daily tasting 4: hittin’ the condiment bar (with espresso?)

In this episode, a bad idea on a bad day goes horribly wrong.

After some friendsthrowingoutallofmeandDaria’sclean22ozbottlesonbottlingdayprobablyaccidentally-related mishaps, I had to run to Davis square to buy a case of empty 22s. Incidentally, the brewers emporium was closed. I found myself at the nearby Diesel cafe where I thought I might cheer myself up by hustling some Tufts students at billiards and coming up with a tasting experiment I could do on one of those rare days away from my shops.

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Frequently, I notice someone putting sugar and/or cold milk in their espresso. Of course I’ve tried drip coffee with milk and sugar, and sometimes drink it that way if I get a coffee at a diner or something. But I’ve never before now considered trying espresso with sugar and cold milk.1

So, I ordered three espressos (Intelligentsia’s black cat). I added sugar to one, half-and-half and sugar to the second, and left the last one just as it was.2 All were stirred well before tasting.

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It turns out I am very bad at pouring. It was kind of a milk explosion.

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The acidity of Intelli’s black cat came through the sugar quite well in the first cup, but that was almost all that came through. The cup lacked clarity and complexity. The sweetness and texture of the sugary espresso reminded me of Turkish coffee. In fact, it made me realize that sugar, not overextraction, may be the main reason I don’t enjoy Turkish coffee.

My opinion of the espresso with dairy and sugar was pretty similar. Admittedly, I was a little heavy-handed with the half-and-half. By the time I spilled so much into the espresso, it might as well have been an iced latte, and the sensation of drinking a warm, strong iced latte with such serious acidity was somewhat disconcerting.

My opinion may have been slightly skewed by relief after those other two disappointing cups, but the straight espresso was the best I’ve had at Diesel, and may have been the best shot of black cat I’ve ever had.

I don’t like when baristas are prescriptive about drink preferences, but I almost understand the crusade against milk and sugar now. I went into this exercise just trying to do a creative tasting as a customer in someone else’s cafe, and I think I may have come out actually appreciating straight-up espresso more than ever. Good times. Go try this if you haven’t.


  1. I’ve had iced lattes before of course, but I mean espresso with just a little cold milk.
  2. One level-ish demi spoon of sugar per double espresso.

About barnwolf

head barista for pavement coffeehouse and erc boston
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