A thick, warm, familiar scent hugged me as I entered the coffee lab at Boquete Mountain Coffee in NoDa. It was a scent that reminded me of my unfortunate disinterest in the dark brewed stuff. Yet, there I was about to chat with one of Charlotte's most knowledgeable and influential coffee aficionados, David Haddock.
I figured I should immediately come clean about my coffee sins — guilty as charged for smothering instant coffee with instant hot chocolate on the reg. But when I confessed, a very tall, unsurprised Haddock smirked at the opportunity to introduce me to a tea-like beverage made from the fruit of a coffee bean.
The delicious natural sweetness of the steeped coffee-tea drink revealed the uniqueness and complexity of local coffee roasting. This one-of-a-kind tea only available at Boquete was exactly what I needed in the Queen City coffee scene, and apparently what anyone needs to cure a common cold, thanks to the incredible antioxidant value it has.
Plot twist, though: I did try a fancy cappuccino made with fresh milk and Boquete's own espresso blend, and even though it tasted like coffee (rightly so), I could appreciate the care put into making it.
Boquete will be the first stop on Good Eats and Meets' second CLT Coffee Crawl this weekend, Feb. 28 through March 1 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. According to Crawl creator Richard Gruica, Charlotte is the first to present this kind of caffeinated celebration on the East Coast.
Once you've taken a tour of Boquete's roastery, complete with 4,000 bags of international coffee, and experimented in the coffee lab, you get to decide where to go next and how long you stay there. No double-fisting necessary. (Unless that's your thing.)
Gruica says he isn't a daily coffee drinker himself (sticking to Cuban blends if and when he does), but admits he appreciates the eye-opening local coffee culture and "all the local people it can support."
"The crawl was inspired by having a few friends in the coffee industry and actually getting to know what they do, and how they do it, and how that differentiates from what most people think is coffee — such as Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, or anything along those lines," Gruica says.
Potential stops on the crawl include the Daily Press, Smelly Cat and Central Coffee, to name a few.
"Each one is distinct, each one is different, each one has its own personality and vibe, and we are just trying to raise awareness for all those coffee houses and roasters in the Charlotte area. We have most of them taking part in the crawl," Gruica says.
Just like a beer crawl, a coffee crawl is (or at least should be) more than a drinking frenzy. (Caffeine overload is a real thing. According to Haddock, your blood type determines your coffee tolerance. Type A humans, if you've ever felt jittery after a cup of Joe, now you know why.) Instead, a crawl is about experiencing new flavors and nuances associated with the local niche.
"If you started at a brewery, the master brewer would tell you the nuances between the flavors of the beers, right? Well. what we do is, as they come in, we're handing them things to drink," Haddock says. "We'll have samples of coffee sitting out so they can taste the difference in the coffees they have."
Because Boquete is the first stop, Haddock says they are poised to show crawlers how great coffee can be — much better than your stale Folgers brand, he assures me. Spoiler alert: Most big name coffee distributors spray coffee-scented extract on their second-rate blends to give you the classic freshly opened coffee scent.
"Us being the starting point, we have a little bit more leeway with [the crawlers]. If they've never really had a good espresso, I'll pull one they can't believe, or make a cappuccino for them or whatever it is, just to give them the experience so they see and understand where we're coming from," Haddock says.
Like most local coffee spots, Boquete interprets coffee in its own way. There is no right answer to "what's good coffee?"
"A guy told me one time who built the first coffee roaster in N.Y.C. — people do to coffee what they want to, they flavor it, they brew it the way they want to. You just have to learn to accept that everybody's different and everybody's going to do it the way they want to, and the way it tastes good to them is perfectly acceptable. It's not for me to say how you drink it," Haddock says.
Even though Haddock admits there is not right or wrong way to do coffee, there is certainly an ineffective way to do it. All coffee is not equal to your Quick Mart instant blend.
"Someone will come in here, get a cup of coffee and then they'll dump lord knows how much sugar in it because they just naturally assume from their past experiences that this is how you take care of coffee. So, it's not offensive. The problem being that it just destroys any flavor that's naturally occurring in the coffee and just replaces it with sugar."
If you love crawling for coffee or just love coffee, get excited. Gruica, the event organizer, says they are already planning a summer iced coffee crawl.
Beer isn't the only seasonal brew around.