Acrid is an adjective with two definitions: “having an irritatingly strong and unpleasant taste or smell” and “angry and bitter.”
Acrid succinctly describes the experience of a visit to Bruin Cafe’s full-service espresso bar, which, for one meal-plan swipe, serves the full range of standard espresso and espresso-adjacent beverages: the latte, the cappuccino, the mocha—they’re all here.
The deal would appear a fruitful one, as evidenced by the long, out-the-door lines frequently encountered at the establishment. One can order coffee at the main entrance, along with sandwiches, salads and smoothies, or order their beverage at a coffee bar near the back.
Bruin Cafe, as the logo on the front of its coffee bar will tell you, sources its beans from The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, a decidedly second-wave coffee establishment. The “second wave” of coffee refers to the proliferation (by Starbucks, Peet’s Coffee, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, etc.) of the coffee-shop experience that the general public has come to be familiar with and expect. It’s characterized by the widespread consumption of espresso-based drinks, an emphasis on the origin of the coffee beans being served and a general reaction to the “bad coffee” culture of the first part of the 20th century – think instant coffee, “Folgers in your cup” and giant coffee percolators.
Second-wave coffee establishments today are generally associated with darker (some would say burnt) coffee roasts, yielding an unmistakably bitter flavor profile if consumed straight. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and by extension, Bruin Cafe, are no exception to this rule. The espresso at Bruin Cafe is dark, pungent and sharp: acrid. Let’s examine a few of their offerings in greater detail, highlighting what and what not to order.
Latte (hot and iced)
The hot, standard latte at Bruin Café is relatively consistent in its taste from visit to visit – a striking departure from other, syrup-infused offerings. The beverage is served over-hot, with a viscosity more in line with a brewed coffee than a drink purported to consist of two parts espresso, three parts steamed milk and one part foam. The velvety texture of a quality latte does not exist here; there simply is never enough microfoam to produce an enjoyable mouthfeel. The 2-percent milk does little to mask the unpleasant flavor of the espresso base. Occasionally, one may taste the residual soap of a recently cleaned portafilter or steam wand.
The iced latte comes unmixed, much like a caramel macchiato at Starbucks. Upon mixing the milk at the bottom of the cup with the dark espresso on top, one is left to enjoy a beverage that tastes as much of coffee and milk as it does of water. The serving of ice is relatively light – a plus. The cold milk, however, is too prominent an ingredient when paired with the espresso base. You will really have a difficult time tasting the coffee at all. As such, apply sugar, and do so generously. There’s nothing wrong with a little sugar and milk in the morning.
“Cafe” drinks – Caramel, Mocha and Vanilla
The cafe drinks are flavored variations of a cafe au lait, which is essentially brewed coffee with steamed milk – kind of like a latte with coffee instead of espresso. A good cafe au lait requires fresh, high quality coffee, with relatively little milk included to hide the coffee flavor. As you may have guessed, the cafe drinks at Bruin Cafe are simply not up to par. The brewed coffee base is unremarkable, akin to a “side of the road cantaloupe,” as an expert coffee reviewer once put it. There is always either too much syrup flavoring or too little. You may receive a drink so excessively bitter that you forget whether you ordered caramel, chocolate or vanilla; or you may end up with what can only be described as a mouthful of syrup. I recently ordered a cafe mocha from Bruin Cafe, and some six hours and several snacks later, the mocha syrup was still dancing around at the back of my palate.
Flavored Lattes – Caramel, Mocha and Vanilla
The flavored lattes at Bruin Cafe are perhaps the safest choice. There is enough syrup, milk and foam to mask even the harshest of espresso roasts one may encounter. The variation in the amount of syrup is still a problem, but not to the point where it ruins the experience. The caramel latte is vaguely reminiscent of caramel offerings at better establishments, as is the vanilla latte. The mocha is actually better than what you may find at Starbucks because Bruin Cafe uses syrup rather than powder for the chocolate base. The sort of chalky taste you may have experienced with a Starbucks mocha is absent here. It’s exceedingly pleasant.