What goes into a truly great cup of coffee? Or a great cup of mushroom coffee? In both cases, at Toronto-based Subtext Coffee Roasters, co-founder Alex Castellani says that it begins with high quality beans. “The lower the quality of coffee, the more defects that coffee has, and all of those defects end up in the cup unless you roast the coffee beyond recognition,” he says.
Subtext are coffee purists — yes, they’ll make you a latte at one of their coffee counters but their products tend to be lightly roasted single-origin coffees that celebrate a particular terroir and bean varietal. So when Subtext partnered with Beatrice Society to make a coffee with a functional mushroom element, Castellani was meticulous in his selection and pairing of the right bean with the right reishi, lion’s mane and cordycep extracts in order to ensure terroir and flavour clarity of the coffee weren’t compromised.
About the bean
At Subtext, coffee begins where the bean is grown. The beans used in Beatrice Society’s functional mushroom coffee come from the Huila region of Colombia, known for its incredible terroir and meticulous production. “A lot of specialty coffee comes out of Huila,” explains Castellani. “The terroir is really great, there’s really high elevation and the microclimate is really great for coffee production and for slow ripening. And slow ripening is really important for flavor development. We’ve been focusing on that region as coffee professionals for a long time.”
The Frontera de Acevedo espresso is a washed coffee grown by smallholders in the Acevedo subregion where producers commonly co-plant their coffee crops increasing biodiversity and decreasing the need for pesticides and fungicides — sometimes eliminating their use altogether.
“We really wanted the coffee flavor to shine through,” says Castellani. “We source all our coffee really meticulously to express origin.”
About the roast
Subtext’s high quality beans means that the flavor comes from the coffee, not from the roast. “The only way to hide the defects [found in lower quality beans] is to make the roast flavor the most dominant,” Castellani explains. “We find that we don’t need to do that. Ever.”
It’s this lighter roast that allowed Subtext and Beatrice Society to offer a pre-ground functional mushroom coffee product without the usual sacrifice of freshness compared to a whole bean coffee.
Roasting lighter, Castellani says, “has a byproduct of making the cell structure a lot tighter. As you roast, the moisture [in the bean] evaporates and as it evaporates it expands and the seed opens up. The more you roast the more it expands and the more the cell structure becomes brittle. Roasting lighter with higher quality coffee allows us to keep that cell structure tighter which means that it stays fresher for longer. So roasting a little bit lighter becomes especially important when we’re talking about pre-ground coffee.”
Where mushrooms meet coffee
Castellani says the team felt inspired by the “burgeoning demands for products that meet people’s needs for wellness — to feel good, to have some equanimity in their lives.” As a coffee purveyor, he was keenly aware of the obstacles presented by caffeine: “Obviously it gives you an adrenal rush and for people who are burnt out or stressed out an adrenal rush or adrenal fatigue can be challenging.”
After an investigation into the benefits of functional mushrooms, the team decided to go into their blending experiments with open minds but a clear goal: “For this product we wanted to lessen the [mushroom] flavor as much as possible, not actively but by selection, working with companies where the best qualities of the mushrooms were highlighted,” says Castellani.
“Sometimes extracts can be really bitter or have a really earthy flavor but we wanted to highlight the best aspects of those and at their best some mushrooms have some pleasant earthiness and sweetness and can even add a little bit of umami. It was a combination of that and which mushrooms have the right functional properties to put in a coffee so that it functionally makes sense.”
Narrowing down their selection to three mushroom varietals — “lion’s mane because it aids in concentration, cordyceps for energy that is not the kind of adrenal rush that caffeine can give you, and then reishi as an adaptogen to mitigate some of the adrenal fatigue from caffeine,” Castellani says — the search began for a coffee that was the right fit in terms of accommodating a full dose of functional mushrooms per cup.
Castellani broke down the tasting process this way: “We chose four very disparate coffees — coffees of different origin and different processing. We would have an African coffee on the table that was high acid, extremely fruity, but a washed coffee. We would have a natural coffee that was really fruit-driven but maybe more tempered on the acidity, we would have a chocolatey, Central American coffee that was washed, and we would have this Colombian coffee that has a little bit of panela, a little fruit, but also that comforting, approachable profile and feel.”
While the team was surprised to find that the mushroom products sourced from Nammex actually paired well with all the coffees, the frontrunner had some standout attributes.
“We landed on Acevedo for a few reasons,” says Castellani, “one of them being that the flavor of the coffee feels recognizable. There’s a degree of comfort, there’s a degree of nuttiness in the coffee that is very much in the background but complimentary to different mushroom varieties. It has some of the wonderful qualities we expect from Colombian coffee from Huila: a bit of panela or sugar cane sweetness, a hint of vibrant stone fruit like nectarine and apricot, and a hint of caramel coming from the roast. So it just made it easy.”
The result — Beatrice Society’s functional mushroom coffee made with Frontera De Acevedo Espresso — has a flavor profile with notes of cherry liqueur, panela, milk chocolate, and candied yellow fruit. Each serving features the recommended dose of mushrooms which, says Castellani, drinkers are unlikely to notice, taste-wise.
As for the wellness benefits? Referring to his own personal experience, Castellani notes that for him, “there is a palpable increase in energy” with the cordyceps coffee. “It is kind of remarkable.”
Click through to purchase your own bag of Beatrice Society mushroom infused coffee.