During the first week in March I wrote an article discussing crema on the coffee at Caffe Umbria . This week, after visiting the


Varnishing Coffee at Cowen Park Grocery

During the first week in March I wrote an article discussing crema on the coffee at Caffe Umbria. This week, after visiting the Umbria-serving Cowen Park Grocery in Ravenna, I ended up spending excessive amounts of time (once again) working at deciphering the coffee "flavor wheel" charts and terminology.

Let it be known that the serious lack of chemistry classes required for music majors has (apparently permanently) handicapped my ability to wrestle applicable meaning out of words like "hydrocarbon." But I did manage to learn one interesting applicable fact from this round of Google-fueled flavor wheel studies, and that fact relates to aftertaste.

Cowen Park Grocery (often referred to, simply, as "CPG") occupies an eclectic little corner of the world -- not quite cafe, not quite grocery, not quite wine shop, but some intricate mix of these things plus a smattering of others. It is always friendly, always a pleasant stop, and the tables outside have for years been one of my favorite destinations for a soda on a sunny day. It is the perfect place to snag a snack before heading across the street to Cowen Park for playground shenanigans (such as seeing how many college students can fit on one child-sized zip-line without grounding it). It has never especially been a coffee destination for me, but I decided it was time to give it a try.

In the March mention of Umbria, I talked about the rich color and aroma that the crema on a good shot of coffee will typically possess. Thick, light colored crema (sometimes called "blonding") usually indicates an over-extracted shot. The Umbria in my Americano at CPG was blond. Like a towhead. The initial flavor was sharp and shallow. Which brings us to the topic of aftertaste.

I'd never thought much about what aftertaste might actually be. A lingering flavor, certainly, but... well, why? And why is it so common for that lingering flavor to be different from the flavor it is lingering after? What is the cause behind that expression of unexpected lingering, the "funny aftertaste"?

Aftertaste, it seems, is not just a lingering flavor, but actually a whole new flavor. A substance - take coffee for example - once swallowed, leaves residue behind. Aftertaste is the result of vapors released from that residue: perhaps one reason that a strong aftertaste often feels more like a strong after-smell.

For example: though I have never in my life (not even once) tasted turpentine, that is what the aftertaste of Cowen Park's Umbria "tasted" like to me. Resinous and acute, almost stingingly bright. Well varnished. Not what I look for in a coffee.

Cowen Park Grocery is delightful in many respects - as always, I was greeted with a smile and with neighborly friendliness. But as for the coffee, I can't recommend it much. Though I do hear their lattes are nice.

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