I recently took a trip to Portland, OR, and one thing I noticed was that everyone was exceedingly nice. Of course this type of blanket statement is informed by a tourists' view (The doorman at my hotel was nice? Quel suprise!) but I'd venture to say that Portland is, overall, a happy kind of town. And with their food and brews, I can understand why.
Still, the repeated niceness didn't stop me from being shocked when the mustached baristas at Stumptown Coffee in the Ace Hotel—who were faced with a line out of the door and coffee machines that looked like lab experiments— were incredibly friendly and genial. I repeat: Mustached baristas. Trendy coffee. Trendier hotel.
What the heck was going on?
Here's the thing. When you're sure that someone's going to be rude and they turn out to be lovely, you feel pretty rude yourself. And then, if you're me, you start wondering why you were so skeptical in the first place, and you realize that kind of pessimism has been bred into you. New Yorkers love being skeptical. I heard this play was awful. This restaurant is so over-hyped. It's a kind of resignation to the dark side of life that, in addition to confirming your cultural superiority and taste, does, in a roundabout way, allow everything to exceed your expectations.
In short, bitterness has its own kind of allure. Black coffee. Dark chocolate. Citrus peel. And to honor that, I made this Chocolate Walnut Espresso Loaf. No, this loaf isn't very sweet. The unsweetened cocoa powder and espresso have a hint of bitterness, and walnuts, while fatty and crunchy, can have a sour tinge. But in that way it's also compellingly eatable—you keep pulling off chunks, enjoying the chocolatey bitterness, waiting for those hints of sugar. The crumb is moist and the top of the loaf is shiny, crackly, and topped with chopped nuts. Of course bitterness is always nice when accompanied with a little sweet, so pairing this with a sugary latte would be just fine.