Posted by: ben | August 5, 2009

national espresso

RedEspressoHeader(title with apologies to The Divine Comedy. oh yes we did!)

Dan: Undeterred by the Adagio rooibos we almost immediately ventured further into new territory by making some more. This one is a little different again though. Redespresso have made purportedly the world’s first Rooibos tea espresso. Now I’m not a coffee drinker and have therefore never drunk anything that has been described as ‘espresso’, regardless of whether it’s tea or not. I’m also a little skeptical as to why you’d need to make tea in an espresso form. Making it for the sake of ‘cafe culture’ doesn’t seem that strong a reason to me, but I’m all for anything that gets people drinking tea.

Ben: I’m the only one of the two of us that actually has a proper espresso machine so it falls to me to prepare the brew.

(Also I have had espresso before. Honestly! Dan’s not especially cosmopolitan, what with this, the fact that he’d never heard the Velvet Underground and Nico album we had on at the time and the ‘I’ve never had iced tea‘ thing from the other week. Tsk.)

Right: redespresso; left: adagio

Right: redespresso; left: adagio

Normally when I make espresso I tamp the grounds down quite firmly to make the brew quite pokey. Naturally, that’s what I did here too. I filled the holder with the redespresso grounds, tamped it down and set it going. I considered the grounds in comparison to the leaves from the Adagio stuff we tried before – much, much more fine but still obviously rooibos. At times when spooning the grounds from bag to espresso machine they gave off a very evident plume of dust, showing how fine the grounds are.

As I was pondering this, I looked at the heating machine. Tamping down the tea was a huge mistake. Steam was coming out of every possible gap in the equipment – some brew had come through into the chamber but things hadn’t worked as they normally would. Ah! Explosion imminent! I turned off the machine, poured the brew and opened the machine as quick as I could to let the steam escape.

Ah yes. Leaves expand a bit, don’t they?

The brew is really, really thick – almost syrupy in fact. Perhaps unastonishingly, it looks like espresso. It smells like sweet, cornflakey rooibos but it looks like espresso.

I pass a cup to Dan. Oh Christ, I think. He’s going to hate this.

Dan: Okay, first things first: I hate coffee.

Preparing to brew

Preparing to brew

I can’t stand it. At all. And this drink isn’t going to change my mind in the slightest.

The initial sip provided the only reaction I needed: a horrible bitter shock. It’s thick, it’s very coffee, and it’s strong. I reeled with horror and grimaced – this is not for me.

Ben: He really did. It was brilliant. I’m sad that I didn’t have the camera out at that point.

Dan: I got a bit of a chocolate flavour as the taste sank in but it was still a coffee-chocolate. After it had been watered down with some boiling waterI took another sip (dammit, I’m trying, and trying hard to find something to like) but it was to no avail. The flavour was weaker although not by enough to change my mind. It’s still coffee-ish and as I said before: I can’t drink coffee. Sorry – maybe a coffee drinker would be more able to provide an unbiased review:

Ben: We make it quite clear in the about pages that we’re amateurs and I’d like to reinforce our amateurness here. We don’t really do reviews as such, just observations on things as we try them. An hour before trying this we tried rooibos for the first time ever. It’s really, really unfair to judge this in the light of that – we’re not used to red bush tea, Dan hates espresso and I’m panicky that my espresso pot nearly exploded.

Very much like coffee - thick and strong

Very much like coffee - thick and strong

What do I think of the redespresso? It’s not bad. It’s thicker than normal coffee espresso but it’s very much a tea – it’s got a slight blackcurrant taste to it and has a lovely rooibos aroma.

The problem is that it’s not really something I’d want to drink that often. There’s next to no caffeine in it and having a decaffeinated espresso is like asking for sugar-free ice cream. It’s not got the immediate hit of strength that coffee espresso has, nor does it have the lingering pep on the tongue. Two or three minutes after drinking there’s a dusty, clammy taste on the tongue and no sense of increased alertness.

On its own, I flat out do not like it. However I can see the possibilities of the drink. It’s not great as an espresso but I bet it’d be awesome made into a cold drink with apple juice or used as a flavouring in a sponge cake. It feels more like an ingredient rather than something to enjoy alone which is a bit of a shame really.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has experimented with redespresso. I imagine there’s all sorts of creative things you could do with it – but what?

Ben and Dan were tasting redespresso, available for £8.95 for 250g from Zulu Lounge.

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