Tom Baker isn't a guy too impressed by mediocrity. He left behind a career in industrial design when he decided that he wanted to create a product both different and incredible for consumers. The result was Mr Black, a cold press coffee liqueur, which brought home a gold medal from the International Wine & Spirits Competition in 2012, their first year of production. A couple of special editions later, and Mr Black have released their most supreme offering to date: another coffee liqueur, made with Panama Camilina Geisha coffee. We met with Tom at Rockpool 1989 in Sydney's CBD just a day after it's launch to discuss coffee and to taste the geisha for ourselves.
Mr Black started in 2012 on NSW's Central Coast, when Tom met master distiller Philip Moore. After discovering a mutual love for coffee and the unique taste profile it presented, they conspired to create a coffee liqueur. Tom talks about both coffee and liqueur in a near raving manner, speeding from topic to topic and revealing his immense passion for each. I bring up competitors, and he's quick to point out the market position Mr Black holds. "When people think of coffee liqueur, they think of a big brand like Kahlua, which doesn't actually taste like coffee... It's like if you walked in to a cafe and ordered a flat white, and you were given an iced chai latte. And then told 'well, this is our version of a flat white'. Kalhua isn't a coffee liqueur." Where Mr Black differentiates from other coffee liqueurs is the quality of coffee used and the fact that no additives are used (such as preservatives, vanillas and caramels) so the flavour of the coffee does the talking. The 'standard' Mr Black currently incorporates a seasonal blend of Kenyan, El Salvador and Papua New Guinea coffees (green beans sourced by specialty veterans Campos) to deliver a rich chocolate and caramel espresso flavour.
To kick drinks off we enjoyed an Americano cocktail, made up of 15ml Campari, 15ml Mr Black, topped up with Henriot Brut Souverain champagne and sprayed with orange peel, all over ice. Whilst there was lots of citrus notes up front, bolder dark chocolate and espresso flavours came forth in a very balanced drink. Normally a cocktail is a bit much at midday, but I was pretty happy to keep sipping away at this one.
Next was the star of the show. Sourced by Campos' Will Young from the Auromar Geisha Estates in Panama comes the 'Ironman'. Campos actually bought all 100kg of this year's crop on a whim that it was something very special, selling half to Mr Black in order to create a masterpiece. It went on to win the Cup of Excellence Best of Panama Naturals for 2016, meaning it's been unanimously judged by coffee experts as the best crop of coffee in Panama this year. Tom cracks a smile about this, but remains serious about delivering the best of the coffee. "When it's brewed hot, it has the most intense floral, jasmine flavours typical of a geisha. Using the cold press, those floral characteristics didn't really shine through, but what remained was the incredible acidic complexity and fruit sweetness." Sipping the Geisha liqueur delivered a coffee experience I can only describe as wholly unique and astounding. The liquid immediately coats all corners of your mouth with a crescendo of flavour, beginning with apricot and what Tom describes as Maillard flavours, created by the chemical reaction of amino acids during the roasting of the coffee. Superbly balanced, the finish lasts for minutes afterwards.
Want to buy some? There's a slight catch. Due to the limited amount of coffee, there's obviously a limited amount of liqueur. In a clever and fair system Mr Black are randomly selecting buyers in an online ballot. Look here to enter that, or don't, because I want to win. Alternatively, for a limited time you can try nips of the golden stuff throughout all of the Rockpool group's establishments in Australia.