour. The second sip was even more interesting. I felt this chocolatey flavour with the mouthfeel of a really good hot chocolate; heavy but silky smooth. The chocolatey cacao flavour was very much present.
I switched over to the B cappuccino and had my first sip. Wow, this was quite something. Raisins, dried prunes, figs and dried dates immediately came to my mind. The aroma was quite strong and had some hints of cinnamon. Then I took a second sip. Yes, the cinnamon was so much more present this time, together with a dry and sweet taste. One word I used to describe this is Kinako which is a powdered form of roasted soybean flour and often sweetened with sugar in Japanese sweets. This flavour profile definitely sprung up from my Japanese background. The mouthfeel here, compared to A, was rather light but still retaining the silky smoothness.
After several minutes cleansing my palate with some water and a little chit-chat with the barista, it was time to get back to business.
The first sip reminded me of ash, kind of the remains of wood after they’ve finished burning. There was something reminiscent of the vegetables and meat that would turn brown-black/caramel black from the charcoal. The second sip was intriguing as I found some coconut-like flavours. There was something very wild, energetic and heavy about this cappuccino.
Before even going for my first sip, I was blown away with the spicy aroma. There was this feeling of India, and then later on Morrocco (funny thing is I’ve never set foot in those countries). I guess it had something to do with this dry yet spicy & aromatic flavour profile. The first and second sips were quite similar. There was something very dry and sweet about the flavour profiles, which I can only label as “ dried sweet/fruits “. Images in my mind portrayed deserts and sand dunes; I wonder what that was all about.
It was very satisfying to hear that cinnamon was very much the same term the barista described the B cappuccino. We also had some other coinciding terms which was very interesting.
I then went in for my last sip of cappuccino A and B. They were both well cooled by this time.
Not much to say. Perhaps the fact that I could really taste that woody, ash, roasted flavour profile.
I’ve got to tell you. This cappuccino using the B espresso was just sensational. Before going in for my last sip, I could smell spices that reminded me of chai. And the taste also reminded me of chai. That sweetness piercing through from the dryness (I really can’t describe how I felt this dryness) was simply amazing.
For the first time in my life I compared two cappuccinos, each made with their respective single origin espresso beans. And I was able to compare and tell the differences without once being overwhelmed by the milk.
In fact, I was able to enjoy the beautiful marriage of the milk with the espresso, and more so for the B cappuccino. It’s as if the milk and espresso complemented each other very well, empowering one another like never before.
Or perhaps it was because I kept my concentration on the flavour profiles of the espresso, I’m not sure. But I may have also been able to palate some flavours because of the milk. That’s also just a guess.
I’m now fascinated with milk. The unlimited choices for baristas when making cappuccino provides them tremendous opportunities to find that special milk which goes with a certain kind of espresso.
Also, a little difference with the steaming process and the pouring process can affect how the cappuccino tastes.
Of course, everyone has a different background when it comes to the flavour profile memories one has at his/her disposal. The above was just my way of expressing the flavours I palated from the background I’ve had. Everyone has their own version of explaining the unique flavour profiles.
But the nice thing is that we have a flavour wheel by the SCAA which makes it much easier for each other to understand and communicate the flavour profiles to one another.
Have you ever tried to compare cappuccino? Or even just espresso? Is there a difference between the more traditional espresso and the lightly-roasted single origin espresso?
Please feel free to share what you’ve discovered, together with the flavour profiles and the origins of the coffee.
F-Annex: A third wave cafe/laboratory pursuing the great flavours of specialty coffee
Address: 1-18-25 Imaizumi Chuo-ku Fukuoka Fukuoka
Open Hours: 11:00 ~ 20:00 (Closed on Saturdays and Sundays)