"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2002 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
It Just Gets To Me Sometimes
Every once in a while we all have to vent. Today, I am extending a bit of a rant I started on alt.coffee a few days ago...
I probably have mentioned more than a few times, that I have a relationship with a local commercial roaster. There's a reason for it. He is knowledgeable, dedicated, and as willing to learn about coffee as I am. He listens to what I have to say as intently as I do what he tells me. At least twice in the past I have asked him, "Is there anywhere in this county where you would order a straight espresso?"
His answer, with a slightly disgusted and shocked look on his face, was always, "No!" The shocked look was from the thought of drinking what passes for espresso around here.
With very few exceptions- at least to say, with far fewer exceptions than not- there are few places in any city in the U.S. where you can order a straight espresso and have any reasonable expectation that it will be drinkable and enjoyable. Sure, places like Seattle and probably the Bay Area, and in a shop here and there with a dedicated barrista behind the counter will create a good espresso for you, but there are not many places like that. I am not talking about something that should be served in a golden challis, or fit to be brought before the King, but just something that doesn't make you want to instantly soil the carpet with an expectorative release of the fluid in your mouth that was given the label of "espresso" by the person behind the bar.
It is amazing to me that these shops, many with tens-of-thousands of dollars invested in espresso machines, grinders, beans, (and sometimes roasters), not to mention utility costs, leases, wages, insurance, etc., etc. (what a nightmare to run a business any more)- with all that invested all they need to do is set up an internet connection in the store and direct their employees to alt.coffee- TO US! I mean, how many websites are there out here that contain step-by-step instructions and VOLUMES of information (this one being only a small and humble example of what's available) just on the BASICS of making espresso. How many of those shops would benefit from just the following, minuscule bit of information:
"A double espresso should be about 1.5 to 2 ounces made in about 25 to 30 seconds. Vary the grind to adjust to this standard."
I mean, really! Just that simple bit of information would probably greatly improve the espresso in about 75% of the shops discussed here. Some further basics on cleanliness (usually the health department and liability worries take care of most of that), a bit of tamping talk, a brief discussion on bean freshness, and temperature adjustment on their pressure-stat might take them even further.
It just seems so stinking easy to me to make an espresso that doesn't need an EPA warning or a spittoon conveniently located before attempting to shove it into your mouth. And beyond that, with a majority of folks ordering milk-based drinks, you would think that with all that milk would overcome the overwhelming bitterness, but it is not so. It's no wonder that no one wants to try straight espresso! If it's that bad in 12 ounces of steamed milk with chocolate syrup and whipped cream added, who wants to try it straight? Not I said the little home barrista! These "barristas" don't need to fabricate digital portafilters to check brew temperature like Vivace, and they don't need to PID their equipment, but there certainly is some room for improvement beyond the brown paint remover so many of them serve to their customers.
Is it just me?
No- it's the customers who, day after day, continue to patronize these establishments either out of convenience or ignorance. As a group we alties can do something about it. Educate as many people as you can. Do what I do and always bring some home roast, pre-ground with you when out visiting, or have some ready as "going home presents" when guests come over. A Mandheling/Colombian blend, as simple as that is, will make most folks stand up and take notice in a hurry. Hand it to them as they go out the door with a , "Here you go. I think you'll like this."
How many of you have done that and received the comment after they have tried the coffee, "HEY! That's not bitter at all!"? It has happened to me time after time, and admittedly, I am only an amateur enthusiast and I am accomplishing nothing the rest of you couldn't with an investment of a bit of time and care (if you haven't already surpassed me).
On the other hand, when folks learn that there is better and still continue to go back and drink that sludge-from-a-pot they call coffee, well that's another matter. That's stupidity, and there's not a lot we can do about that except repeal the seat belt laws and hope Darwin was right.
Please, don't get me wrong. That comment was made in jest, and I don't wish any harm on anyone just for the coffee they drink. But as long as the masses continue to consume the worst of what can be called coffee, and continue to do it day after day, the only place where we can be sure to get a decent espresso will be at home- mine and yours..