Actually, Mandy Aftel is not a coffee person. She's a scent person. But coffee has scents (boy does it), and I met Mandy at a coffee event and well... let me explain.
A little while ago an old friend in the coffee business asked me if I could speak at an event at the New York Botanical Garden, and I happily accepted. All summer the NYBG has been hosting Edible Evenings, focusing on the intersection of plant life and food (a mighty big intersection, that). Last Thursday was their Coffee and Tea evening. I was to speak on coffee, and speaking on tea was Mandy Aftel.
Now, Mandy's not coffee person, as I said. But actually she's not necessarily a tea person either. What she loves more than anything though, and what she is expert in, are natural perfumes. The first time I spoke to her on the phone she gave me an impassioned speech on the evils of synthetic aromas until I admitted surrender and granted that, yes, natural perfumes are far superior. Naturally.
One beverage that gets perfumed constantly, of course, is tea. At the Botanical Garden event, Mandy passed around scent strips with synthetic and natural versions of different scents (jasmine, rose, etc). Then she passed around samples of different oolong teas, scented with different combinations of lovely scents like mint, jasmine, and turkish rose. It was a real eye-opener to smell the difference that naturally-derived perfume can make.
It was my first trip to the Botanical Garden (this is the big one up in the Bronx that is practically its own National Park, not the smaller but still lovely one in Brooklyn that I have visited several times). It's a lovely setting for events such as this one, or just a great place to wander around. I wish I had had more time to wander the the grounds... I guess I will just have to go back another lovely evening.
(Daniel giving his talk. photo by Maria Diaz.)
Of course, in coffee, we don't want any additives, natural or otherwise. Just coffee, heat, and water please. In my presentation, I spoke about the vast panoply of different aromas in coffee, and where they come from. My friend and colleague David Latourell was on the spot with some impeccable coffees from Honduras and Ethiopia for people to taste and smell.
It's important to remember that coffee is a seed. As a seed, it packs a ton of different organic compounds into a tiny package, to serve as nutrition for a growing plant. We're talking fats, acids, proteins, sugars, etc. That means that when you roast it up and brew it, there is more complexity in that little package than you can shake a flavor wheel at. I'd be interested to know what the total chemical complexity of tea is versus coffee before additives, given that tea is a leaf and coffee is a seed. I'm out of my element to speculate on that, but of course you won't be surprised if I say I wouldn't be surprised to learn that coffee is much more complex.
Being around Mandy Aftel for a couple of hours gets one thinking in these directions. She's done lots of interesting work with various chefs, perfumers, food scientists and yes, coffee people. I've got one of her Natural Perfume Wheels at my side as I type this. In one category, "Floral," she has four sub-groups: Heavy, Soft, Sharp, and Green. And within those groupings, reading from Heavy to Green, I see tuberose, ylang ylang, champa, jasmine, orange flower, orris, cassie, rose, mimosa, lotus, frangipani, marigold, kewda, osmanthus, davana, neroli, ginger lily, violet leaf, linden blossom, lavender absolute, and geranium.
I have a lot to learn. Thanks Mandy and NYBG.