Michelle reported last month about Portola Coffee Lab's plans to open Theorem, a small coffee bar next door to their roasting / brewing / alchemy business at Costa Mesa's SoCo Collection. And when I say coffee bar, I mean that in the sense of a craft cocktail bar (minus alcohol) fused with equal parts science lab and coffee theater.
The day has come – Theorem opens its doors Tuesday, September 18th. What can you expect from the mad scientists at the Coffee Lab? You'll get an advanced lesson in the nuances of coffee through a flight of coffee drinks and desserts. No matter what level of expertise you already have, you'll leave appreciating the master-class.
Where an Apple Store has their “Genius Bar,” Portola Coffee Lab has the erudite Truman Severson, who guided us through a media preview two weeks ago. Very rare, small-production beans from the Duromina Cooperative of Western Ethiopia was our star of the evening. The beans were roasted and extracted in different ways that drew out different flavor and aroma characteristics for the drinks that were prepared for us.
We started with a cappuccino with steamed, full-cream raw milk from the Strauss Family Creamery, and the bean's fruity peach and citrus notes were evident and heightened when prepared at the more moderate temperatures used to pull the espresso and steam the milk.
Severson explained that regulating temperatures and extract times are crucial to draw different taste and tactile sensations in the coffee, and explained what coffee professionals watch for when they evaluate beans. Sure enough, the subtleties he described were easily discerned. Had I been served a cup of near-lukewarm cappuccino without the guided tour, would I have picked up on those nuances? Probably not. Lout that I am, I'd be irrationally and ignorantly pissed that I got a “tepid” coffee drink.
Suitably humbled and educated, we moved on to a mixed drink inspired by a gin fizz. Named the Filtron Fizz, Duromina coffee is first drawn with cold water into a concentrated extract. The cold coffee is blended with a honey steeped with grapefruit, citrus, and peaches, blended with egg white and shaken with club soda and served in lab glassware. It's a combination that shouldn't work, but the unusually inventive coffee drink works completely.
We ended on a dessert note with the Liquid Nitrogen Affogato, a science-lab version of the drink that combines vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso. Here, your ice cream is made to order with liquid nitrogen at −321 °F. Severson whisks some over their house-made vanilla cream base in a furious cloud of frozen white nitrogen vapor that threatens to cut off his oxygen at any moment. Just seconds away from passing out, the cloud dissipates, and Severson spoons the instantly-frozen ice cream quenelles into a dish, ready for the espresso to turn it into your cold-and-hot dessert.
Theorem is a small, six-seat bar so each guest can experience the show up close and personal. Reservations are mandatory, and are taken only on their website. Co-owner Jeff Duggan says they're still tinkering with the schedule during the opening, but for now, Theorem will be open from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday (closed Monday).
Theorem by Portola Coffee Lab. 3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa. portolacoffeelab.com/theorem