As someone who has worked in the coffee industry on and off for over a decade and reviews sweet snacks on the side, I don’t generally prefer when their paths cross. I like a good strong cup of black coffee every morning and have a broad palette for the magic of espresso, but when it comes to cookies and cake and ice cream I like to keep it sweet and indulgent.
That being said, a good coffee ice cream can be special, just like a beautifully balanced slice of Tiramisu can be perfection, and Caffe Panna have proven to me before that they can make one helluva coffee ice cream. It is, in fact, in the espresso-bar-meets-scoop-shop DNA of the brand to tackle coffee desserts with finesse. ABB Coffee Break is cold steeped coffee bean ice cream with coffee cake streusel, Allie’s Banana Bread chunks, and an espresso swirl.
The cold steeped coffee bean ice cream, from what I can tell, is awesome. As with most of the People Pleaser pack, this pint is teeming with mix-ins and flavor-shards are coming at me from every direction. I can see little flecks of beans throughout and they seem to carry a bit of a crunch, with a bold but creamy coffee flavor that permeates throughout the entire experience. Like I mentioned earlier I take my coffee black, but this balanced attack of bitter, sweet, and creamy is nothing short of divine.
Speaking of divine, the coffee cake streusel is insanely intense and quite honestly, transcendent. It is buttery and crunchy just like the top of a fresh coffee cake should be, and dispersed in smaller pieces throughout with a surprising bitter note on almost every bite. It has the crunchiness of shortbread and finishes with either the flavor of being espresso-soaked or doused in cocoa powder. I’m not entirely sure what I’m tasting but it definitely deviates from the standard cinnamon crumb coffee cake, and as much as I love cinnamon I welcome its darkness and complexity with open arms.
And the bitterness doesn’t end there, it only gets wilder. The espresso swirl has the density of dulce de leche, with a stick-to-your-spoon consistency that’s thicker than any caramel I’ve had from Panna in the past. The flavor is an absolute wallop of espresso intensity balanced out with just enough burnt sugar sweetness to feel like dessert. It’s without a doubt the strongest coffee component in the pint and as someone who usually eats ice cream at night I’m wondering if I’ll be able to sleep after this. I love this espresso swirl, and its distribution throughout the pint is perfect, but it’s definitely for coffee lovers only.
The lone break from the bitter in coffee break comes from the other half of the flavor’s namesake — Allie’s Banana Bread — and it is awesome. Another, albeit much newer, staple to NY’s food scene, like Lloyd’s Carrot Cake, Allie’s bread is another absolute winner of a mix-in that plays into this profile surprisingly well. The bread is dense and moist with a brilliantly bright and sweet banana flavor that somehow gets through the seemingly endless layers of coffee. It carries a hefty chew but has a softness like it was baked yesterday, with its tropical fruity notes and butteriness bringing a touch of levity to the scooping experience.
There are some pints that teeter on the edge of insanity, and this is without a doubt one of them. Being on the edge of insanity is okay though, if you can pull it off, and with ABB Coffee Break Hallie and the team at Caffe Panna somehow manage to balance a myriad of complex bitter and aggressive flavors with massive boulders of mix-ins via just enough nuance and sweet cream to create a masterpiece.
Found at: Goldbelly ($114.95 for 6 pints)