A prominent gap in this blog’s coffee coverage is the absence of reviews for Counter Culture Coffee’s two signature espresso blends: the brighter, zestier Aficionado and the darker, sweeter Toscano. I’ve written about each from time to time during east coast cafe visits (since you can rarely find Counter Culture west of the most east cafes), but always hesitated when considering whether to bring a bag of one of these two coffees home. While I’ve always been perfectly happy with espresso made from either blend, I’ve never found myself as excited about these blends as I am with some of Counter Culture’s single origin beans.
My issue may be that I’m something of new school espresso-drinker with a palate formed on some of the best that America has to offer. Although I appreciate traditional approaches and the skill required to achieve them, I’d much rather my palate be challenged (and hopefully pleased) rather than simply pleased by something entirely familiar. While the Aficionado and Toscano blends do change seasonally (as all blends do to some degree), the goal of these blends is still to maintain a somewhat updated take on an old world profile. Enter the Apollo espresso.
The New York Times introduced Apollo a while back, reporting on the fluctuating nature of the Apollo blend. The beans comprising it may change frequently over the course of weeks or months, leading to an entirely different product – a frequently fluctuating profile. Not that the philosophy behind Apollo is entirely new. The formula and flavors of Intelligentsia Coffee‘s Black Cat changes quite dramatically quite often and Ritual Coffee simply renames their seasonal espresso every month or two to reflect the overhauled formula.
What’s important about the Apollo, though, is not that the philosophy behind it is novel to the industry, but that with it, Counter Culture is breaking with their own self-imposed sense of tradition. Counter Culture is throwing caution to the wind and approaching espresso with new found culinary creativity, and in so doing completely disregarding Georgio Milos’ recent ranting about how espresso is “supposed” to taste (and that American espresso rarely achieves such an ideal – not that it wants to). I’d argue that it’s Counter Culture, because of their embrace of traditional espresso profiles, even more so than James Hoffman (as Sprudge suggests), who is playing the role of Tevya.
Of course, maybe I should be more like Georgio Milos. After all, frequently changing espressos blends make coffee blogging something of a Sisyphean task. I could probably devote a whole blog to the changing profile of Black Cat or the constantly emerging espresso blends from Ritual (will those folks ever run out of names?). Fortunately for me, even if I can’t manage to keep up with each iteration, I can hopefully capture some of the culinary ingenuity and sense of taste that goes into a constantly changing blend like Apollo.
What I found in pulling shots was a light espresso consistent with the name and vision. I pulled my shots differently than recommended (16 g at 30-32 seconds) – which tasted heavily of grapes and grape candy. My notes also included chocolate, sassafras, caramel and desert wine. The lightweight, velvety mouthfeel was very pleasurable, and the shot top-heavy in a way that isn’t sour or out of balance. In the end, I found it be a very refreshing, fruity, sweet, if somewhat simple, blend that also worked quite well as filter coffee. Whether you’ve liked Counter Culture’s espressos in the past or not, I recommend you give this one a try.