Mmm Mmm Monday: Caffentures

As temperatures continue to drop and colorful leaves begin to fall, a warm cup of coffee sounds delicious and inviting. Chicago has a vibrant and varied craft coffee scene and a now there's a tour company to introduce us to it. Are you ready to go on a Caffenture?

I connected with Jenn Chen a.k.a. "The Coffee Girl" a few weeks ago on Twitter. We were both participating in a Chicago Ideas Week tweet chat and @Caffentures reached out to say, "Hello." It wasn't long before she invited me to join her for a "caffeinated adventure." (get it? get it? "caffeinated adventure!" Cute, right?)

Jenn Chen the Caffentures Coffee Girl

Chen started Caffentures earlier this year as a way to share her knowledge and love of Chicago's specialty coffee scene. Each crawl provides a unique experience for its participants with a minimum of three caffeinated stops and a tasty educational adventure with a coffee professionals. As described on the Caffentures website, "You typically can not buy this experience in any of these coffee shops."

Last week, I had the chance to attend a Red Line Crawl*. We started our adventure at Intelligentsia Broadway. There, our host Charlie helped us to begin to better understand our palates by offering us some acid.

No. Not that kind.

We tried five different food grade acids to identify the barely distinguishable to my palate differences. At this point it became clear that my palate and I have a lot to learn. This could have been an intimidating experience if hosted by an uppity, hoity-toity crew. Instead they made it challenging, informative and enjoyable.  We also tried two bright and distinctive Intelligentsia coffees (Kangocho Kenya and Debello, Ethiopia) in order to begin to recognize flavor notes.

Refining my Coffee Palate at Intelligentsia

Soooo, I couldn't really. But I was encouraged that this wasn't uncommon. It takes time, practice and concentration to begin to develop this skill. It definitely made me want to begin to refine my palate and keep learning.

Next up, Ch'ava cafe. Here we were introduced to the difference the brewing method makes in your cup of coffee. We started with Intelligentsia roasted Karatina Kenya Peaberries. The shop's expert barristas brewed the beans using a Clover and a Chemex. (...and were very game for a photo shoot)

Clover at Ch'ava Chemex at Ch'ava

Brewing Method Matters
{Clover brewed coffee | club soda to cleanse the palate | Chemex brewed coffee}

It was fascinating to me how two cups of the same type of coffee could taste so different. We were treated to a discussion about brewing methods and once again I was amazed with the care and detail that is taken to create (what I thought) was a simple cup of coffee. At Ch'ava, providing you with the perfect cup of coffee falls somewhere between a mad science experiment and a moving work of art.

We made our last stop of the day at Metropolis Coffee Company. Here we got to watch as a small batch of beans went from green (Did you know they're originally green? I told you I'm a coffee newbie.) to that familiar deep, rich brown. Not only was the Metropolis crew incredibly informative, they were entertaining and fun as well. It's clear they love what they do.

Roasting at Metropolis Chicago Roasting at Metropolis Chicago

We ended the day with a traditional "cupping." (that's what coffee types - and now I - call a coffee tasting) It was a full sensory experience, another opportunity to challenge our taste buds and enough to fully convince me that I'm ready to learn a lot more about this caffeinated world.

Cupping at Metropolis Chicago

I would highly recommend the Caffentures experience to a casual coffee drinker like myself or to a more experienced and knowledgeable coffee aficionado. All the coffee professionals combined both basic and more advanced information to ensure everyone was entertained and challenged. They were open for questions and definitely didn't exude that "I'm too cool for school" vibe I feared I'd encounter.

It is important to note that the tour ended up being four hours instead of the advertised three. Because of the interactive nature of the activities, several conversations and question/answer session went a bit long. This ended up putting us a little bit behind. I'm not certain if this is something that happens regularly or if we were just a chatty bunch.

All in all, it was a great chance to get to visit a few new-to-me coffee shops, learn more than I imagined I ever would about coffee and wet my appetite to learn more soon.

If you're interested in participating in a Caffenture - there is a Blue Line crawl happening this Sunday (October 28th). Visit the Caffentures website for more information and to reserve your spot!

How's your palate? Can you pick out distinctive flavor notes in a cup of coffee?
Or are you a casual drinker (curious to learn more) like me?

*Caffentures was generous enough to provide a complimentary ticket to the Red Line Crawl. But I can assure you all opinions in this post are mine and mine alone.