By: Lynne Everson, Goddess of Wine & Spirits (and now... coffee 😉)
This was a really exciting event for Epicurean Chronicles to attend because it's the FIRST time the Caffeine Crawl has been in Madison! They have had 52 Caffeine Crawls all over the country, starting in 2011, when Jason Burton of The Lab was traveling all over the country studying customer experiences. He realized that it’s really hard to ask questions about coffee as baristas can have a certain reputation and can be intimidating at times. He wanted people to be able to ask questions, learn about coffee and explore different kinds to find what they like.
We were on Route 5 of the crawl (with 5 different routes to choose from, this one had TWO Chocolatier stops – SCORE!) and started in the afternoon with Jason as our guide with 6 stops total.
Our first stop was Infusion Chocolates at Hilldale. This shop is beautiful, first of all, everything is presented so nicely! We were greeted by our trusty guide Jason, where we checked in and got our swag bag (YASS!) and took a seat. Jason told us a little bit about how the Caffeine Crawl got started (see above) and made very clear he is open to answer any questions along the way, he was above and beyond helpful the entire time.
The wonderful ladies at Infusion Chocolates, including owner Ann, took us on a little journey explaining the process of how chocolate is made, all the way from the bean. They even had a dried bean they were able to pass around – they are surprisingly huge!
They showed us some of the farms they work with, and how their chocolate they purchase is Fair and Sustainable, above and beyond Fair Trade certification only recognized by Swiss. We learned a lot about chocolate – Did you know cocoa butter is the backbone of chocolate? – and we were more than happy to try the samples they provided of several different kinds they used. Along with some delicious coffee of course.
As we wrapped up at Infusion Chocolates, we got to choose TWO chocolates that we wanted to try.
(EEEEEE!! HOW DO WE EVEN CHOOSE?!?!)
I ended up choosing the Cocoa Nib (Pure, smooth 65% Venezuelan dark chocolate ganache studded with roasted cocoa nibs) and the Key Lime (65% dark chocolate ganache mingles in harmony with the tropical tartness of fresh key lime, encased in a bittersweet shell) which were both INCREDIBLE, and decorated so beautifully.
You can really see the work that goes into these chocolates, and truly makes it a one of kind experience.
If you don’t know what you want, they are more than happy to help figure out what you might like, and what chocolates would go well together if you want a few.
Our second stop on the crawl was 5th Element Coffee on University Avenue. Now if you follow the Epicurean Chronicles social media accounts, you know that we are no strangers to 5th Element and our founder is a BIT of a regular, but it was my first time and I was very excited!
We were greeted with a cute little coffee sample – I am a sucker for anything miniature so they got me hooked right away. We learned from owner Todd about what the 5th element is, and that is the Human element.
Coffee can be created with just the four elements, but what makes theirs truly unique are the people behind the coffee.
Alejandro, one of the owners, was the winner of the 2011 Barista World Championships.
Let that sink in for a minute......
THE BEST barista in the world...
...has a coffee shop...
RIGHT. IN. MADISON.
GET THERE NOW, PEOPLE!!!!
Why would they pick Madison, then, you may think? Well, Todd had been traveling around with Alejandro looking to open up a shop somewhere, and Alejandro just wasn’t thrilled with Seattle or NYC, and just wasn’t sure where the perfect spot would be.
Todd convinced him to come to Wisconsin, and they spent time walking around the downtown, around the Capitol, had a meal at Rare, and Alejandro fell in love with Madison. He just knew that the foodie culture here would be perfect for the coffee shop they wanted to open. The coffee they use is from El Salvador and roasted by 4 Monkeys Coffee Roasters, which both Alejandro and Danny are a part of with their two friends. After learning all about how they started, we sampled their cold brew – my FAV – and a mini cream puff, because Wisconsin. They just get it, and I love this place.
Next stop was Cargo Coffee on East Wash. They had such a fun, unique atmosphere in their coffee shop! So much so, that they said that people will come to take engagement pictures and senior pictures here! Definitely a fun place to visit. Their first coffee shop was on Willy Street, and they now have a few locations in Madison, including this one on East Wash. Their Signature roast is the Atomic blend – equal parts Guatemalan, Ethiopian and Sumatran. This blend is a darker roast, somewhat earthy but with lower acidity so it is very smooth. We got to sample a blended drink which is a very popular drink there, the Mocha Atomic Freeze. Made with their signature Atomic roast, Tiramisu Syrup, Ghirardelli Chocolate and Ice, blended and topped with whipped cream and more Ghirardelli chocolate - Talk about delicious!
We had a tight schedule, so we headed on to our 4th stop – Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier!
Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier is a Single-Origin Chocolatier, meaning they only get their chocolate from one region to maintain the same terrior. Gail (Yes, Gail is a real person and she is the owner!) travels regularly to Colombia and Costa Rica to visit the actual cacao farms to meet the farmers and learn about the different flavor profiles. You can even read about the farmers on their website - pretty cool! They have mostly dark chocolate –which is right up my alley. We got to sample a few different kinds of chocolate, including one that they have not even used in anything yet!
They also provided us with a Chocolate Wheel – which works similar to a color wheel – where there are different flavors for chocolate and the flavors across from one another are usually the best pairings. Their large selection of truffles is something you don’t want to miss. Oh, and they also do BEER AND CHOCOLATE PAIRINGS. Where they make truffles and pair them with local craft brews.
Next, we arrived at MSCo Patisserie. And I immediately saw the macarons in the case – SO BEAUTIFUL – so I got sidetracked and purchased a small box of those, which was completely worth it.
MSCo Patisserie has been around for quite a while, under the newest ownership for about 8 years. Upon arriving, we got a “Nitro Float,” which was Cadence Cold Brew with a scoop of MSCo’s homemade Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream. While we sipped on this deliciousness, we got a live demo on how they make their Caramel Coffee Pudding, which had my favorite ingredient...
a touch of Bourbon.
In all of their Coffee creations, they use Johnson Brothers Coffee, JBC for short, for several reasons, the main reason is that they CHOOSE to have their coffee rated. This is NOT a requirement for coffee roasters. This just shows their confidence in heir product. We even got a THIRD sample here, of their Chocolate Espresso Layer cake.
Give me chocolate and espresso in any form and I am a happy girl.
LAST STOP FOLKS – Hang with me!
Kate – the owner of Crescendo Espresso Bar and Music Café – was such a fun ending to the Caffeine Crawl. She told us all about how she and her husband bought the shop 2 months before their wedding (Like HOW?!?!) and got married and opened up a coffee shop at the same time. UNREAL!!!!
They feature different coffee roasters throughout the year, but only use Anodyne Mind Tonic Espresso in their drinks. They are all about educating their customers, and want to be open to customers who may not necessarily be familiar with the fancy names or drinks, but want to learn about what they may like. Kate trains her staff so that they are able to educate customers and find what they like! They are very community based, and that is what sets them apart. We got to sample an espresso with Gentle Breeze Honey at the bottom, and House Made Lemon Whip on top. Both of these flavors compliment the flavors in the espresso, and allow for each sip to taste a bit different as you work your way to the bottom. DELICIOUS!
Overall, this was such a fun event! I would definitely recommend attending next year, or checking out where they may be next around the country. According to Jason, San Diego is definitely one to check out. It is a much underrated Coffee city, and the Caffeine Crawl there is very popular. As for me, you can bet I’ll be signed up next year! Now, I need to figure out how to burn off all this sugar and caffeine-induced energy.
No sleep for this gal!