Before we begin, let me introduce myself. I am a coffee-loving, tea-savoring Seattleite who knows a good latte when he tastes one. Because of espresso’s unique properties when compared to brewed coffee, I have been especially skeptical of tea lattes in the past. What makes espresso unique is that it is both similar, yet distinct from coffee. That being said, I was cautiously excited when I heard about redespresso® several months ago, especially since the company bills its product as “The Cafe Revolution.” Judging by the industry response so far, it doesn’t look to be all hype. It was named the New Product of the Year in 2008/9 by the Specialty Coffee Association of America in the specialty beverages category and was also a Top 10 New Product at the World Tea Expo in 2008. Even as an avid coffee and espresso drinker, it’s difficult not to get excited about a product that has already received this much critical acclaim.
On paper, redespresso® – 100% pure rooibos that has been ground for use in an espresso machine – sounds like a true winner. It’s naturally caffeine free and boasts antioxidant levels that are five times higher than those found in green tea, according to ORAC standards. The company also claims that the product has all of these properties and still tastes great, with a full body and low tannins for minimal bitterness.
Created by Carl Pretorious – a native South African – redespresso® comes at you full of promise, but does it deliver?
The short answer: yes.
The long answer is similar, yet slightly different. I had a chance to test redespresso® in my home here in Seattle, Washington when the company was kind enough to send me a review sample. After working out the quirks with it on our new espresso machine, I’ve been quite impressed. The first thing about the product which surprised me is that it doesn’t require any tamping the way a traditional espresso shot does. One simply fills the portafilter, leaving a small amount of space to accommodate expansion, and the tea does the rest, creating its own back pressure as it expands. After a short pre-infusion, the pulls from my Krups home espresso maker timed right around 18 seconds for a double shot, which is right on the money if you’re looking for a reference point.
Visually, the shots are beautiful, having a deep red body topped with a saffron-colored crema. Right out of the machine, they look, for all intents and purposes, like espresso. The aroma, however, is quite different. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the aroma; it’s just not coffee. Redespresso® has a distinct, sweet smell with some light, hay-like, notes. It’s nice and earthy, which I quite like. My first taste of redespresso® was about as honest and unadulterated as you could ask for. After giving the shot a few seconds to cool, I took a good, airy sip. The flavor is nice. Again, it’s definitely not coffee, but good nonetheless. The tea – well, tisane, technically – has a definite nutty flavor with the same hay-like notes along with the natural sweetness that one comes to expect from rooibos; this grows in intensity as the flavor moves back along the palate. There is also a minimal, but still present, astringency from the tannins in the tea. Adding a bit of honey and a pinch of cinnamon (as recommended by the company for most of the various redespresso® drinks) really makes a difference as the cinnamon adds some spice and the honey accents the already present natural sweetness while masking the tannins.
Moving on to some prepared drinks, I first attempted to make a red americano, which is really just a dilution to a more normal tea-like concentration. Overall, the bare shots taste better. The water thins out the body and dilutes the flavor too much. However, it did take milk and honey well; the creaminess accented the rooibos nicely. As I moved on to try my hand at a latte, I ran into my first road block – steam pressure. The stock steam wand on my machine simply does not have enough pressure to adequately create microfoam, which is key in creating a proper latte. As such, my attempts at creating a both a latte and a cappuccino were severely limited and only mildly successful. One thing that did not disappoint, however, was how the flavors of redespresso® and steamed milk interact. After running through almost two pints of milk trying to get a hang of the steaming wand, I was finally able to make some foam that I was happy enough with to drink. Adding some honey to the tea before pouring the milk over the top, I took my first tentative sip. The undiluted redespresso® shots combined very nicely with the steamed milk to create a solid, coffee-free, latte, which I liked much better than the diluted americano style drink that I had tried earlier. I added some ground cinnamon to bring in the spice that I had mentioned before and enjoyed. The steamed milk and honey bring the natural sweetness of the rooibos to the forefront of your senses. Milk quality aside, I had created a solid, coffee-free, latte.
Mr. Pretorious, you should be very proud of the product you have created. You’ve managed to bring something very unique to the American palate with redespresso®. However, my one regret is that I have yet to sample a properly made redlatte or redcappuccino as the only shop in the Seattle area serving redespresso® – The Green Grind – closed several months ago. From what I have experienced, redespresso® produces a solid, tasty beverage that could easily substitute for its caffeinated Italian cousin if one was not in the mood for coffee. It is far above the tea lattes I have experienced in the past, but is it the cafe revolution? Only time will tell. Lacking a professionally made latte using proper equipment, I will withhold final judgment; but I like what I see so far, wish you the best of luck, and look forward to watching your success in the future.