There are so many reasons why we’ve been partnering with Chicago-based roaster Intelligentsia for years. We’re both Midwestern companies with similar ideals, including a devotion to sourcing Direct Trade ingredients and an obsession with making the best possible products—be it coffee or ice cream.
But, in truth, Intelligentsia simply makes amazing coffee. That’s essential for us because there’s nowhere to hide in ice cream. If we steep stale coffee or an unbalanced blend in cream, you’ll taste the flaws immediately. Using fresh, high-quality coffee is so important. After lots of test batches with a variety of coffee blends, we settled on Intelligentsia’s Black Cat Espresso for its rich flavor and caramel undertones that fold beautifully into cream.
Enough about us. We want to delve into exactly what is means to call our ice cream “Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso.” To help us unpack this name, we spoke with Amanda Seaver, Intelligentsia’s quality control specialist.
“Black Cat has been our flagship espresso blend since we opened [in 1995],” Amanda explains. “The reason we have the project is that it’s meant to be representative of the Intelligentsia style—showcasing coffees that are sweet and clean and really complex.”
It’s meant to be representative of the Intelligentsia style—showcasing coffees that are sweet and clean and really complex.
In short, she adds, the Black Cat Project is the pursuit of the perfect espresso. Espresso with a thick, hazelnut-colored crema and stout-like body. Espresso that’s interesting enough to stand on its own and strong enough to cut through steamed milk. Getting there is a two-part answer.
They start with a steadfast base. Using Brazilian beans imparts that traditional syrupy espresso feel, and chocolate and nutty flavors. “It gives it a nice, thick base layer and caramelized, sweet cream flavors,” Amanda says. “It also lends a nice tactile experience.”
To round out the flavor, the Intelligentsia teams searches for a washed component (beans that will add a clean acidity). What beans are used changes seasonally depending on what’s growing well right now (Intelligentsia works directly with more than a dozen farms around the world). Currently in Black Cat Espresso, you’ll find beans from Colombia that Amanda says gives it citrus and red fruit notes, and a subtle effervescence.
The Black Cat Project has evolved quite a bit over the last 10 years, especially as customer palates have changed. Amanda sees less of a demand for a dark, bold roast. “I’ve noticed customers becoming more interested in really floral, Ethiopian coffees,” she says. “There’s not just one way an espresso has to be anymore.”
Head here for more on the Black Cat Project, and other blends in Intelligentsia’s line.
How we make Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso ice cream
To make our ice cream, we steep freshly ground Intelligentsia beans directly into cream.
It’s a very different process than most coffee ice creams, which are made by steeping coffee in water, and then adding that to cream and milk. When you do this, you get a very different experience. The flavoring of the coffee itself adheres to the water, but the fat soluble scents—the ones that give coffee its rich and earthy aroma—have nowhere to go.
But take those coffee grounds and steep them in cream, and you can lock all that scent into butterfat. And that’s exactly what we do: We literally take all of that scent off the ground coffee to make our ice cream. That’s why our Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso ice cream tastes exactly the way coffee smells.