On a recent trip to Santa Ana's Cost Plus World Market, I made my way to the back coffee wall, as coffee addicts tend to do. Peeking out at me, beneath the sea of French vanilla and butterscotch-flavored coffee grounds, was a curious dark green package with friendly, if not slightly psychedelic hand-drawn script. The bag read "absinthe flavored ground coffee".
Produced by San Francisco-based Mavericks Coffee, the grounds advertised a litany of botanicals that flavored the beverage — fennel, wormwood, Angelica, Hyssop and other herbs worthy of a new age, healing crystal shop. Cartooned French gimmicks — red windmills, the Eiffel Tower, a mustachioed man in a beret — surrounded by a green haze, covered the packaging. Signs on the shelf read "75% off," making the coffee $2. Bizarre and cheap, how could I not buy the bag.
My experience with the mythical elixir named absinthe is admittedly limited.
My only taste of the stuff came from a Listerine-green $14 bottle labeled "Absinth Superiore," while good absinthe tends to be upwards of $50 a bottle in the states. Absinthe turns an opalescent, milky green when louched (diluted with ice water to bloom the botanicals and oils). It tastes primarily of licorice, due to fennel and anise, and often leaves your tongue and lips tingling. It fueled the creativity of many 19th century greats, like Vincent Van Gogh and Wilde, as it could provide hallucinatory highs, due either to the psychoactive capabilities of wormwood or severe alcohol poisoning, depending on who you ask. As obscene amounts of coffee provide my creative fuel, I saw potential in a mashup.
That was premature optimism, it turns out.
At first whiff, the grounds smell like mint and dark roast coffee. I've had decent mint lattes before. I could go for this, I naively thought. The scent, however, lingers in your nose, building toward a shudder-inducing earthy stench, reminiscent of sweet dirt. It's potent and altogether unpleasant, coating your throat like the air in a Yankee Candle shop.
I whipped out my Aeropress– one of the better home coffee brewing system. Whipping is the operative word here: I knew these beans required beating into submission. The Aeropress generally produces a smooth, flavorful cup of coffee in under a minute. If it couldn't make this coffee palatable, nothing could.
And at first, everything was going okay. Thankfully for my nostrils, the scent of the brewed coffee was greatly subdued. It still smelled faintly of mouthwash and coffee, but it didn't make me want to gag. That is, until I tasted it. The building, lingering scent of the grounds translates into a lingering flavor, where it seems drinkable until it punches your gag reflex with a blend of licorice and bitter coffee that, well, lingers. (Cue The Cranberries 90's hit "Linger"). My expression shifted from cringing, to pensiveness, to actual gagging as I processed what this coffee was doing to me.
A glutton for punishment, I added some gingerbread coffee creamer I had in the fridge. I thought it could temper the coffee's intensity, or at least mask the flavor with sugar, like Starbucks.
Have you ever wondered what mouthwash might be like if it were more bitter and creamy? If so, this coffee is only $2 at Cost Plus World Market.
To Mavericks Coffee's credit, this does taste like absinthe and coffee. That's the problem: the distinctive, acquired taste of absinthe is too overpowering to meld with dark, bitter coffee. The two beverages come from different sides of the tracks. They can't be friends. This is not The Breakfast Club. Simple Minds isn't going to show up. I will try to forget about you.
Which brings me to another point: How the hell am I supposed to drink this for breakfast? With absinthe, at least, I can get thoroughly, blissfully intoxicated. It's compensation for the drink's slightly off-putting flavor, which I don't altogether dislike on its own.
Absinthe flavored coffee, however, blends earthy botanicals and unyieldingly strong coffee to presumably ninja-kick you into alertness. It might work for you, if you're the kind of person who enjoys waking up to ice water thrown on your face, or car alarms next to your window.