In the early summer of 1844, a man named Charles Goodyear took out a patent on "vulcanized rubber" after a long and financially debilitating process of trial and error. The rights to the patent were initially contested, but in the end awarded to Goodyear by the Circuit Court of the United States, putting him in the history books as the sole inventor of the vulcanization process. While the patent didn't do much good for the inventor himself, it did launch an entire industry, as it finally rendered rubber (a previously unstable substance, inclined to melt in heat) a useful product. Charles Goodyear passed away in 1860 and missed the invention of the first rubber bike tire, as well as the eventually successful creation of a rubber tire for automobiles in 1911, by a guy named Philip Strauss. I don't know how much time passed after 1911 until the tire swing appeared on the scene, but I can't imagine that it was very long; swings having been around in some form or another since nearly the dawn of time and rubber tires being impossible to dispose of thanks to Goodyear's vulcanization, tire swings had to be a pretty short logical jump for folks to make.
If you're wondering what on earth any of this has to do with coffee, I admit I had the same thought this past year when I encountered Espresso Part's "Aroma Challenge" in the foyer at Coffee Fest, and again at Portland Roasting's similar but smaller version of the same thing on the show floor. Both olfactory tests provided unlabeled, scented vials and scorecards with a list of possible ingredients to match to the vials. On both scorecards I found the option "rubber." And at both booths I wondered to myself under what possible circumstances rubber would be relevant to a coffee tasting.
On Saturday, I found out.My first cup of coffee of the New Year was not as well-planned as it should have been. I ended up at Cherry Street Coffee on First and University downtown, because it was close and I needed coffee. Having had no food, I opted for a mocha instead of a straight espresso to start, giving myself a chance to look around while the order was made.
The Cherry Street Coffee House, at least at this particular location, is really odd. The store as a whole is shaped a little like a Tetris piece, which does not allow for optimal use of cafe space. The artwork is eclectic in the extreme, as is the furniture, falling somewhere betwixt Southwest American and . . . perhaps Moroccan. Given its location in what is called the "West Edge" neighborhood, there is plenty of fascinating people-watching. The Ghirardelli powder they use to make mochas is quite nice, and the baristas are easy-going and kind.
One coffee following New Year's Eve will not suffice. So, hoarding caffeine before heading out the door to work, I ordered a double espresso as well. It came in an adorable combination of mug and saucer colors . . . but the flavor! The flavor was one of those at which intense and instant nostalgia ensues, brought on by the connection of a memory to either a taste or a closely related smell.
Now. Let me clarify before I say another word that I never played on tire swings as a kid. My first personal encounter with the idea was in my early 20s, when somebody talked me into swinging on one in the name of shoring up my childhood experiences. So I was plenty old enough to know that the tire swing was dirty and full of rainwater, and strongly scented, and also that getting dizzy while whirling about in something you can't easily extract yourself from isn't actually fun.
Therefore, suddenly confronted with a shot of espresso that tastes (and I had not known coffee could do this) like a tire swing smells, the ensuing nostalgia is not of a positive variety. Not only do I not want my coffee to taste like a tire, but I also don't want to recall the whole tire-swing experience. My palate and memory both cringe. (Not to mention that I feel horribly cruel comparing coffee to vulcanized rubber, and now terribly educated as to why a knowledge of the way rubber smells actually is relevant to coffee tasting.)
Final assessment: The space is odd, but the location is excellent, the decor intriguing, and the people who work there honestly great. The coffee, unfortunately, is better served with softening elements, like milk and a lot of chocolate. The Cherry Street Coffee House is simply not a place to go for espresso.