Favorite

Ryan Wanner of Black Forest's R&R Coffee Café is fond of a wry quote that's common to barista chatter: "Give a man an espresso and he'll be happy for a day. Teach a man to make espresso and he'll be frustrated for a lifetime." Yes, roasting is a perfectionist's profession, and the minutiae of times and temps and tradecraft tricks stands between lame look-alikes and standout sips. The key to a good mocha — our focus this week — is the proper ratio and balance between coffee and chocolate flavor, with a nice creamy mouth-feel. Generally, that's going to be achieved through quality ingredients (good beans, milk and either powdered or syrup chocolate) and a competent drink-maker. A chalky hot chocolate a mocha is not. Read on to see how three other java stops fared.

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Dutch Bros. Coffee

301 E. Colorado Ave., dutchbros.com

For its small-sized mocha ($3.25), Dutch Bros. uses two shots of its proprietary three-bean espresso blend, roasted in Grants Pass, Ore., mixed with the company's own Dutch chocolate milk, "thicker and creamier than what you get in the store," says regional manager Dave Szopa. So no syrup or added cocoa powder, just a focus on time and temperature: an 18- to 22-second window on the shot to avoid weakness on the low end or a burnt flavor on the high end, and milk steamed to 155 degrees for the pour, with a quarter-inch of foam on the top, pre-whipped-cream blast.

That's the idea, anyway. Ours was plenty enjoyable, but did hold a mild burnt note before culminating in a sweet — not overly sweet — cocoa finish. A perfect balance it was not. Matthew Schniper

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Marika's Coffeehouse

739 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-4438, marikascoffeehouse.com

Of the three mentioned here, Marika's has been my go-to, the spot I always recommend to friends. With Farm Crest milk, a gorgeous copper Victoria Arduino machine, beans from Barista Espresso and staff know-how, the drinks have been great, and the mocha even better.

This time, though, with co-owner Christine Georgopoulos at the helm, the single-shot cocoa drink ($3.25/small), made with Ghirardelli Chocolate Co. powder, skipped past anything coffee-like and morphed straight into hot chocolate. Good hot chocolate, yeah: creamy and mellow (though it started to break down into grit the longer it sat). But not a mocha — not a balance of chocolate and espresso and cream. So maybe take Georgopoulos' original recommendation to us: the pumpkin spice latte, which she says is full of secret ingredients and house-made love. Bryce Crawford

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Colorado Coffee Merchants

302 E. Fillmore St., 473-8878, coloradocoffeemerchants.com

It's three shots of house-roasted beans in CCM's mocha ($5.01/20-ounce), which had the most dynamic coffee flavor of the three here — and holy hell is that coffee good— but, just like Anakin Skywalker, it failed to achieve that ultimate goal: balance. (Just not, you know, of the Force.)

Ghirardelli's cocoa powder was the go-to here as well, which was a little bit of a surprise, considering the drink stayed smooth throughout. Unfortunately, there was just very little of it — an aftertaste, maybe, or the hint of cocoa beans underneath all that rampaging espresso.

And we doth not want to protest too much, as the overall flavor topped anything from the other two — providing actual structure to sink your taste buds into, instead of generic hot chocolate-ness. But it's all about that mocha balance, baby, and we just never found it. — Bryce Crawford

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