Tasting notes: Red espresso at A Cappella

On a damp, grey Saturday morning, not yet fully awake, what could be better than a robust, hot drink at a friendly local cafe? So I was glad that I had arranged to drop by A Cappella today to taste its new Red range of rooibos tea espressos. On the other hand, I believe in giving completely honest reviews and I’d hate to have to say anything bad about a favourite local eatery. Was this a good plan?

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Joe the barista takes his job seriously. I remember him telling me once about the chemistry of hot milk and sugar while serving me a cappuccino. When he heard through the coffee-makers grapevine about rooibos espressos he quickly persuaded A Cappella owners Paul and Jennifer to give it a try.

Treating tea leaves like coffee is a challenge that takes some practice, and Joe has found that it’s so new an idea that other experimenters are reluctant to share their knowledge. So it’s a bit of a steep learning curve, but one he’s relishing. The idea comes from South Africa, the home of rooibos tea. Farmer Carl Pretorius wanted to wean himself off caffeine but still enjoy an espresso-like drink. Rooibos tea is naturally caffeine-free and Carl figured out a way to make espresso shots of it. He (cannily) patented his idea in 2005 and sold it to local coffee shops, who began to use the shots to make the “traditional” range of coffee drinks from the rooibos – cappuccinos, americanos, lattes and so on.

So it’s actually been around for a few years, but there are still very few places in the UK that sell the Red range. A few in London, one in Birmingham and now A Cappella in Bristol. But enough of all this background; how does it taste?

Red macchiatoRed americanoTaste

Not like coffee, so don’t order it expecting that. If you’re familiar with rooibos (or redbush) tea, that’s obviously the basis of the taste, but this isn’t like what you get from a Co-op teabag. We (Tim and I) tasted the cappuccino, americano and macchiato. The americano – without milk – was my favourite, without question. It has a robust, earthy taste, is easy to drink and very warming. The cappuccino has added honey and cinnamon, and I thought the rooibos taste got a little lost, though the milk was so beautifully creamy that it was still a tasty drink. It reminded me of a milky chai tea, though not that spicy. A definite bedtime drink. The macchiato again tasted a little weak on tea and strong on milk and that’s a shame because a macchiato really should have some kick to it. But that could probably be resolved with a bit more practice on Joe’s part.

The drinks look amazing, actually red, even the milky ones. I can definitely see myself ordering one of these again on a not-coffee day (i.e. any of the 6 days a week I don’t have coffee) although I can’t see this replacing coffee for me and I worry that the marketing is so coffee-centric, it may not be aimed at the right people. It’s a very different drink. Tasty in its own right, but I’m not convinced by the “coffee replacement” angle.

Red cappuccino

A Cappella, 184c Wells Road, Bristol, solicited this review via Twitter. Check them out for the best pizzas in Bristol!

All photos by talkie_tim.