A week or so ago, I was driving up to work at Recklesstown Farm Distillery in Columbus when I happened to see one of those large swaying banner flags at the edge of a gas station that read, “Today’s Coffee Flavor: Espresso!” Well now. Am I the only one who finds the idea of a gas station espresso to be a bit of an oxymoron? I doubt that I am, but I can’t say that with absolute certainty. What I can say, however, is that Andrea and Ernesto Illy, father and son chairmen respectively of Illycaffé, would most definitely agree with me. Illycaffé, or just Illy, was founded in Italy in 1933 and remains a family controlled business that specializes in espresso and markets to 140 countries worldwide. Their annual revenue is over 600 million euros, and in 1999, they established the University of Coffee, Unicaffe, in Naples, an institution dedicated to coffee education and research. According to Ernesto Illy, “the quintessential expression of coffee is espresso.” Andrea takes that concept one step further by stating that “espresso is a miracle of chemistry in a cup” and “coffee is the official beverage of culture.” If we consider our favorite morning drink in these terms, I think that most of us would see the possibility of finding either a miracle or culture at a mini mart along Route 206 to be a highly unlikely one. But what if we happen to have an overwhelming desire for an espresso just as we read the words on that banner flag? Will any cup that we can get our hands on suffice at that point? I wonder.
All of these thoughts of the perfect espresso and its fast food equivalent made me remember Alice Waters and the pioneering work she did in California as one of the founders of the slow food movement here in the United States. In the introduction to her book The Art of Simple Food, which lives right on my kitchen counter, Waters calls the transformation she helped bring about her “delicious revolution,” reminding us that “food tastes naturally delicious when it has been grown with care, harvested at the right moment, and brought to us immediately, direct from the producer. But food like this is not just the privilege of a restaurant like Chez Panisse… anyone can buy it.” Waters encourages us to seek out farms and markets where we can carefully select and purchase this exact kind of food and prepare it lovingly for ourselves and our families in our own kitchens, without being rushed or worried about what we have to do next. In this way, preparing slow food becomes synonymous with living the ever elusive slower life, the one in which we take the time to cultivate an appreciation for the things that awaken our senses and ultimately stir our souls. She would adamantly tell us that if we intensely desire an espresso, the only one that will truly suffice in that moment is the one that we prepare in this same slow and loving way, with meticulous attention to detail and a deep regard for our local coffee roaster.
Isn’t it true though that every time we attempt to slow down the pace of our lives, we end up finding it nearly impossible to sustain our efforts? That’s what makes it so elusive. I think that many of us agree that one of the silver linings of the pandemic was the fact that we were forced to pare our activities down to only the bare essentials, while being given the time and opportunity to relish in the moments and people that really mattered. But the fast lane appeared in front of us again, and we’re back to running from one thing to the next, and while we now have a greater appreciation for the concept behind any kind of slow movement, we still have difficulty finding a place for slowness in our lives. Yet this difficulty is the very thing that makes taking the time to prepare the perfect cup of espresso or the most soul satisfying pot of soup so very important. If we accept that slowing down certain areas of our lives is essential to forging human connections and finding deeper meaning, we must also acknowledge that the steps we take towards the pursuit of slowness have to be reasonable. If they aren’t, then we are doomed to fail each and every time. We have responsibilities and busy agendas that juggle and balance, topple and re-stack, but there are moments, albeit in some cases infinitesimal ones, where we can allow slowness to bring the treadmill to a halt, even if only for a short period of time. We can wake up every morning and count out exactly 50 coffee beans, grind them to a medium fineness, place the moka on the stove, fill it appropriately with filtered water, arrange the coffee in a pyramid shaped pile with three holes poked in it, heat the water gently until right before it finishes coming into the top chamber, wait, pour, stir, and finally drink. All in good time and without a single gas station in sight.
For today’s cocktail, I had no other choice than to create a drink that included espresso as an ingredient, and this provided me with the perfect opportunity to talk about one of this month’s offerings on our RFD menu: the Livewire Martini. When I approached the idea of making this cocktail, I knew that I wanted to develop something that hinted at the seasonal spices that are ubiquitously present during this time of the year. I also wanted to use an espresso demerara syrup in the drink made from one part espresso and one part Sugar in the Raw, rather than a coffee flavored spirit, because I wanted a smoother, richer, and deeper flavor. I brought the spice component into the cocktail by using our Lonely Tractor spiced rum as the base, along with two dashes of our aromatic bitters that we make in house, and our Dust Settler vodka to keep the drink from being overwhelmed by spice. Our coffee beans are sourced locally at Evermore Coffee Roasters in Burlington City, owned by Lauren and Ryan Vaxmonsky, and the name Livewire refers to their espresso blend. The end result of bringing these different components together is a coffee cocktail that is the perfect accompaniment to this holiday season. The process of making cocktails will always capture and express the idea of the slow food movement for me. It requires precise measures, deep regard for ingredients, and deliberate steps that cannot be rushed or skipped over. When the shaker is finally emptied into the glass, there is a pause when, as bartenders, we think “I made this for you,” and we momentarily find connection and meaning in the fact that we did. Cheers everyone. Happy Friday! Come out to RFD this weekend and join us for a Livewire Martini!
1.5 oz RFD Lonely Tractor Spiced Rum
1 oz RFD Dust Settler vodka
1.5 oz espresso DEM syrup
2 dashes house made aromatic bitters
20 sec hard shake over ice.
Double straining a cocktail glass.
Garnish with three coffee beans.