img_0621It was a busy week of catching up at work after vacation, then a busier weekend that included a children's birthday party by the Hudson River, with volunteer activities to benefit the Children for Children Foundation. Then last night it was off to Madison Square Garden for The Dead. It was a great show, musically. There were certainly some aging hippies in the crowd, but most of the audience had a middle-aged suburban feel to it. A lot of people who might have been dancing in the hallways and aisles 20 years ago seemed content to sit in their seats and suck on plastic bottles of Budweiser.

Toward the end of the night, I was thinking more about bedtime than the music never stopping, despite a couple of quick shots of this Intelligentsia espresso blend before the show. I've been drinking it all week.

Let's resume the coffee quest.

Name: Alphabet City Blend

Origin: Direct trade from Brazil

Roasted: April 6 or 9 Intelligentsia.

Purchased: April 13 at Ninth Street Espresso, Chelsea Market, 75 Ninth Avenue, between 15th and 16th Streets.

Description: "This classic, syrupy espresso features flavors of toasted almond and milk chocolate and a gentle citrus flourish in the finish."

In the Cup: Ninth Street Espresso switched to this coffee as its espresso blend in March. The name refers to the shop's main location -- the neighborhood with avenues named by letter (Avenues A, B and C) on the East Side of Manhattan that is sometimes described these days as part of the East Village or the Lower East Side.

Back in the 1980s, when I briefly fancied myself a Deadhead, Alphabet City referred to a scary, rundown area of junkies and crime. Now it's place of condos, indie bars and little shops, and a cute name for coffee. So it goes.

img_0623The coffee is described as a mix of Acaia, Icatu, Catuai, Rubi, Tupi, and Catucai beans grown at 950 to 1350 meters above sea level. Ninth Street's owner, Kenneth Nye, told The Times that Alphabet City Blend is a riff on Intelligentsia’s benchmark espresso, Black Cat, but that the blend would be adjusted soon. Here things get tricky, as there appears to be no single Black Cat espresso, and the blend is continually being adjusted. (See Ken's comment below; he says this blend is all Brazilian).

I don't think it's stretching a metaphor to compare this arcane world to that of Deadheads who used to argue about every variation of songs and set lists back in the old days. Trying to find information online about the relationship of these espresso blends was difficult.

The Black Cat project is related to Intelligentsia, but it has its own site and explains its mission here:

The Black Cat Project™ is by design a pursuit of something we’ll never catch: the perfect espresso in all of its manifestations. But that doesn’t mean we’ll ever stop chasing it. This project is rooted in our belief that espresso brewing is still coffee brewing and that only the best coffees can make the best espressos. We want to push the boundaries on flavor. We want you to experience amazing single origin, Micro-Lot and seasonal espressos with truly distinct flavor profiles that reach far beyond “chocolate” or “caramel”.

If this is close to Black Cat Classic, then this blog post explains the origins of that blend, at least as it stood in October, when this bag was roasted.

The blogger at Black Cat appears to be Kyle Glanville, director of espresso for Intelligentsia, and he explains that blend's origins here:

Brazil, Fazenda Santa Alina (Pulped natural yellow bourbon). Grown in the Grama Valley just outside Pocos de Caldas on the border of Minas Gerais and Sao Paolo state. The Grama Valley is blessed with volcanic soil, solid altitude, and a tremendous amount of sweet, yellow bourbon coffees.

El Salvador, El Borbollon (washed bourbon). This coffee was purchased as part of our “Los Inmortales” project and proves to be a ridiculously perfect compliment to the buttery caramel character of the Santa Alina, dropping in some fresh coffee cherry, citrus, and a floral, heady aroma.

You can expect the Cat to taste a little amped up recently due to the arrival of the new crop Brazil. Deep chocolate, caramel, cherries and citrus. Complete and sweet, just the way I like it.

So, to the Alphabet City tasting. Syrupy, check. Toasted almond, yeah, maybe. Milk chocolate, definitely. Citrus flourish at the finish, I guess so. Someone has been up to some interesting alchemy here, and it may be worth a trip to NInth Street to see how the fresher stuff tastes now, if the formula has been jiggered. It's a great espresso. The greatest espresso ever? This juror is not ready to vote on that. It is certainly the kind of thick, sweet cup, without distracting floral and citrus oddities, that I like as a regular shot. And it's better than 99 percent of what most people accept as good espresso at corporate chains.