It’s not a new thing to put coffee in mead, but we’ve never heard of putting mead in coffee – until now. The new trend in the coffee world of infusing coffee with flavors of fine alcohol like bourbon and mead using a process called “cask-conditioning,” not to be confused with the process that a lot of craft beers are going through these days.
To cask-condition the coffee to take on the flavor of the spirits, the green coffee beans are aged in barrels that once contained alcohol. The young, impressionable beans absorb the flavors and aromas. The thought came to Jim Townley of Fresh Cup Roastery in Saanichton, British Columbia while he puzzled after a way to capture a bit of BC’s fervor for craft brew in his coffee brewing methods.
The Coffee Pioneer Spirit
“Back in the 1600s to 1700s, coffee used to be shipped in barrels and some of those were spiced or at one time carried alcohol,” says Townley. “In those days, the coffee was thrown out, thinking it was ruined.” Because of how quickly it absorbs flavors, green beans are usually shipped in very clean containers. Luckily, Townley wondered what would happened if the barrels had previously been used to age something else.
After six months of ironing out the process, Townley and his crew figured out how to neutralize the booze barrels in order to best infuse the flavor, and then figured out which booze would be best.
This past Christmas season, Fresh Cup offered mini-growlers packed full of roasted beans that had been infused with Tugwell Creek’s amber rum, bourbon, and honey mead. He has plans to try out more flavors.
How does the mead coffee taste?
As delicious as you’d expect: it scored 93 points from Coffee Review. The notes describe its flavor:
“fruit-toned spirits, crisp roasted cacao nib in aroma and cup, velvety mouh feel, long persistent finish.”
Will we see more?
While Townley is the first we’ve heard of to try mead, he’s not the first to age coffee in spirit barrels. A handful of American coffee pioneers have also been experimenting with cask-conditioning in recent years, including Ronnie Haas of Ceremony Coffee in Annapolis, Maryland.
Haas heard about a bar that was barrel-aging Manhattans, and thought – “what if?”
The Ceremony roasting team got a few mellow, super balanced coffees and aged them in wine barrels. The result was an explosion of “raspberry jam and red-candy notes.” As he says, “they popped.”
A Very “Old World” Concept
Other roasters are discovering the process as well, and almost always, they’re inspired by local drinking trends. Kyle Hodges of Dark Matter Coffee in Chicago watched local microbreweries using their coffee in their porters and stouts, and thought it would work the other way around. It did, with delightful effect – “it was an instant hit,” Hodges says, “displaying aromatic notes of coconut, vanilla and grape candy.”
As Hodges explains, this “is not a New World concept – it’s very Old World.” Back when coffee was being transported around the globe in the 17th and 18th centuries, they’d use the barrels they had, which had previously held many different types of strongly flavored food and drinks.
Get excited, coffee drinkers who are also mead and bourbon drinkers – our day has finally arrived.