Despite ye gods efforts to keep me indoors, with their gaping grey inverted bowl of a maw spitting incessantly upon anything daring to emerge from cover, I managed to get out to The Mad Bean for another espresso infusion experiment. Today's flavour, fennel seed ground to a powder. The smell released from those inconspicuous pods being crushed between mortar and pestle enveloped me in a surprisingly warm cloud of earthy licorice. A good start.
Into the first brew, Mr. Mad Bean (Brian as he prefers to be called) mixed in a quarter teaspoon of the ground spice with the beans. This produced a very subtle taste of licorice on the front end, but not enough for either of our liking.
Changing tactics, we instead dusted the bottom of the holder screen, hoping to intensify the flavour and bring it to the forefront. Worked like a charm. The licorice was there, sitting proudly on the tip of the tongue. The earthy notes of the fennel seed disappeared into those of the espresso but they weren't missed. The addition of sugar seemed to heighten the flavour and bind it to the front of the palate, allowing the bitterness to wash back in a wave all the way down the throat.
The same sweetened infusion as a long double shot (my preference) seemed to lightly mute the flavours and balance out the bitterness, making the wave more of a roller than a crashing breaker. I normally take my time and enjoy small sips, but I couldn't get enough of it and quickly saw the bottom of the cup. It was exquisite.
This infusion is an entirely new breed of cat, neither fully licorice or espresso, though both are present. Anyone reading this must try this. Available soon only at The Mad Bean (link to the left). If you aren't in Toronto, convince your favourite barista to give it a try, or better yet, visit the city and try the original for yourself.
On another note, this combination of flavours is not a novel idea. After a conversation with an Italian bartender friend of mine, I learned that a shot of Sambuca in espresso is a traditional beverage called Caffe Carretto. Roasted espresso beans can also be floated in a shot of Sambuca and lit on fire to infuse the shot with coffee flavour. Traditional, novel or otherwise, the fennel and espresso flavours work together magically.