More Adventures in Search of the Perfect Espresso

Okay, so we have taken a brief look at the differences between espresso beans. By the way in Italy, they don’t even refer to the drink as an espresso. It is simply caffe. You go to a coffee bar and order a caffe-a coffee. This brings me to a good point. There are a number of coffee shops across America who confuse cafÃ?© with caffe. So here it is, once and for all. Pay attention! A cafÃ?© is a place to drink caffe. I appreciate would-be cafÃ?© owners’ eagerness to embrace a foreign culture, but do a little research first, huh?

So back to business, as the brilliant title above suggests, to know it is to love it-the “it” of course being espresso. The question that this maxim begs is of course does one have to know espresso in order to love it. The short answer is yes. If you don’t understand what espresso is, you are unlikely to ever develop any sort of criteria by which you can judge an espresso. You’ll continue to be happy with your McStarbucks frozen frappe concoction, and never know the true joy of a perfectly made espresso.

So what’s the best way to get to know espresso? I suggest as homework, that you go out to at least five different coffee shops and order a straight espresso. By comparing these five different variations on a very simple theme, you’ll start to develop an appreciation for what an espresso should not only taste like, but what it should look like as well. Do they serve it in a real ceramic cup? Did they warm the cup before filling it with espresso? If the answer to the first question is no, I suggest you never frequent the coffee shop again. In fact, you might want to throw the espresso on the ground and then storm out of the establishment in a huff. They are serving you a bastardized version of something beautiful, and for that they should be punished. I can see drinking drip coffee out of a cardboard cup, but an espresso? Half of the enjoyment of the espresso is the beautifully warmed and correctly proportioned demitasse cup. Some coffee shops have little cardboard demitasse cups for their single and double shot customers. This is almost more insulting that serving an espresso in a regular cardboard cup, for these coffee shops know that they are bastardizing the ritual.

Another thing you’re likely to notice is that coffee shops will vary their shot sizes greatly. What one cafÃ?© calls a single will look much more like a triple lungo. I’ve literally had double shots that fill half a small cardboard coffee cup. I think some “baristas” (believe me I use that term loosely) think they’re giving the customer a better deal by pulling a longer shot. Nothing could be further from the truth. By pulling a longer shot they are ensuring that the coffee grounds are over-extracted and ultimately bitter. More isn’t better. Please don’t supersize my espresso!

After tasting five different versions of a single shot, you’re likely to walk away with a better understanding of what makes a good shot of espresso. Additionally, you’ll then know which coffee shops are more likely to produce better espresso drinks. If they can make a good single shot, there is a great chance that all of their espresso drinks are of high quality.

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