I realize that most people probably don’t really care about coffee culture and all the things we do behind the scenes. Most of our customers just want what they paid for to taste good and all the other stuff we tell them is just extra info. Sometimes it’s disheartening that all the effort we put into finding info on, or putting effort into i.e.; processing, farms and coops, roasting, cupping, brewing techniques and everything that it took to make that coffee taste so good is lost or forgotten. All this makes it extra special when someone notices the thoughtful care we put into a beverage and that’s really something we love.
We had the privilege of joining a special Redlands Art Walk weekends ago that included a chocolate and coffee fair and then a competition to showcase some of our products and also collaborate with a chocolate company on a specialty chocolate and coffee beverage. Our friends Augies and Parliament put the event on and paired us up with an awesome company from Brooklyn called Raaka Chocolate. We were pretty excited about the opportunity, especially having a chance to showcase a new beverage we’ve been dreaming up for a while. Mocktails have been something fun we’ve been experimenting with and it seems like there’s been a pretty positive response. We sold out of our Mint Mojito in just 24 hours and the Old Fashioned sold out within the first 2 weeks and they are some of the most ordered drinks at our pop-up. This was the drink to use as our signature drink. About 1 1/2 months previous to the event I had taken a barrel I used for aging whiskey and filled it with cold brew. It was just a random experiment to see what we could do with it and how it complimented (or ruined) the cold brew. We had sampled it the week before the competition and it was incredible. The nose had tons of whiskey in it and the flavor was like a warm coffee stout, with notes of orange, and some characteristics of the barrel. We had no idea if this would work as a mocktail but it was worth the try.
The rules were that our team had 1 hour to make the following: one chocolate thing using ingredients from a local farm in Redlands, make one coffee drink again using produce from the local farm, and a combined chocolate and coffee beverage to collaborate on. The ingredients list was extensive. Persimmons, pears, apples orange, herbs like rosemary, thyme, and tons of other veggies and fruits. The plan was to try and take aspects of our Old Fashioned mocktail and a drink I’ve grown to really enjoy, Mint Julep, and mix them together with the Barrel Aged Cold Brew acting as the alcohol. We made two simple syrups for our drink. We chose orange, chocolate mint, spearmint and a cinnamon basil from the list of ingredients. Nate (the chocolate magician) made some type of Basil confet and chocolate with his miso maple chocolate. It was superb and a fantastic pairing for our drink with the basil. I’m sure you've seen the cooking competition shows like Iron Chef, where they have a limited amount of time to plan prepare and execute on a meal. It's always a fun thing to watch when you have nothing else to do and I assumed this would have some similarities with that and some similarities to the barista competitions we’ve been participating in over the past few years but I was not prepared for the stress that comes from executing under a high level of pressure. We brought all of our products to the staging area and setup. The timer began and we were off. Joey started on the syrups while Kyle and I went to dial in the espresso for our mocha. The shots of our Fall Espresso were pulling nicely. Some nice dark chocolate with subtle tones of plums and citrus. We took some of Nate’s miso maple chocolate and made tested our ratio of chocolate to espresso. We landed on a 30 grams of chocolate to 36 grams of espresso with 12 ounces of milk. It was perfect, but with the basil on top, it tied all of our drinks together very nicely. The first syrup turned out great, but we felt it needed more orange. It had the nice presence of mint and the orange rind came through, but the sweetness of the orange was missing. With a few more orange slices we found the perfect balance. Next, we started on the basil simple syrup where we used the cinnamon basil. It had the normal characteristics of basil with this wonderful spice at the end. Joey mixed the drink. Barrel Aged Cold Brew with mint, orange and basil simple syrup with an orange garnish-it was marvelous. Each note stood on its own but complemented the other. We couldn’t believe how well everything was coming together. We were ready with almost 30 minutes to spare but our partner Nate was struggling with his basil confet to freeze. We waited with him and helped as best as we could and then he decided to forgo his original plan of making molds of the confet and decided to go with truffles. While he finished, the clock was ticking down...10 minutes left and we needed to start on our mochas. I went outside to start and realized our chocolate had hardened up. I couldn’t believe it! We went back inside to get the chocolate from Nate, but he had turned the machine off and the chocolate wasn’t ready for us anymore. He quickly turned the machine back on to melt the chocolate and we started racing against the clock. Kyle pulled the first shot, and I grabbed the bowl of chocolate. We made the first drink and the basil sat on top of the steamed milk perfectly looking gorgeous. Then they started counting down from 40 and I had 2 more drinks to make. Kyle pulled shots, Joey added the chocolate and I steamed the milk. 10 seconds! I added the basil and it sunk to the bottom of the glass…whomp whomp. We served it and started on the final drink. "3…2…1" and we only had mixed the chocolate and espresso. We felt as sad as that basil looked at the bottom of the mocha. The judges graciously gave us a few more seconds to steam and finalize the last drink and it was all over.
We moved to the judges table and started our unrehearsed presentation of what was before them and why we chose each ingredient. We briefly spoke about the mocha, but I could tell they weren’t that interested after having a few sips they stopped and so we moved on to the next portion where Nate talked about his chocolate. Now things started getting interesting, they were taken back by his miso maple chocolate. It was savory and sweet, the perfect balance between the two. And the basil was a perfect addition to the combo. They spoke for a few more minutes and then we mixed their drinks for the coffee portion. We talked about the different ingredients and why we chose them, how so many shared moments are over coffee and some type of alcohol and then we served their drinks. They were all pretty silent for a while, but sipping the cocktail often. I couldn’t tell by their face if they liked it or not. Either this was going horribly or they loved it. Finally one of the judges broke and said “this is…well…I shouldn’t say because I don’t want to influence either of their opinions.” They asked so many questions about how we barrel aged the coffee and what the process of everything was. They were intrigued and we could tell now they were genuinely just wanting to know what this thing in their hand was. At one point the judges actually cheered with the cups. the judge who broke earlier said, “off the record this is incredible.” We smiled and thanked him. A few more questions and we gave a final thank you and left; high fiving each other as we walked away. If that wasn’t a winner, then I don’t know what else we could have done to take it home.
At the awards banquet we quickly forgot the feeling we had before and were doubting our drink. We were competing against some pretty remarkable coffee programs like Augies, Modern Times and Bodhi Leaf. They called us all to the front to announce. Joey and I stood there confident in our performance but wondered if it was enough. The judge started talking about the winning beverage, "This was by far the most unique thing we have ever had.” And then she said it, “the winner is, Arcade!” We were stoked honored and pleased that they noticed the detail and thoughtful care we put into this beverage for them. For us, that was truly special and a moment we will always remember. Onto the next adventure!