Espresso and Mocha – A Love Story

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s time to start planning some romantic encounters.  In order to avoid the cliché of chocolate and flowers and yet incorporate your lust for coffee all in one, turn to the most romantic of all coffee beverages, the velvety marriage of rich chocolate, creamy milk and smooth espresso: the mocha.  According to internet science, not only is chocolate an aphrodisiac, it also contains anti-oxidants that combat cancer.  It has the power to first, get us in the mood, and second, bring us closer together, since a bowl of mocha is better when shared than a demitasse of single origin espresso… and lasts longer too.  If you’re looking to steam up your Valentine’s date, whisper sweet nothings over a hot mocha.

If you’re like me, you naturally look for ways to incorporate coffee into every area of your life.  If I’m about to clean the house, I brew a batch; if I’m out with friends, I’ll enjoy an espresso porter; and, especially if I need to capitalize on a romantic moment with a nightcap, I’ll order a mocha.  Since I love chocolate almost as much as I love coffee, I’ll hit up one of the tastiest spots in town.  Café El Diablo of Upper Queen Anne in Seattle prepares one of my favorite blends of chocolate, milk, and espresso.  

El Diablo is a Cuban inspired café that showcases their hot Latin style with authentic ingredients.  I learned the secrets to their mocha making when I sat down with Bre, a veteran barista of El Diablo.  Bre showed me a little red and yellow hexagonal shaped box with stacked discs of chocolate.  This is Ibarra chocolate from Jalisco, Mexico.

First of all, Ibarra is a type of ‘table chocolate’ often used in cooking ingredients for Mexican cuisine such as mole sauce.  Its distinct characteristic of undissolved granulated sugar makes table chocolate better for cooking than eating straight, although Ibarra is also good to eat straight out of the box.  In a beverage, the gritty texture from the sugar creates a mouthfeel contrary to the silky smooth style of traditional drinking chocolates.  Furthermore, Ibarra blends cinnamon in the chocolate that balances the sweetness with a unique and flavorful dryness.  Another reason why Ibarra is so delicious is due to the cocoa liquor.  Cocoa liquor is made from melted cocoa beans that have already been fermented, dried and roasted.  The liquor is pure cocoa mass in liquid form and comprised mostly of cocoa butter or fat.   

Behind the scenes, preparing this special drink takes a little bit of time and muscle.  When Bre preps the chocolate for the day, she heats up each disc just slightly enough to make smashing them with a hammer a little easier on her sensitive barista wrists.  The chunks are tossed into a blender until a fine dust remains and the process is repeated until the desired powder is achieved.  This is the foundation of the Latin inspired drink.  

The espresso used for this tasty treat is the El Diablo Espresso Blend roasted by Tony’s Coffee of Bellingham, Washington.  Continuing the café’s theme, it’s made of Fair Trade Organic Mexico and Fair Trade Organic Colombia Excelso.  In fact, El Diablo only uses this espresso blend for their Latin inspired drinks while employing a different Tony’s Coffee espresso blend for core café drinks.

When making this mocha, Bre suggests pouring two shots of hot espresso over ½ to 1½ ounces of crushed Ibarra chocolate, depending on the size of the beverage, in order to melt and congeal it.  Steamed whole milk is added to the espresso-chocolate mixture and poured with latte art, or topped with house-made vanilla bean whipped cream upon request.   The mochas are presented with a dusting with Ibarra chocolate around the rim.  

When you drink this mocha, the sugar granules from the dusting hit your tongue first and give you an immediate reminder that this is a delicate dessert beverage.  The Ibarra chocolate shines through the espresso and milk while the cinnamon compliments the sweetness.  The fattiness of the whole milk and the dry semi-sweetness of the cinnamon balance the beverage while the espresso creates the rich, full body coffee component.  The mouthfeel is more reminiscent of a malted milkshake than a traditional mocha, which I enjoyed, allowing the stoneground chocolate to be palpable in the cup.  It’s sweet and dry, velvety and grainy, and seamlessly infused with rich espresso.  

Now, if you know true Latin chocolate beverages, you know they’re made with an ingredient I haven’t mentioned yet… cayenne pepper.  The hot spice isn’t used just to exfoliate your sinus cavities, it helps balance the sometimes overpowering sweetness of the drink.  El Diablo uses a ‘barista dash’ of cayenne pepper upon request – some dashes are bigger than others – for customers who like to kick their coffee beverages up a notch.  In order to please most, the cayenne pepper version is not the default mocha nor extra charge.  

This spicy sweet cup is an even more interesting experience – it has all the chocolate flavor of the original mocha; the espresso still plays its role; but, the fiery tones combat the sweetness just enough to confuse your taste buds while waking up your senses.  For a spice wimp like myself, I completely enjoyed the spicy instigation that propelled me sip after sip to finish the cup.

If I were to make this drink at home, I would make it exactly how Bre makes it.  Start with two triangles of Ibarra per cup, that’s about a one ounce for a 12 ounce drink.  If you have a circular hand-operated cheese grinder, the Ibarra will crush nicely in a manner of minutes.  Another option would be to crush it with a mallet or wine bottle or any hammer-like object you have available and then toss it in a blade grinder until its fine dust.  

Place the Ibarra or whatever chocolate you’d like to use in a latte cup.  Steam 12 ounces of whole milk and pull two shots of espresso.   Drop the shots on the chocolate and swirl around vigorously to create a homogenized mass.  Pour the steamed milk over the mix and draw the best heart, leaf, rosetta, swan, or abstract art that you desire.  If you have any chocolate dust left over, you can sprinkle some around the rim of the cup for added flare.  If you’d like to kick it up a notch and want to use cayenne pepper, you can either shake some in with the powdered chocolate before you add the espresso or add it to the milk before you steam it.  Either way will work, just clean off the steam wand really well so it doesn’t get clogged.

Perhaps the Latin style mocha should be consumed by love birds who wish to carry the heat long into the night this Valentine’s Day.   Just how hot you want to make your mocha, or your Valentine’s Day is up to you…


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