They take their coffee seriously at Gran Caffe L’Aquila.
The Chestnut Street cafe and restaurant operates its own second-floor roaster, its co-owner is a medal-winning bean man, and the entire place has been modeled on the stylish grand cafes of the owners’ homeland in the Abruzzi region of Italy. On most mornings, the place is a popular destination for Italian expatriates sipping cups of espresso and speaking with an accent you don’t often hear on the streets of Center City, yo.
It’s not exactly known for beer, however.
Which is a shame, because among the cafe’s short list of taps is a brew that reveals the pleasant things that can happen at the intersection of coffee and beer.
Sometimes, coffee-flavored beers are nothing more than that: beer that tastes like someone dumped a half-cup of Joe into your pint while clearing the table. There’s no real thought about how the bitterness of roasted beans is going to play off the flavor of malt and hops.
Gran Gianduiotto gets it right. It’s a rich, dark stout from West Chester’s Levante Brewery, a small, young brewery that ought to be getting a lot more attention from locals.
It was inspired by the Italian chocolates known as gianduiotto. If you had a grandmother who lived in a rowhouse south of Washington Avenue, you’re already familiar with these small, pyramid-like hazelnut-flavored chocolates. They’re the ones wrapped in silver tinfoil that she used to give you after Sunday dinner, remember? If not, think Nutella.
Yes, hazelnut, vanilla, cocoa and coffee is a mouthful when it comes to beer, and it’s worth every glorious moment you’ll spend nursing a glass. None of those flavors dominates by itself; instead, they swim together across the palate in melt-in-the-mouth goodness.
At 11 percent alcohol, this is no morning cup. I’d pair it with a cannoli.
And then consider some of the many other coffee beers on local shelves.
For example, Terrapin Brewing out of Athens, Georgia, is pushing the whole coffee-and-beer thing to a new level with its newly released series of Single Origin Coffee Brown Ale. You’ll find it in mixed four-packs with bottles featuring four different coffee types from Costa Rica, Indonesia, Ecuador (my fave) and Kenya.
With a minimally hopped brown ale as a base, the coffee flavor really steps forward. This is a beer for java junkies.
Other recommended coffee beers:
Joe Coffee Porter from Philadelphia Brewing—the coffee plays off the malt nicely in this easy drinking beer made with fair trade beans.
Stone Enjoy By Coffee & Chocolate—a rare coffee-flavored IPA, released in time for Valentine’s Day.
Ballast Point Mocha Marlin—a coffee-and-chocolate-flavored porter, it’s smooth with a hint of vanilla.
Victory Java Cask—a massively strong (14 percent alcohol) bourbon barrel-aged coffee stout flavored with just a hint of smoke.
Sly Fox Oslo Porter—a London-style porter made with espresso beans from Brooklyn-based roaster Oslo Coffee. Now available on draft in area bars.
Double Nickel Belgian Brown with cascara—made with the skins of coffee beans, to produce a flavor that seems closer to tea than coffee.