Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Long Progression: Espresso

I find it interesting and amusing how there is this long progression of development in tastes in the culinary arts.  For instance, newbie wine drinkers usually start with something light and sweet, and after a long process of defining their pallet,  will eventually find that wine distasteful and instead go for a brutal, dry Cabernet Sauvignon.  At least I will.  Similarly, those who subsist on chicken fingers will never understand the delicate flavors and amazing complexities of a foie gras.  But frankly, I can enjoy either equally.  Maybe I need some more work on that one...

Espresso is one of these complex and full tastes that isn't easily appreciated without a long history with the coffee bean.  My first coffees were heavily spiked with cream and sugar.  It took many years before relaxing the cream and eliminating the sugar.  I still enjoy a bit of half and half with my morning cup.  But that cup is made from a darkly roasted arabic coffee bean.  Drinking coffee from robusto beans in a jaunty light roast feels like someone is robbing me.  Something is missing or something has been taken.

There is something to be said for how you are introduced to your tastes as well.  I had taken shots of espresso from local US cafes and it never really seemed to tempt my pallet.  It was experimental.  What about this espresso stuff?  There was no process.  Even a good wine requires a full bouquet, a good view through the glass, and the experience as each swallow piques the sensory specialties of each section of your tongue.  Understanding that food takes time.  We are not talking time in the perfunctory sense of the word, but time in the sense of really being present to the experience of not just the food but also the process of the food.

I am going to expect that this idea of being present to your food may be hard to swallow.  (Eh-hem)   After all, it seems that there are so few times in our days that we are fully present to our experience at all.  We are so often preoccupied with the pressure of our day, plans for the future, or worries around some drama that pure experiences get drowned out by the conversations in our heads.

I feel lucky that I was able to take a little time with a new friend one weekend in Strasbourg, France.  We sat at a outdoor cafe in June facing the awesome cathedral in this town and he ordered us each an espresso.  I watched him, fascinated by the care and precision with with he prepared and drank his tiny cup.  Naturally, I copied him and I have since never looked back.  I found that the best preparation comes from the simplest means, a $20 stove-top espresso maker, a can of Italian roast, and some tiny cups.  The hardest part is still slowing down to really experience and enjoy the flavor.

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