Vol. 4 - Chestnuts and Mexican Drip
Happy Christmas for those of y'all that celebrate!
Happy Christmas and a peaceful winter season to all! I hope you’re finding time to bundle up, brew something warm, and relax.
A Song - The Christmas Song, Nat King Cole
In high school, I kept a Christmas countdown tattooed in black Sharpie on the back of my left hand from September 16 to Christmas Eve. It was cringe, sure, but it was also a beautiful reminder of how, even though the days are getting colder and shorter, we have a big party to look forward to in the midst of it all.
The thing about Christmas I always loved - well, what’s not to love? Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a sucker for a theme. I love oversized sweaters and dried oranges and twinkly lights and hot cocoa. I love paper snowflakes and Elf and dusting off the same decorations. I love the anticipation, the drama, the chaos of Christmas. Hell, I even like going to the mall just to soak it all in.
And of course, there’s the music. Admittedly, I am one of the godforsaken people that will play Christmas music year-round, in small doses, just to get a hit of joy and peace. Out of all the carols, there are very few that send me soaring into seasonal bliss like Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song”.
Maybe it’s the strings, the seductive come-hither way the song starts, a kind of melody I couldn’t dream up but can never un-hear. Maybe it’s the sparkling piano and the soft jazz guitar, crackling beneath the whole song like logs in a fireplace. Or maybe it’s Nat King Cole’s full-bodied voice, which puffs and crisps up around the edges like a toasted marshmallow.
I fall under the spell of the melody, a dreamy and hopeful octave jump that trickles down to the third (reminiscent of Somewhere Over the Rainbow). Some magic is certainly found in the structure - catchy verses, no chorus, a weird second part that’s kind of like a bridge, but more like an apex (they know that Santa’s on his way), an instrumental between two identical verses that feels like an untouched blanket of snow.
The Christmas Song is not really a sing-a-long (though my family will surely try). First of all, it’s kind of tough to sing. It’s hard not to put on a rat pack affectation when busting out of the gate - Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose - and, in classic carol fashion, the rest of the lyrics are antiquated and hard to memorize. Even so, it continues to be a romantic carriage ride into the season, year after year.
I mean it when I say I hope you have a wonderful holiday season. I hope you find wonder in the same old songs, the same old traditions, and the same old challenging relatives. The rituals are unchanging, but you are ever-evolving. Let a new perspective shade in the details.
A Cup - Mazateca Reserve, Tweed Coffee, Houndstooth
This week’s cup came from Houndstooth on MLK. It was a single-origin Mexico, an easy-breezy washed coffee from Oaxaca, roasted by Tweed and brewed on an automatic drip machine. I posted up with a black coffee and an espresso on a stool at the window facing a road under perpetual construction, the register (and the line of other customers) directly behind me. There were dogs and babies. Everyone was talking about the weather.
They don’t do pour-overs at Houndstooth anymore, the barista said, because they were too popular. Instead, they charge a premium price for nicer coffees brewed in large batches of drip. It’s efficient, he explained, which I certainly understand. Once, in a corporate team building coffee tasting, a guy asked why on earth people would do a manual pour-over if the automatic machine does the same exact thing with more consistency and less work. Fair, I said. But it’s more fun to do it yourself! It demands full attention! You can manipulate variables and taste your science experiments! But if that’s not your thing… I trailed off.
Anyway, I’m getting off-topic. As a film of oils rose to the surface, I inhaled the steam and was reminded of melting a cone of piloncillo in a saucepan. It smelled like brown sugar and molasses. On the first sip (which was way too hot because I was impatient for caffeine), I faintly tasted graham cracker and cinnamon. As the coffee cooled, it revealed a plum-like acidity, honey sweetness, and a light coating feeling of dulce de leche. It was a very fine Mexican coffee with no frills; just good farming, good processing, good roasting, and batch brewing.
I recently read an article by Christopher Feran relating compression in recorded music to processing in coffee. The general hypothesis is that people prefer more intensity - “at least in the short term,” Feran says. Anecdotally, I concur. I’ve seen many guests at our public cuppings at Greater Goods favor a “thermal shock” processed Colombia, mostly because they could actually taste the difference on the table. The flavor reminds people of hard candy, tropical fruits, wine, funk - anything but the chocolatey-nutty coffees they’re used to drinking. It’s a trumpet solo on the cupping table, riveting and impossible to ignore.
Not every coffee can be that or should be that, I’d argue. These kinds of unique flavors are usually the result of innovative processing techniques - science experiments - in fermentation tanks. The producer might seal up the tanks (anaerobic process), add certain yeasts or enzymes or whole fruits to the tank, or do any number of other weird and fun things in an effort to achieve a totally unique flavor profile. And sometimes, if all goes well, they can sell that coffee for more than they could have if they’d used a more traditional processing method.
All of this to say, there’s a time and place for all kinds of coffees, and this week, in the midst of my beloved Christmas chaos, I wanted something comforting and familiar. How about you? Did you have any coffees (or teas, or cocktails) that knocked your socks off? I wanna hear about them! Comment below or just text me (most of you have my number).