Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tastings 1 & 2

Hello again! I've been busy here, getting packed and resting up. This class has got me tired out at the end of the day! Last week I rotated from the morning shift to the afternoon shift and it makes the day seem a little bit longer.

In addition to working the afternoon shift, I also have to attend a lecture given by our instructor for an hour before class. She explained that we would be tasting different items every day. At first I thought that it was going to be a lot of useless information. Yes, I know about tea, coffee, wine, etc. But it has proven to be interesting!

On Thursday, we had a coffee tasting. I am in no way a fan of coffee, unless it is paired with milk and laced with tons of chocolate... aka: mocha! It was hard for me to keep a straight face while tasting the cafe's coffees. She also had us describe the smells and tastes of each cup... "Hmm... tastes like... coffee?" wouldn't pass for an answer. Darn!

First we learned about the decaffeination process - something I had never considered. This happens during the "green" state of the beans - beofre they have been washed and roasted. There are three ways to do this. The first is by the use of chemicals, which is damaging. It is the least expensive and also the least efficient, as 5-15% of the caffeine can remain on the bean. The second way to decaffeinate is by the "natural" process - the beans are steamed to remove the outer shell. It is the most cost effective method and removes 95-97% of caffeine. The third method is the CO2 method which is patented. Basically, the caffeine molecules are removed and replaced with CO2. It is the most expensive, but also the most effective.

We also learned about roasting. Roasting = flavor, and each batch of coffee beans can be roasted to an individual level and blend to get different intensities. We briefly touched on grinding and brewing and then had our tasting. We tasted automatic drip regular and decaff, which I found to have a smoky flavor. The brand our cafe uses is Green Mountain Coffee, which has coffees from many pricepoints available and is a great quality, mainstream company.

Then we tasted press pot regular and decaff. I had never seen press pot coffee before this class and was interested to see how it worked. This coffee tends to have a smoother flavor because the natural oils of the beans remain in the coffee instead of being filtered out through a paper filter. The beans we use for this come from Counter Culture, an artisan company based on the East Coast that is committed to organic and sustainable coffee. The regular press pot coffee came from Sidamo, Ethiopia and the decaff came from Jagong, Sumatra. So cool! I also got to try my first espresso. I cannot see how people drink that stuff straight up! We had to take it like a shot and it was just not pleasant at all.

On Friday we had a tea tasting, and I was very much looking forward to this because I am becoming a bigger fan of tea as I get older. Our cafe also has a really good selection of teas from Harney & Sons. We tasted:

-White Vanilla Grapefruit
-Sencha Green
-Jasmine Green
-Pomegranate Oolong
-English Breakfast
-Earl Grey
-Black Current
-African Autumn Red
-Chamomile Tisane
-Valentines Tea (black)

All teas come from the same tea plant, they just differ based on the harvest time and processing. The four types of tea are white, green, black, and oolong. White is made from the bud of the tea leaf and is packed with antioxidants. Green comes from the mature green tea leaf and it is believed that if you drink it regularly, it will help stave off plaque from your teeth! Too bad green tea is not one of my favorites! Oolong comes from the fully mature green tea leaf that goes through partial fermentation, allowing some tannins to develop but rendering it still palatable. Black tea is made from the fully mature green tea leaf that has been fully fermented. The tannins in black tea are extremely high, making it very astringent. The British soften these tannins with fat (milk) and Americans tend to brew it strong and cut the tannins with an acid (lemon wedges).

We learned about tisanes as well - this is not tea, but is a botanical infusion made without tea leaves. It can come from dried flowers, fruit rinds, spices, herbs, etc and is typically caffeine free.

Of the ones we tasted, my favorite by far was the Jasmine Green. I was surprised because I typically stay away from green tea, but this one smelled soooooo good!!! It smelled like jasmine but not too perfume-y and tasted clean and sweet. I like teas that are sweet enough to not need any sugar or milk added. I believe that they should be enjoyed in their purest form. This jasmine green took me straight back to the summers of my youth - when the air was permeated with jasmine that would waft through my bedroom windows at night. So lovely!

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