To be Irish is to know hardship.
When my ancestors came to America from Ireland, we had it rough. We had escaped poverty in the old country under oppressive British authority and come to America hoping for freedom, riches, and glory. Instead, when we got off the boat, the Union army gave us blue coats, equipped with us rifles, and sent us to die in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Those who were lucky enough got to avoid the war and instead get honest paying jobs so that they could provide for their family. These, of course, were the jobs that nobody else wanted—building skyscrapers, railroads, canals, highways, and working in factories.
Bono of U2 had it right when he sang, “These are the hands that built America.”
But the Irish (like a lot of the other foreigners that came (and are still coming) to America) were never respected by Americans. There was a lot of prejudice towards us in particular, and I’ve never been fully sure why. It’s not as though we were putting Americans out of work or anything. Nonetheless, the Irish were ostracized and nearly forced out of society at large; so they came together and moved into their own neighborhoods, thus creating a sort of caste system —in Boston, New York City, and Chicago in particular (this is well-documented in the Martin Scorcese film The Gangs of New York) (Chicago is still considered the most segregated city in America with entire neighborhoods devoted to one particular type of person: Chinese, Greek, Irish, African-American, gay, lesbian, etc.).
Chicago’s Irish neighborhood, and first slum actually, was called Hardscrabble and is the same area as modern-day Bridgeport. From the Bridgeport Coffee website:
Our community, Bridgeport, was Chicago’s first slum. A grim place refered to as Hardscrabble. Hardscrabble was a word in the early 1800?s that implied poverty. This early community was inhabited by Irish immigrants (shovelmen) who built the Illinois and Michigan Canal. They worked for whiskey and a dollar a day.
At the heart of this neighborhood is one of my favorite coffee companies, Bridgeport Coffee; and, in celebration of the area’s history, they created the Hardscrabble Blend.
Ironically, I first tried the Hardscrabble Blend at Swim Cafe, in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village (see what I mean about segregation…?), rather than at the Bridgeport Coffeehouse. I was just about out of my Starbucks Breakfast Blend and needed something new—fortunately Swim, which is only three blocks away from Ashley’s house, features Bridgeport Coffee on their bar and sells a small variety of their beans; it’s a very convenient way of sparing me from driving all the way to the south side of the city.
The barista who helped me out informed me that Swim always uses Hardscrabble as their espresso and pulled a sample shot for me. Now, before I go any further, let me first say this—the espresso was far superior to the drip coffee. The beans are brought to a Vienna roast (which is just about as far as you can go with beans that are intended for espresso), so the espresso featured a really full body with almost no acidity. It was so creamy and smooth and rich and robust. But my favorite feature of its flavor was its spiciness. I was reminded of a customer a few months ago who, when I was doing a cupping of Peet’s Coffee and Tea’s Blend 101, described the coffee as “sparkly.” When she told me what she meant, that it was as if the coffee was dancing over her tongue and making her teeth tingle, I decided then and there that “sparkly” was my favorite coffee tasting term. Hardscrabble brought that term back to mind.
The drip version of it, however, though I didn’t think it was bad or even sub-par, didn’t have quite the same flavor profile as the espresso. While it was still robust and heavy-bodied, the richness and sweetness was a bit downplayed. The spiciness, on the other hand, though not as present, was still very satisfying.
There’s another WordPress user out there—I can’t remember the person’s name or the blog’s URL—who wrote a review of the Hardscrabble Blend. And, I don’t know—I’m not so sure the review was glowing, and I’m really not sure if the reviewer actually liked the coffee (and if you really want to know what this person said, feel free to Google search for that blog), but in case you’ve already read that blog and didn’t want to try Hardscrabble because you read about the grounds in the bottom of the person’s mug being compared to “factory sludge at the bottom of the Chicago River” and that it “[yellowed their] teeth quicker than cigarettes,” fret not—Hardscrabble doesn’t pay homage to its gritty, dirty, grimy, rough and tumble namesake by totally emulating it.
Bridgeport Coffee’s Hardscrabble Blend is none of those things. It’s a warm and inviting coffee and will be sure to please fans of robust coffees. It will be even more of a treat to those who can pull their own shots of espresso at home or have Bialettis.