Intelligentsia Coffee has rolled out a freeze-dried instant version of its signature Black Cat Espresso blend.
The instant Black Cat is also the star ingredient for drinks made by baristas at the company’s new Illumination Bar inside its fully remodeled location in Pasadena, California.
The top-to-bottom remodel of the Old Pasadena location includes a new floor plan, paint, bar layout, lighting and more. The shop is also notable for what it does not include, which is a traditional espresso machine, as all espresso-style drinks are made with the instant base.
“The question was, if I were to make a shot of espresso for a true espresso drinker, what are they going to say to this? Do we even call it espresso?” Lori Haughey, Vice President of Retail at Intelligentsia Coffee, told Daily Coffee News. “There’s the old argument that espresso is a form of brewing, but many people think espresso is, you know, what’s in their cup.”
The freeze-dried granulated Black Cat is produced for Intelligentsia by Swift Cup, the Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based specialty instant coffee manufacturer that has for years also provided the instant version of Intelligentsia’s house blend.
“Swift is fantastic. The way that they are able to capture at the peak of its flavor with the freeze-drying methods that they use — it’s different, but it’s really good,” said Haughey. “[Crema] is where the bitterness is, but you don’t get the crema, so it’s a very different experience, very different mouthfeel, but the flavor is delicious.”
From a high-precision dispenser, baristas at the lab-like Illumination Bar are dosing granules into water inside glass beakers that are stirred by magnetic stir plates. Milk for traditional espresso-style drinks is steamed and textured automatically by La Marzocco Wally milk steamers.
A row of 10 taps dispenses pre-made teas, lattes and cold coffees, some of which incorporate a coffee concentrate brewed on site through a Ground Control batch brewing system that also plays heavily into Intelligentsia’s recent drink R&D.
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A Marco Pour’d font dispenses a single-origin Ethiopia Baridi concentrate made on the Ground Control and combined with water at a 50/50 ratio for a 6-ounce beverage exclusive to the Pasadena location, served in Fellow Stagg Tasting Glasses.
Said Haughey, “The Illumination Bar truly is the coffee bar that we decided would be our playground to experiment, try new things, push limits, try equipment we’ve never done [and] try brewing like we’ve never done.”
In the remodeled cafe, these drinks can be enjoyed under laser-like strips of bright light — illumination bars, as it were — that stretch between the walls. Mirrors additionally bounce light around the space, which includes the pastry case up front, the instant bar in the middle and an area for tea and other drinks toward the back.
“We have so many amazing baristas that have been with us through thick and thin for years through this pandemic, that are passionate about what they do, and I love that for all the right reasons, they were some of the biggest skeptics of what the heck it is we’re doing here,” Haughey said. “So [it’s great] to have them come in and taste it, ask questions and probe and challenge us, and then they see the light of, ‘maybe this isn’t going to be at my coffee bar in Silver Lake, but I understand it, it makes sense and I am proud of this product.'”
The Intelligentsia Illumination Bar is now open at 55 E Colorado Blvd in Pasadena. Tell DCN’s editors about your new coffee shop or roastery here.
Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.