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Friday, July 27, 2012

Taylor's Tonics Cafe Azteca

I was born in Topeka, Kansas. To the great surprise of many people I meet, I actually have many good feelings and memories of my hometown and state. Kansas is a lovely place, and Topeka has a certain charm. That's not to say it doesn't have its own unique problems*, but I enjoyed growing up there.

I now live in north San Diego County, and when I discuss my history with people who live around here, I notice an odd thing. None of them are all that surprised that I have good memories of Topeka.

What shocks them is that I have good memories of living in Los Angeles.

I openly acknowledge that L.A. has some serious issues. It suffers from major traffic problems, parts of it have unpleasant climate, the air quality could be better, etc., etc. Yes, I know. On the other hand...Los Angeles has just about every possible language, culture, and food within 20 minutes of wherever you live. When we lived in UCLA's graduate student housing (West LA), our complex had a mix of people who spoke English, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Egyptian Arabic, French, and Chinese (not sure which dialect). The incredibly cosmopolitan nature of the city presents unlimited opportunities. It's a wonderful place to live, if you like that sort of thing.

My wife's family is partially Mexican, and so I've learned more about Latino culture through them. Thus it was that--when I saw this brew from Taylor's Tonics, I thought it might be fun to try.

There's nothing particularly Mexican or Aztec about this setting, except that the tree is a jacaranda.

Growing up in Kansas, "hot chocolate" meant a sweet chocolate-and-milk drink, heated, and usually served with marshmallows. If you wanted to get exotic, you might put some nutmeg on it.

In LA, I learned some about the history of Mexican hot chocolate, and the use of interesting spices and lack of sugar.

<i>At first I was afraid; I was petrified!
I kept thinking "I can't live without mini marshmallows on the side!"
But then I spent some nights thinking about spices and cinnamon.
Now I like it strong, and I've learned the Aztecs weren't wrong!</i>

 This claims to be based on cocoa, coffee, cinnamon, and cayenne. Let's try it out!

Where and when: purchased at Frazier Farms, Vista, CA, sometime in June.
Color: A fairly light caramel brown, slightly cloudy.
Scent: Hmm. That's a very interesting smell! A strong scent of cocoa, with a definite cinnamon and coffee undertone. Sweet and sharp, with a hint of acid. Pleasant, but very strong.
Taste: Hmm...whoa...huh...

Okay, this one has some real complexity. It keeps changing, over ten seconds or so. I wasn't quite ready for that, have to try again.


And they're off! The first to hit is a chocolate dominant tone, underlaid with a moderate coffee-like bitterness, reminiscent of chinotto. There's also a significant acid tang, which fades in about 3-4 seconds. The bitter drifts away a bit more slowly, with the chocolate staying aloof above it all. As the bitter fades, it is overtaken by an interesting bite--must be the cayenne. This slowly gains strength, and has a lot of staying power--20 seconds or so later, it's still there, with the chocolate hovering over but dissipating very slowly, like cirrus clouds lingering after a thunderstorm.

I'm not sure when I've had a Weird soda with such a complex and changeable flavor. I have to give it some interest points. I'm not actually sure yet whether I actually like it, but it's bold and interesting at least.

I convinced the Kibbitzer-in-Chief to try a sip. The sequence of expressions on her face was a testament to the complexity of the flavor; she went from surprised, to unhappy, to afraid, to angry, and finally to saddened, over the course of about 30 seconds.

It reminds me somewhat of Moxie, oddly--as if you took Moxie and mixed in some chocolate and caramel, and then a dash of Tabasco.

I'm not quite sure how to rate this. I've tried Taylor's Tonics Chai Cola before, and found it quite pleasant. I can't say this is as nice, at least for me...but it's certainly interesting, and the flavors are high quality. For someone who likes coffee, this would probably be a great soda.

Quaff rating: I'd have to say 3.5. Good and interesting flavors.
Cough rating: Probably a 1.0. Maybe "arresting" is the right word.

For your interest, here is a partial transcript of an audio recording I made of some friends and Lab staff (Rapier, his wife, Nazgul, and Olorin) trying out Cafe Azteca.

Olorin: "Blaaaaaaaah. Smells like pepper jalapeno chocolate coffee." *tastes* "That's good."
Rapier: "It's like walking into the spice isle at a non-Western supermarket."
Nazgul: "That tastes good!"
Wife-of-Rapier: "It's not like artificial chocolate."
Rapier: "No, that's good."
W-O-R: "I smell the almond chocolate."
Rapier: "It's way better than it smells."
Nazgul: "Yeah. Way."

*For example, it's the home of the Westboro Baptist Church.
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