On Friday afternoon, I walked into Cafe Venus with the inside of my mouth fully intact. It was about 4:00 pm and I'd suddenly realized that I'd somehow gone without coffee all day. In a panic, I stopped at the nearest cafe. I had not been into Cafe Venus before, nor visited the attached Mars Bar. Neither is an overly small venue, particularly not for the South Lake Union neighborhood, but both (each separately and together) feel cordially snug. A sign in front of the counter at the deserted cafe directs guests to see the Mars bartender for assistance. Following directions, I peeked my head through the joint doorway, and requested coffee.
The bartender promptly shifted roles and rooms, from bar to barista, and cheerfully began making espresso. Mere moments later, I held in my hand one 8 oz. Americano, and a palate-searing experience of potentially epic proportions.
In all honesty, I drink a lot of coffee. (I know this will not come as a particular shock to very many of you, but there it is.) And one of the things that frequently perplexes me is the problem of coffee serving temperature. If I drank lattes, this may not (or may) be such an issue; most cafes have at least a basic understanding of optimal milk steaming temperatures, as milk will conveniently scald and/or boil over the edge of a pitcher when over heated.
The Americano, however, has no such safety net. Espresso itself is brewed at widely varying temperatures (usually considered "acceptable" within a range of some 10 degrees or so), not to mention temperature variation for brewed coffees. But while some significant push for research is being made, and guidelines standardized for brewed coffee in light of the recent fascination with pour-over methods, the Americano stands at the lonely, abandoned outskirts of coffee research in this area - possessing neither the excitement of milk, the popularity of a Clever, nor the pristine condition of espresso.
http://www.facebook.com - Cafe Venus
Not that the topic of serving temperature is a prominent topic in current coffee research anyhow. A quick internet search for wine serving temperature pulls up pages of articles and standardized charts; a quick internet search for coffee serving temperature pulls up a list of resources greatly influenced by the proceedings and outcome of Liebeck vs. McDonald's. Which is to say, most of the literature for serving coffee is concerned very simply with not scalding customers.
While this literature all bears immediate relevance to my Cafe Venus experience, it begs the tangential question (which has been bothering me several days now) of how temperature impacts flavor (or perception of flavor). We all know that coffee, as it cools, often changes drastically in taste. Some brewed coffees taste better freshly brewed and hot, and some improve as they cool, which seems to suggest that extraction temperature and serving temperature operate at least somewhat independently of one another in influencing taste. Which leads me to wonder, with significant consternation, whether most of the Americanos I am served might taste better if served at a cooler temperature. This is perhaps a naive question, but is it possible to burn a shot of espresso after extraction?
If it is possible, I am fairly certain that Cafe Venus did it on Friday. Somebody needs to alert the general coffee-serving population that the water spigot on an espresso machine is pulling water directly out of the espresso machine, which means it is probably somewhere 'round about 200 degrees. Which is, technically speaking, way too hot.
I know what you're thinking: "If the coffee is that hot, you should wait until it cools before you drink it, idiot." Well, yes. And let me refer you back to the opening paragraph, in which I mentioned my deprived and borderline-desperate state. Then let me point out in my defense that the barista handed the coffee over to me double-cupped and with the lid already on, so all the normal danger signs were dulled. Then let me take full responsibility for my own irresponsible drinking, and complain instead that, having burned what felt like several layers of skin off of my tongue with an initial tiny sip, I removed the lid to glare resentfully at the beverage and found that it looked identical to drip coffee. No tell-tale hint of crema could be found, no residual signs of espresso. The aroma was nearly as singed as my mouth, and that... well, that is all I can say. Whether it tasted better after it cooled is beyond the ability of my crippled senses to answer.
So I suppose that this blog, in its entirety, can be summarized thus: people at Cafe Venus are really nice. But, the coffee is really, really, really hot. Consider yourselves warned.