Monday, February 18, 2013

Food Rumble: My New Morning Americano


I write different types of posts for my blog:
  • Wow, You've got Something There entries are for food items I find delicious and wonderful
  • WTH blurbs are for experiences I find disappointing or in general awful
  • Food for Thought offers my thoughts about food issues I find interesting
  • Food Scrambles share interesting food items that are creative or out of the box which restaurants are trying or that you can make yourself
Today I introduce a new category of writing, THE FOOD RUMBLE!  Often, people will ask me if an eatery is good but they also want to know if it’s better than another restaurant that serves similar food. 

I actually find this question very difficult to answer.  It is simple to separate the great and good restaurants from the mediocre & poor ones but it’s much harder to rank the great restaurants amongst themselves.  It’s hard to compare when the memory of exact tastes and textures are dulled by time and muddled by other food experiences that you’ve had since you last visited a particular restaurant.

My solution is the Food Rumble where I visit similar restaurants within in a short period of time to better compare the offerings.  The first item to be featured in the Food Rumble is the Americano I drink every morning (a necessary rumble since my office recently moved from Yaletown to Gastown).

A lot of people are surprised to learn there is less caffeine in espresso based drinks than drip/brewed coffee.  Using Starbucks as an example, there is only 150 milligrams of caffeine in a tall Americano; while a tall drip/brewed coffee has 260 milligrams of caffeine.  This is why I drink Americanos in the mornings for the kick start and not drip/brewed coffee which turns me into a bouncy ball of energy that my colleagues find challenging to deal with.

When it comes to an Americano, the key is well executed shots of espresso.  The shot should have a golden foam top (dense enough to hold sugar crystals for a second or two) and allow the drinker to taste the characteristics of the type of coffee bean used (similar to tasting notes of a wine). 

So I want to my Americano to:
-Have a foamy top
-Not be bland
-Not be sour
-Or too bitter so it overwhelmed all the other tasting notes of the coffee bean used

There is an art to creating a good Americano and as result even at the same café your drink may taste different depending on who is manning the espresso machine.

For the inaugural Food Rumble the participants are Bean Around the World, JJ Bean, Revolver and Waves.  To ensure I got a good sample to inform myself, I visited each place 3 times over 3 weeks, ordered a 12 ounce Americano every time and took meticulous notes.

Contestant #1: Bean Around the World

Bean Around the World on Urbanspoon


As you can see in the pictures, there was foam on top of my Americanos.  Each of the drinks tasted different, which I expected since 3 different barista made each of the Americanos.  All had an initial strong coffee taste.  The first cup had a sweet after taste.  The Wednesday cup tasted like if you were eating roasted coffee bean which I found interesting and didn’t have an after taste.  The Tuesday cup had a nutty taste with mild espresso after taste. 

Contestant #2: JJ Bean

JJ Bean on Urbanspoon


JJ Bean had the most disappointing Americanos.  The first two were so bland that I thought I was drinking cream and sugar.  Absolutely no coffee taste at all.  Also if you noticed in the photo, the Tuesday and Thursday cups were only filled at most 2/3 of the cup with very little foam.  The same barista made these two tasteless Americanos, and I wonder if they under pulled the espresso shots.  The last JJ Bean Americano, made by a different barista, filled up the cup more and had a stronger espresso taste but it paled in comparison to rest of the competition. 

Contestant # 3: Revolver

Revolver on Urbanspoon


Revolver is the only independent coffee shop involved in my food rumble and I was ready to give them a pass on their Americanos because they don’t have my morning kickstart listed on their menu board.  Usually when a place doesn’t offer something, you cannot expect them to be good at making it.  However, when I asked if they could make an Americano for me they happily obliged. Each of the 3 Americanos I received from 3 different baristas tasted more or less the same.  All 3 didn’t have strong espresso taste but you could taste the espresso.  The unique thing about the Americanos was they had interesting after taste.  I have only experienced this taste with Chinese herbal medicinal brews and in Cantonese you call the taste “GUM-GUM”.  The best I can describe the taste in English is sweet and refreshing in a way some mints are refreshing.  The first 2 Revolver Americanos had this pleasant after taste and it definitely got attention.

Contest # 4: Waves

Waves Coffee on Urbanspoon


This was the location was only place where all 3 of the Americanos (or Canadianos as Waves calls them) were made by the same barista.  As a result all 3 Americanos looked and tasted exactly the same.  They were well made.  These Americanos hit you with a very strong espresso taste and very strong espresso after taste.  However the problem is you couldn’t taste anything else.  I was able to detect a slight nutty taste in the Thursday cup but the strong espresso was a bit overwhelming for my liking.

FOOD RUMBLE CONCLUSIONS:
After trying out all these Americanos, I think I will go to Bean Around the World for the majority of my morning drink.  Their Americanos had a strong enough initial espresso taste but also exhibit other tasting notes, which I enjoyed. 

Although I was impress with the uniqueness of Revolver’s espresso.  It makes me want to go back and try something off the menu board like their macchiato, which I think would highlight their barista skills and the flavour of their espressos more than an Americano would.

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