No ordinary joe

In this edition of our continuing search for the area’s best coffees, we bring you two very different cafe experiences. The first comes from one of Asheville’s newest cafes, a cozy, eclectic coffee shop in Montford; the other from one of the most established downtown java havens. The two cafes’ signature drinks provoke completely different tastes, both displaying sufficient quality to amply fit the purpose of this quest: finding new and tasteworthy variations on this versatile drink.

Black and Tan Mocha

Made using beans from Broadstreet Roasters, available at Pyper’s Place (3 Woodlawn Ave., 253-1100)

I sit at a gray-and-black, faux-marble table in this eclectic-looking cafe, with its bright orange fireplace and geometric ceiling, staring down at a clear glass containing this establishment’s best drink: the Black and Tan Mocha.

Opposite me are Pyper’s Place acting manager Michael Gamble and the owner’s personal assistant, Jessica Bursenos. In the absence of owner Irene Pyper-Scott (she’s on vacation), they’re the spokespeople for the cafe. And at present, both of them are looking at me expectantly, awaiting my take on the drink.

The Black and Tan Mocha is a rich, brown mixture of espresso, Ghirardelli chocolate, steamed milk and amaretto. It’s topped with an inch-thick head of homemade whipped cream, decorated with chocolate shavings and a sprig of mint. It’s a pretty drink to look at, but I have yet to taste it.

For the past few minutes, we’ve been talking about the cafe itself. They’ve been open only since Valentine’s Day, but in just a few months’ time, they’ve found a following in Montford. The cafe, it seems, is a welcome addition to this neighborhood — situated within walking distance of numerous bed-and-breakfasts, and a convenient stopping-off point for community residents. Judging by the respectable late-afternoon crowd, they seem to be doing quite well.

Both staffers seem enthusiastic about the project, partly because Pyper-Scott’s vision for the cafe is so clear.

“Most of our coffees are organic- and fair-trade certified,” Gamble explains, “which has always been part of Irene’s belief. Most of our food is vegetarian and organic. We recycle everything. It’s exciting to see this kind of belief work in a business.”

I’m not really here to talk about the business side of the cafe, however — I’m here to sample their flagship drink, the Black and Tan. But before I delve into this glass’s contents, I want to ask both of them a simple yet obvious question.

“Out of all of the drinks you offer here,” I say, “why did you choose this one? What makes your Black and Tan special?”

“It’s the owner’s favorite,” Gamble replies. “She brought the recipe with her from England. Our customers like the amaretto wine twist, and it’s not as chocolatey as a regular mocha, and you get a little bit of the sweetness with the wine in it. Our espresso is also very sweet, not bitter. It’s also a good evening drink.”

That’s a good enough answer for me, so I sip.

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