I love steak. I’m pretty sure if I had to restrict myself to one food for the rest of my life, steak would be it. Ribeye, striploin, t-bone, fillet all great cuts of beef. Fillet in particular is beautifully tender, subtle flavoured, buttery melt in your mouth texture, it’s understandably hugely popular.
It’s a refined, elegant cut and it commands the highest price.
I wouldn’t use it for bouef bourgignon though, or any other long slow cook. I’d go for some of the supposedly lesser cuts, oxtail, shin, neck – cheap cuts. A good oxtail casserole for me is akin to a semi religious experience. It can achieve a depth of flavour that fillet steak could never aspire to.
I say all this because to me it seems in coffee we have nurtured a “fillet steak with everything” attitude.
The best espresso I have had all year was Vivace’s Dolce (yes – really), served by David Schomer at the WBC in London. The beans looked like a bag of debris. Darker than I would ever expect to choose, loads of defects, Monsooned Malabar (I think). It wasn’t hero worship, I am relatively speaking too new to coffee for David Schomer to figure amongst my heroes, and I’ll happily admit to hating Vivace’s Vita blend (the milk blend – tasted subsequently).
The Dolce kicked ass though, deep, big, I couldn’t believe how subtle the Malabar had become, it was harmonious, with scotch, leather and tobacco elements, but overall just delicious.
Perhaps it is because I have become accustomed to espresso blends containing lots of washed centrals, light and bright, sweet, at times delicate – subtle even. It may only stand out because it deviates so drastically from what I most commonly experience in espresso.
It’s probably not a popular sentiment, certainly in speciality circles Vivace and Schomer are probably considered passe, scoffed at. I certainly assumed as much prior to tasting the Dolce. I had sworn myself off drinking anything with Malabar ever again after some ropey experiences. Looking at the beans and guessing the components, it doesn’t add up to what I thought I knew. The taste and the components did not seem to equate. Then again oxtail can look pretty unappetizing. But if you know what to do with it…
I like a washed bourbon from El Salvador as much as the next guy. Clean, sweet, subtle… understandably hugely popular…
I’ve had and continue to have delicious “fillet steak” espresso experiences. Though when I look around, at those credited as being leaders of modern speciality coffee they seem to be ignoring anything resembling a Dolce approach. Are they, like I am implying, ignoring these lesser cuts?
Breaking the metaphor momentarily these are the same cuts that have in recent years gained a huge resurgence at the highest levels of restaurant cuisine, even at the Michelin Star level. Cheap cuts, offal, peasant food. The kind of stuff my grandmother would have boiled to death for hours, now being prepared by Heston, Gordon, Joel, Ferran et al.
There is more to the humble bovine than the fillet, that lean, little worked strip of muscle along the middle of the back. Dare I say, the same might be said of coffee.
*addendum Nov 1st*
I don't want the tone of this post to be misconstrued as apologist for lower grade coffee. In my experience the vast, vast majority of roasters of such coffee produce, as expected a lower quality product. That Dolce, in my experience would seem to be somewhat of an exception. It is perhaps the exception that proves the rule in a way. It demonstrates to me that in this specific case at least it would seem possible to create a product that is more than the sum of its parts.