I love surprises! I don't even mind what type - parties, gifts, planned, unplanned - it doesn't really matter. And I enjoy planning surprises as much as I enjoy receiving them. At a company I used to work for, we used to have 'Surprise Monday.' Each Monday, we'd take in in turn to bring in a little surprise for everyone in the office - it didn't matter what as long as it was a surprise. I arrived to receive chocolates, make-up samples, home-baked cupcakes, even hand-decorated pencils from one woman's daughter (we all agreed that was the best).
So this weekend, I planned a surprise day away for my husband (for no other reason than to just 'get-outta-town.' We woke up early and set off for the secret location. I get into the whole experience of it - taking wrong turns, pretending to head north when we are actually going south etc. Juvenile? Probably. Do I care? Nope! I love it!
Our secret location was the New Forest. It's in easy driving distance from London and there's loads to do (and eat).
We started our tour with a stroll through Lyndhurst and it was here that we happened upon our first culinary find of the day. Located in the centre of town is Pages of Lyndhurst. As we walked past this seemingly inconspicuous store, we were both overwhelmed by the smell of Caramel and Honey. We stopped in our tracks. This sweet, rich aroma was coming from just inside the store. There, waiting for us at the entrance, was a large ice-cream cabinet. We approached, curious.
In an instant, we were both babbling to the shop assistant about how delicious the smell was and what flavour could it be and how many scoops should we try and could we sample at least two flavours - each. The shop assistant smiled and calmly said it wasn't the ice-cream that we could smell - it was coffee. Er... what?
'Coffee,' she said, 'in the back.'
'No - that's not coffee. I know coffee and that's not coffee.'
'It is,' she rebutted, 'go look.'
How could this deeply rich caramelly aroma be coming from coffee when I couldn't smell coffee at all? You see, coffee and I have a relationship - but it's relationship based on it being tongue curling-ly bitter and dark and me being able to rely on it being that way. Flavoured coffee isn't a new concept, but even with potent syrups like Mint and Hazelnut, the coffee is still at least 5 notes of the aroma spectrum? I could smell caramel, yes, but coffee, no. I went to investigate.
What awaited me around the back of the ice-cream cabinet was a dessert coffee dream. Bags and bags of toasted, shiny beans with labels like 'Death By Chocolate,' 'Mocha Orange Liqueur,' and 'Maple Walnut' all lined up to be scooped, ground and poured. Hmmmmm.
The concept of flavoured coffees goes back as far as coffee does. Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, has a traditional ceremony that sees spices like cinnamon and cardamom being added to the beans as they are ground. This, was nothing like that.
What makes the coffees at Pages of Lyndhurst different is the intense aromas associated with the beans. Strong oils seem to coat each bean like the candy on an M&M. I was a little sceptical of this as I thought the flavours may be overwhelming and disrupt what to many is a sacred coffee experience. Pages of Lyndhurst only sell beans (whole or ground), so I had to wait to get home to try the samples I bought.
The good news is that the coffee still tastes like coffee - so me 'friend' hadn't been replaced after all! I was nervous that the balance of flavours would be too far in the 'flavour' direction. It isn't. The surprising aspect is that the combination is fairly mild. It seems as though a LOT of flavour is required to give it a desserty taste. I started with a one-shot espresso but added a second to get the full body I like. Not a problem for a mid-afternoon java, but if you're nervous of caffeine after 5pm, be aware!
Which brings me to the question of when to drink the coffee. What I like about Pages of Lyndhurst is that the coffee does not have that coffee+syrup sweet kick that many of us have come to know. It's more subtle. Yes, the smell is there, but the taste is more natural. It's something that adds to an event, but is not the event itself. My recommendation is to pair it with an afternoon super-indulgent tea. Think Mocha Orange Liqueur with a dark chocolate ganache cake. Or how about Creamy Hazelnut with home-baked chocolate brownies. Or even Amaretto with Merinques.
Chatting to the Beanista (as mentioned, they don't serve on site), we heard that despite the enticing aromas wafting onto the street, the most popular product is their Blue Mountain blend. We didn't buy any (as I'd just ran a kilo of various flavours to our basket and didn't want to overdo it - ha!), but based on the whole experience, we'll be back for more!