So an Irishman, an Australian and an Italian walk into a Nitro Coffee bar...
This is actually no joke; believe it or not, folks from all corners of the globe did in fact collaborate over a quirky iced coffee that has no ice and a head so creamy it could be mistaken for a perfectly-pulled Guinness, an Espresso Martini that actually comes from a keg, and discovered it was not only coffee lovers to get a serious kick out of a non-alcoholic bar.
It's a tale about a revolution with nitro coffee that’s so innovative it continues to transform a number of coffee culture collaborations as a result. But first, let’s start at the beginning...
Such a multifaceted story is sure to have colourful characters; there is indeed an Irishman (well, a Zimbabwean with Irish heritage that is) whose history always involved coffee one way or another, but also African origins, US experiences over almost the last two decades, as well as a current reconnection with Irish ancestral roots. It’s probably little wonder then that through all these travels, Dave McLaughlin has acquired the moniker of ‘the Bean Whisperer’, as finding the right beans and understanding the finesse in roasting takes time, and is really the essence of quality flavour. He emphasises,
“you can’t roast good into bad beans!”
and sources primarily from Ethiopia and Uganda, having discovered this to be the home of great African Arabica heirloom green coffee beans, roasting according to profiles he developed over the past decade, with a careful analysis of time-temperature graphs.
Every craftsman has a philosophy, and the Bean Whisperer’s is also about ensuring balance, “You can have plenty of flavour but unless you bring body too, it will come through as strong and bitter – which is just imbalance – so you have to bring the right level of body to complement flavour in beans,” and it is this attention to roasting profile that makes their #nitrocoffee brand – Raven – unique. He also says he does talk to the beans! During the roasting process, when the sugars in the bean become caramelised, they reach a first crack that sounds a bit like popping popcorn. Listening to the length and volume of the crack tells him about the right profile.
“How quickly you get to first crack, what you do after, and understanding this process maximises what was in the beans to begin with... Roasting coffee is 1 part science, 1 part art, and 2 parts passion.”
It was while sourcing coffee in Ethiopia that the Bean Whisperer fortuitously met an Australian, who happened to be an agent for IMF coffee roaster manufacturers in Italy, based in Occhiobello, not far from Bologna, where he found a superb coffee roaster:
“My roaster has a name – Gino, named after my dear Italian-American friend who died of a heart attack whilst I was in Italy buying the Roaster. The staff at IMF put his name on the Roaster.”
Gino’s larger-than-life presence certainly seems to be felt in this special roaster with burners on the side where heat goes directly into the drum and onto the beans with convection, as opposed to a standard drum roaster, heating primarily through the steel.
Obtaining a naturally sweeter, richer coffee with deep chocolate and caramel notes is an integral part of creating a final quality #nitrocoffee – and is no mean feat. It’s a concept that’s been around since +/-2012 in the US, made by infusing gas into coffee to make a cool-drink alternative to iced coffee but with no ice involved, and its popularity has literally taken off.
Our Bean Whisperer notes: “The challenge with iced coffee is that when temperature is reduced significantly, lemon-and-lime characteristics come to the fore and the desirable sweeter notes are suppressed.” It was also found that if CO2 is used to carbonate coffee, it interacts with the sugars creating an unpleasant carbonic acid. Inspired by the idea behind Guinness, to make #nitrocoffee the brew is rather infused with nitrogen – nitrogenating as opposed to carbonating results in a pleasingly sweeter, more rounded taste, and also imparts this velvety smooth texture due to the micro-bubble head formed when poured from a beer tap.
However, quality #nitrocoffee does not just infuse gas when dispensing to the glass, as this is likely to go flat, and is where nitro coffee kegs provide an ideal solution. With the rapid trend in the drinks industry towards #coffeecocktails, in particular #espressomartinis, baristas were battling to produce the espresso quickly enough, as it is ‘live’ and forming a sound head is difficult. Because of the risk of the end product going flat, several bars were looking to resolve the hassle. One such solution was provided by the Bean Whisperer’s Raven Nitro Coffee.
Carrying out his research himself with the help of the owner and head brewer at Dungarvan Brewery, Cormac, he also worked with Winelab on formulating a cocktail – the Raven Espresso Martini – with an alcoholic spirit blend that would also present a good head in bar operations using state-of-the-art cold rooms for all their kegs. Joined by son, Sean, who is industriously following in his footsteps and played a major role in the development of chilling and infusing both the #nitrocoffee and #espressomartini, their concept was one of the first to provide this on-site facility at the bar. All that’s needed is a compressor to maintain pressure so that the gas remains infused in the coffee, freshness is preserved and serving is as easy as possible.
Winelab distribute the Bean Whisperer’s Raven Nitro Coffee and Espresso Martini cocktail kegs in Ireland and together, they’ve also worked out a bag-in-a-bottle concept meaning that it’s 100% recyclable, with the bags returned to Winelab for recycling in the Netherlands. Below are some of the fabulous places to find @RavenNitroCoffee #lifeafterlockdown #postquarantine and tune in next week for Part II of Raven's journeys past, present and future, and a Virgin Mary Bar…
@Anti Social, Dublin
@Spitalfields Pub & Restaurant, Dublin