If hops taste good in beer, and coffee tastes good in beer, hops might taste good in coffee, too.
The idea of an iced-coffee beverage infused with the fruity flavors of hops first occurred to Back Alley Coffee Roasters employee Matt Flinn earlier this year.
Hops – the cone-shaped flower of a fast-growing vine – can be boiled to add bitter, zesty flavors to beer. But when hops are steeped in cool liquids, they infuse aromatic elements ranging from citrus to spice.
“You end up getting the really nice tropical fruit notes instead of the bitterness you would expect,” Flinn said.
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Back Alley, located on Brooks Street in downtown Wake Forest, is owned by Tracy McKenzie and his wife, Beth. The couple opened the shop last August in a historic building across the street from Town Hall.
McKenzie said he wants to show Wake Forest customers the diverse types of coffee, something they can’t get on most grocery store shelves.
“We’re trying to bring those coffees, those origins, to this community so that it would expose people to these unique flavors that coffee has naturally,” he said.
On Wednesdays, Back Alley hosts coffee tastings, called cuppings. McKenzie does public demonstrations Thursdays on how to roast coffee.
The shop buys a wide range of hand-picked coffee beans and roasts them, then brews drinks as customers order them – traditional coffee or unique concoctions like the hopped coffee.
Cold-brew coffee is less acidic than hot or iced coffee because it is not brewed with hot water. Instead, the coffee grounds are brewed with cool water for almost a day at room temperature.
Flinn, who oversees the cold brewing at Back Alley, pairs a custom-roasted type of coffee from the Konga Zone of Ethiopia with the American Citra hop, known for its tropical and citrus flavors.
“Because the Konga has a lot of berry notes, it pairs together really well,” Flinn said.
To give the concoction extra smoothness, he carbonates it with nitrogen gas before serving, giving it a beer-like froth.
“It comes out like a Guinness, and with the hoppy-ness and the coffee-ness, you get the best of both worlds,” he said.
McKenzie, a professor at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, was introduced to home roasting more than a decade ago when a student brewed him home-roasted coffee from Ethiopia that had strong blueberry notes. It spurred his interest in researching global growing regions and practicing roasting techniques to replicate his student’s results.
“I basically tried to chase that blueberry-flavored coffee all around the world,” McKenzie said.
As he refined his roasting technique, he started buying larger and larger roasters, until eventually he purchased Back Alley’s coffee roaster, which is the size of a compact car.
McKenzie said coffees that come from different parts of the world have subtle flavor differences. He wants to show his customers the unique flavor of where each bean originates, and that requires him to buy only the highest-quality coffee, sometimes directly from farmers.
“It’s really the bean that counts, therefore it’s the farmer that counts,” McKenzie said. “You can’t roast quality in.”
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi
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Back Alley Coffee Roasters is located 314 Brooks St., Wake Forest. Go online to www.backalleyroasters.com.