Wednesday, April 16, 2008

CASE STUDY: Espresso

I'm going to start a new feature just for this one event. In a Case Study posting, I will analyze a single thing I receive at a restaurant or store and discuss why it's a good example or a bad example.

I'm starting this feature because of an "espresso" I received a few days ago at Brewed Awakenings, a cafe to which I recently gave three stars. This espresso was so bad I considered going back and taking back a half a star. Luckily for them, I got a good cappuccino today, so I'm not feeling vindictive anymore.

EXHIBIT A: The Espresso.

Everything is wrong with that espresso. It smelled bitter, it tasted sour and watery, and had subtle, delicate notes of butt and armpit. Baristi, everyone, do not make espresso like this. It should have been apparent to the person making, just by eyeballing it, that this was a bad pull. There was damn-near no crema on the top. None! What you see is what I got. It looks like coffee. I paid $2 for this.

I also suspect that this shot was pulled directly into the cup. I know that it's common practice to pull shots directly into an opaque cup, but I'm a perfectionist. You never, NEVER pull shots into a cardboard cup. Pull it into a heated, clear glass so you can analyze the crema, the heart, and the body to ensure the shot is of acceptable quality. Of course, that would be asking too much when this espresso quite obviously went from the machine and into my cup with nary a glance by the barista. Very, very disappointing.

So, to re-cap, you make good espresso by always filling the porta-filter. Never skimp on the grounds. Use fresh-ground beans. Run clean cycles regularly. Pull the shot into a clear glass that allows you to examine the three parts of the shot. The crema should be thick and viscous, and the heart and body should swirl around for some time before settling. In fact, the barista should never hold the espresso long enough to see the settling. He/she should know about that event as myth and legend only. Espresso begins to separate and degrade the instant it is born, so do not dawdle!

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