Of shrubs and espresso
Shrubs are a cocktail ingredient, but why stop there? That’s what Caitlin “Corky” Corcoran, a barista at Parisi Artisan Coffee, figured. So she’s now combining all manner of fruits, vinegars and sweeteners into shrubs, and then matching them with espresso.
“The cafe’s been letting me go wild,” Corcoran says.
And for good reason. Corcoran first tasted coffee when she was a toddler, stealing sips from her mother’s cup. She’s been in love with the stuff ever since, working as a barista for the last 9-1/2 years and recently qualifying for the U.S. Barista Championship competition, to be held in Portland, Ore., this weekend.
Her entry isn’t so much a drink as it is a tasting menu that explores espresso’s bitter, sweet and acidic characteristics. She starts with a straight-forward Parisi-roasted Guatemalan espresso with bright green apple at the start, followed by walnut bitterness. The second round is sweet, topped with a dollop of foam to highlight the espresso’s vanilla and caramel notes.
But it was Corcoran’s third “course” that captivated me. Her signature drink pairs a half-ounce of apple-honey shrub with one shot of espresso—something you’d think would clash, but that instead it brightens the beans, lifting each sip to bring out the fruit and nuts.
It would be interesting stuff, even if it was Corcoran’s only shrub. It’s not. She’s been playing with shrubs for months, and when I stopped by a couple weeks ago there were five jars lined up on the counter.
First was her apple-honey for the competition, this time a combination of Pink Lady apples, Champagne vinegar infused with more apples and honey. Then came apple mint (also with Champagne vinegar and honey), beet (red beets, beet-infused red wine vinegar and brown sugar), blueberry-lavender-honey and a strawberry-brown sugar shrub made with an 8-year-old Casa Rinaldi balsamic vinegar.
None of these is on the café’s menu, but Corcoran hopes to serve them as savory Italian soda-style drinks this summer. In the meantime, she just enjoys sharing her shrubs with regular customers, friends, staff and KC’s bartenders.
So how does Corcoran make them? She prefers the cold process, combining equal parts fruit and sweetener in a sterilized container and leaving it to macerate for four to five days. She purees the fruit, strains it and then weighs the juice. To that, she adds an equal weight of vinegar (usually infused with the same fruit to add another layer of flavor), stirs well and then bottles.
To make a savory soda, Corcoran mixes 1 ounce shrub with about 9 ounces of club soda. Or, to copy her “sig drink,” mix 1/2 ounce shrub with 1 shot of espresso. It wowed me. Let’s hope it does the same for the judges this weekend.