Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Gentle Brew Holiday Blend

Name: Holiday Blend
Origins: Brazil; Nicaragua
Roaster: The Gentle Brew
Roast: Dark Brown
Preparation: Freshly ground, French-pressed, sipped black

The holiday season is quite over, with even the memory of it having faded; thoughts of the calendar are permanently directed ahead for the remainder of the year. The population is divided between those looking forward to Spring for the sake of the warm weather and those looking forward to Spring because it will mean that Valentine's Day will be done with and all sorts of bacchanalia from St. Patrick's Day to Spring Break will have taken its place on the popular agenda.

One might wonder, then, at presently publishing a review of something called the "Holiday Blend". Those who have tasted it, of course, do not wonder very much at all. Having tried some in The Gentle Brew's coffeehouse in Long Beach, NY, shortly after New Year's, I bought some freshly roasted whole beans on the spot, which supply lasted me over two weeks. The name may not currently be apt according to the calendar, but gastronomically and aesthetically speaking it is always certainly apropos.

The Holiday Blend brews into a darker brown than most coffees, a more serious brown, somewhere between a carob color and a deep, dark mahogany. The aroma contains a spark of earthiness, some vanilla, and sweet florals. The earthiness, just as soon as it ever arrives, vanishes suddenly. The sweet florals are more sweet than floral, but they are more reminiscent of flowers than of any other actual thing.

The first flavor note is earth, with florals (this time quite flowery, perhaps sunflower) and a lovely stroke of buttery smoothness in the front of the mouth right near the tip of the tongue. The coffee is bold and rich, yet also displays a balancing layer of spice and wininess as the earth, once again, slips away. The wininess is probably driven by tannins bulking up, but also, there is certainly some fruitiness, and it joins with the spiciness to ascend to the forefront, which the florals, theretofore dominating alone, must now share. The coffee finishes on notes of butter and florals.

Here is the kicker: despite the smoothness, boldness, and richness, the Holiday Blend has a light body. It is, in other words, a rare combination that truly frames the potential of an expert blend to offer qualities impossible in even the most sophisticated, delicately crafted single origin. An apt analogy involves musical instruments: exploring the possibilities of one instrument is always a treat, and indeed there is always more to learn. However, while combining two or more instruments into one piece requires expertise, and can much more easily lead to shared failure more than to any semblance of success, if the harmonizing is done right then the world of possibilities expands exponentially, and the potential of each individual instrument is augmented as well. So it is with coffee blending. Here we have a delicious brew that is at once dark, rich, and smooth; and spicy, floral, and light bodied. It is not that those two profiles line up side-by-side, you see, but rather that they are synthesized into one grand note, much like the simultaneous sounds of multiple instruments in a symphony. The Holiday Blend is not only a study in contradiction, but also a reconsideration of why those profiles should be so contradictory in the first place. It is an exercise in harmony, and an example of sophistication made approachable. It is, in short, an epicurean concerto par excellence.

My frequent readers are certainly aware that I hold no bias against the single origin. But blends do tend to get short shrift these days, taken for granted as dumping grounds for extra coffee and unworthy of the purity that comes from experiencing a terroir. But when a master craftsman takes fine single origin beans, and makes from them a new whole that is even greater than the sum of its parts, that too is purity, and worthiness, and beauty. I invite my kind readers to engage with blends even as you continue to engage with single origins as well. It is not a zero-sum game, after all, but rather more like a win-win. Enjoy.

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