Skip the cream and sugar and go for the salt, or, perhaps you'd prefer a squash and coffee foam or eggnog capsule in a bacon infusion.
I caught a ride to Baltimore today with JP from the Columbia room for Ideas in Food’s Barista and Bartender Experience at Woodberry Kitchen. Alex, from the Ideas in Food blog and upcoming book by the same name, demonstrated the use of agar, gums and carbonization to create different textures as well as the use of different liquids and temperatures for infusion.
One of the subjects that I found most interesting was salt. Rather than seasoning to “taste,” Alex and his wife Aki have worked on finding an ideal proportion of salt to use with drinks and foods. This proportion varies depending on what you are seasoning. A steak needs more salt that a salad, but .5% salt seems to a ballpark for food. Alex and Aki also advocates seasoning cocktails and coffee. Coffee, they assert benefit from seasoning at the .15% level. This brings the coffee’s salinity just beyond the level of saliva. This conclusion was supported by a blind tasting of those of us in attendance. We generally preferred coffee that had been salted in the .1% to .2% range when given samples with varying amounts of salt.
Salt can intensify sweetness, lessen perceived bitterness, yet, unlike most of the other people in the room, I didn’t think that even extremely small quantities of salt enhanced the high quality coffee we were sampling. Perhaps salt would have corrected an overly bitter darker roasted coffee but this coffee had a wonderful balance of sweetness, bitterness and acidity on its own. I also think that I’m really sensitive to salt or minerality in coffee since it is often considered a defect and we work so hard to remove excess minerals from the water with which we brew, but that’s me. It’s odd that I love salted caramel and have been adding salt to hot chocolate for a long time, but salt and coffee remains a turn off.
This allgets my mind spinning on the subjectivity of balance and taste, the role of salt and savory in balancing flavor (or not), how an imbalanced beverage can balance an imbalanced food (e.g. - bitter beer with salty pretzels or a darker roasted coffee with sweet chocolate), and the appropriateness of imbalance in certain contexts. Personally, I’ll grab salt more often when making cocktails and some drinks in which coffee are a component but when I’m having a cup of coffee by itself, I’ll leave the shaker next to the pepper mill.