Apollo in the NY Times, new coffees and Esmeralda Special

There are a few really exciting tid bits to clue everyone in on so we’ll try to make this brief.  First off, NY Times coffee writer Oliver Strand blogs about our new Espresso Apollo.  Though we aren’t mentioned by name we are one of the three coffee bars in the United States who were involved in the “test drive” of this delicious espresso.  If you haven’t tasted it yet, you should.

Ristretto | Espresso Apollo (The Eagle Has Landed)


July 15, 2010, 4:43 pm

Counter Culture Coffee

Two weeks ago, Bluebird Coffee Shop in the East Village was one of three coffee bars in the United States to take a new espresso blend from Counter Culture Coffee for a test drive. It was shipped with the tantalizing label “Espresso X,” even though the name had already been chosen: Espresso Apollo, after the god of light.

True to its name, the espresso is unusually bright. When I tried it last week, it tasted like green apples. I went back on Tuesday, and it had mellowed into something sweeter with a lingering acidity, lemon peel dragged through honey.

Espresso Apollo is gorgeous on its own, lively and easy to drink when the humidity hovers at 80 percent. It’s nice in a macchiato. But it fades in a cortado and disappears completely in a cappuccino. It turns out that’s not an accident, which makes the blend radical in its own quiet way. “Apollo is designed to be drunk for its own purpose,” said Peter Giulliano, the director of coffee for Counter Culture Coffee. “Acidity and floral characteristics are not perfect components for milk. It’s not a great choice for asserting itself in a large amount of milk.” Espresso Apollo is meant for espresso.

Most espresso blends are a composition of anywhere from three to 10 coffees (though some are thought to have as many as 30), and are engineered for consistency. If one coffee stumbles, the remaining coffees will carry the weight. Further, most espresso blends are designed to be a utility player and fill in at all positions. That same one-ounce shot of coffee is asked to taste good on its own and stand up to the seven ounces (or 11, or 19) of steamed milk in a latte.

Bluebird CafeAshley Gilbertson for The New York Times Bluebird Cafe.

By comparison, Espresso Apollo is naked — a blend of just two coffees, Dulce Nombre de Jesus from Honduras, which gives it those high notes, and a washed Yirgacheffe from Ethiopia, which gives it structure. You can taste both coffees in a shot.

“These are the two ingredients that are exciting at this moment,” Giuliano said. “You have to remember espresso isn’t a product, it’s a process. It’s like saying ‘sautéed.’ It’s a technique. Espresso is a way to prepare an ingredient.”

Treating coffee as a distinct ingredient is the same philosophy behind single-origin espresso (S.O.E.), which is made with coffee from a specific region or farm. To some degree, Espresso Apollo is a blend that acts like a S.O.E. But where a S.O.E. has a limited run and usually disappears after a month or two, Espresso Apollo will bend with the cycle of the year’s coffee crops – Giuliano considers this to be version 1.0, and as coffees are substituted in, it will become 1.1, then 1.2, eventually becoming 2.0 by the end of the summer, when the Peruvian crop arrives and the flavor profile will get an overhaul.

The fungibility is what makes Espresso Apollo unique. While some roasters offer seasonal espresso blends that change three or four times per year, the blend remains the same while it’s on the shelf. Espresso Apollo might change once or twice over the course of a month.

At the danger of sounding too intellectual, Espresso Apollo is more of a concept than a formula. It’s a blend that produces a transparent espresso (Giuliano calls it “clarity, an absence of any noise”), though how that plays out depends on the season, the month and which beans are coming into port that week.

How customers will react is another question. This week, Everyman Espresso started pulling shots of Apollo Espresso, only the second location in New York to carry the blend (it will be available for sale on Counter Culture Coffee’s Web site in August), and it’ll be interesting to see how a barista might steer a bleary-eyed regular away from their daily latte to an espresso.

“I’m sympathetic to the people who say that they want a coffee to be a coffee, and who don’t want this one last thing in their life that’s made complicated,” Giuliano said. “A coffee can’t be simple, but it can be accessible. This isn’t the first time we could have made Apollo, but this is the first time we could sell it. We finally have the places that not only have the technical expertise and make good shots, but that have the staff who can make it accessible to the man on the street.”

Also, a couple of new coffees will be filling out our menu this week.  First off is a limited coffee from the lovely Finca Nueva Armenia in Huehuetenango, Guatemala.  This year Counter Culture secured a number of “micro-lots” from this longtime producer partner and they are delicious.  The first to be released is Los Gemelos Micro Lot, or “the twins.”  You’ll find lots of sweet ripe red fruit and citrus  in each cup of this special coffee.  We will also be adding to our menu the simple sweet 21st De Septiembre from Zaragoza, Mexico.  This coffee is a perennial favorite for it’s classic tones of milk chocolate, toasted nut, cherry and vanilla.

Lastly, it is with great excitement that we announce the arrival of one of the most exquisite coffees we have the honor of offering.  This year’s Esmeralda Especial is finally in and will be rolling out August 11/12.  For those of you who weren’t around last year to taste it this is an experience not to be missed (it even has special ties to Philadelphia!)  This is the most celebrated coffee in the world with explosive notes of bergamot, lemon, jasmine and honey.  Some coffees are all hype, but I assure you this one is worth every penny.  Don’t miss it.

For those interested in purchasing beans to take home please email me at aaron at ultimocoffee dot com.  Approx. $35 per 8 oz.

Read Oliver Strands article on Esmeralda from last year.

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