As a lover of great food, the epicurean dining experience at a fine restaurant is one of life’s magnificent pleasures.
In the spirit of great gourmet food, a complete fine dining experience should embrace all aspects of the meal. This includes the skillful selection and preparation of the food, the use of the freshest premium ingredients, the combination of familiar and new flavors that delight the senses, the pairing of great wine that compliments the food, the arrangement of food courses that guide the palette through the meal from beginning to end, a desert course if you’re up for it that finishes a superb meal with a sweet celebration, and perhaps an after dinner drink or liqueur, and ….
So, at the finest gourmet restaurants, what’s up with the coffee?
So much care and attention is focused on all aspects of the food and wine. At the culmination of a fabulous meal, there’s so much opportunity to introduce a truly gourmet coffee experience, but most of the time, it just doesn’t happen.
Let’s start with the espresso drinks. Preparing truly world class espresso, and the associated popular cappuccino and latte drinks is an art. At most fine restaurants, you typically won’t find a skilled and passionate barista at the espresso station. More often, I find restaurants opt for a super automatic espresso machine, maybe include a proper quality grinder with the setup (usually not), train the help to push the buttons, and turn out pretty average espresso results.
Occasionally, I run into a restaurant that pulls an exquisite double espresso, but my experience at most restaurants is usually a disappointment. I’m actually OK with this. Mastering great espresso is difficult, and most restaurants are not going to invest in the baristas, the training and the equipment to pull it off. I understand this and I can live with it.
But the cup of coffee is another story entirely.
Let’s focus on the drink side of the gourmet dining experience for a moment. Fine dining establishments take great pride in their wine lists. And invest lavishly in the wine cellar. They hire a sommelier to coordinate and attend to all aspects of the wine experience.
Imagine that? A dedicated wine professional and connoisseur to insure that the wine experience meets or exceeds every discerning expectation.
When I’m presented with the desert menu, I often see many choices and opportunities for continuing the gourmet experience on the beverage side. There are wine pairings that enhance the desert and pastry offerings. And on the sweeter side, the Sauternes, the Late Harvests, the Dolces, and even the Ports can pair nicely
Or perhaps the after dinner drink is the dessert. The Ports, the Brandies, the Cognac, and even the Single-malts abound. Many choices with full descriptions on the desert menu. And if the menu doesn’t spell it out, the waiter can usually speak to the full after dinner beverage offerings.
So, why not the coffee?
All of the coffee opportunity in the world, and it usually nets out to “coffee” or “decaf”. The coffee is usually a dark French roast. Which is fine, but that’s the roast. There’s so much more opportunity than a dark roast blend of some kind.
Is there any indication of the coffee itself? Ever try and inquire where the coffee beans are from? Or who the roaster is? Huh? Sorry, didn’t mean to catch you off guard. Just curious.
A waiter at the top of his/her game will make sure I hear about the “fresh black truffles we just got in from Northern Italy yesterday”. Or a full rundown on the Quilcene, Malpeque or Kumamoto oysters on the half shell.
As for the coffee? Ummm, it’s really “good” coffee. “From some artisan roaster, I think”. “Hold on, let me find out for you”. Actually, I’d be impressed if I actually got that much information.
The most attention to the coffee detail is typically “let me make sure there’s a fresh pot brewing”. Of what? Oh yeah, a fresh pot of “coffee”. And what coffee would that be? At least you weren’t going to bring me coffee that’s been sitting there for an hour. You weren’t going to do that, were you?
Here’s what I’m after.
There’s a wonderful range of single origins out there, full of dimension, ready to offer a satisfying taste, flavor and aroma experience at the finish of a fine gourmet meal. As I ponder over a desert menu, I would love to compliment my selection with a choice of single origin coffee pairings.
If I see a tempting cheese cake, I’m fine with the dark French roast (whatever that coffee might be). With an apple or pear tartin, perhaps a dark roast Haitian. Or maybe I’m in the mood for a soft-ripened cheese course, a medium roast Indonesian Java would be a nice compliment. A fresh fruit or berry tart, try a medium roast Kenyan.
Tell me about your coffee selections, and include the single origins. Mix it up, and tempt me with a few surprises. I think I would actually fall out of my chair if I saw a menu selection of single origin offerings from Paradise Roasters , Counter Culture Coffee, or Intelligentsia. To be fair, I know there are a few enlightened fine dining establishments out there that serve and care about great coffee. But we’re talking about far and few between.
Or, better yet, publish a simple coffee insert for the desert menu, and feature two or three outstanding single origins each week. Or put up a coffee selection chalk board. Even more charming. Imagine running across a description like “featuring a Guatemala Huehuetenango – San Vicente Estate Bourbon from Paradise Roasters this week …. a classic Huehuetenango, caramel-like cup, notes of citrus, chocolate, brown sugar, with a tropical wisp of passion fruit and guava”.
Now, go ahead and pair that up with something chocolate, maybe a decadent chocolate souffle. Oh baby, now we’re talkin’ …
And if the fine restaurants aren’t sure there’s a consumer demand for this level of coffee indulgence, then show some epicurean leadership. Fine food, wine, and yes – coffee, are all part of the adventure. We want to learn and experience and expand our culinary horizons. That’s why we show up. Go ahead, dazzle us with a special coffee or food/coffee combination that we’ve yet to experience.
And the preparation doesn’t have to be overly complicated, or require a world class barista to get it right. Bring the single-origin to the table in a French press. A little ritual around the cup and the French press will thoroughly delight me and make me feel special. And impress me that your fine restaurant appreciates the coffee dimension. I’ll be thrilled to discover that you share the coffee passion too!
Admittedly, there’s some technique and technicality around insuring a proper and consistent extraction. So be sure to get the grind right for a French press. And if watching over the optimal steep time is a challenge with too many busy tables to attend to, bring me a small digital timer, set it next to the coffee press, and tell me to push the plunger when the four minutes on the timer expires. It’s perfectly reasonable to allow me to participate in the coffee ritual. In fact, I’ll enjoy it!
Hey, if your truly wonderful fine dining establishment is already on-board with the full coffee experience, please sound off. Leave us a comment below. I’ll be sure to come by and visit next time I’m in town. And I bet our readers at the Gourmet Coffee Zone will show up as well.
Give us the full culinary experience. And please don’t forget to pay some attention to the coffee!