Allegria Espresso Bar

Espresso should taste as good as the beans smell.
July 22, 2007, 12:12 pm
Filed under: Espresso

For many years, I wondered how coffee could smell so good, so alluring, yet taste like filtered dirt. It just didn’t make sense, but  it was what it was, and I left it at that. I therefore never touched the stuff…until a few years ago when I spent some time in Seattle. I avoided the coffee scene for many months, but as my departure date neared, I imagined the regret I would have for not trying coffee, and more specifically espresso, in a city where my chances of getting good coffee had to be high. I wanted to give coffee one last opportunity to deliver on its aromatic promise.

At Zoka, they have an espresso blend, Espresso Paladino, that “possesses a balance of creamy, honeyed body and fine acidity in the finish. The resulting crema is flecked with caramel and cocoa flavors…” And when I tried my eight ounce latte, I found a ridiculously smooth taste that proved to me that coffee (espresso) can taste as good as the beans smell. If done right, that is. And to do it right is a terribly difficult thing to do, (which might explain why 95 – 97 percent of coffee shops cannot produce anything good. Espresso preperation is part science and part culinary art, and both require true dedication.)     

David Schomer, Owner of Espresso Vivace, has studied and toiled with espresso for decades, and he’s still working hard every day, because he knows that the more he understands, the less he understands. Understood? It’s a world that gets larger with each step, and thankfully, David isn’t alone. There are people in the coffee industry who have made it their life’s pursuit to create espresso that doesn’t send the drinker recoiling in fright. Search out these people and their shops, and you will be rewarded.

I will return to Seattle for a week in November, and this time, I will visit coffee shops every day, attempting to further my education on espresso and enjoying what the city has to offer.     


Madison’s Espresso
July 16, 2007, 12:40 am
Filed under: Espresso

A few weeks ago, I went to Madison, Wisconsin and stopped at a number of cafes to try their espresso. I got to four of the many, many shops in the area, ordering a single espresso at each. 

But before I pass judgement, let me say that this was a Sunday afternoon, so maybe their best baristas weren’t working, or they were but they were jaded because they were working a weekend and wanted me to feel their pain. Although, the girl at Espresso Royale seemed happy enough, so who knows?

Whatever the case, the espresso was simply bad. At all of the places. I was able to get each espresso in a ceramic cup, not paper, but still, what was held in that ceramic was a pale, thinned crema barely holding itself together on top of a watery brew. And if that wasn’t enough, the single shot espressos were all three to four ounces in size, and I didn’t have the heart to leave a barely touched espresso on the table, so I sat and drank and drank and… 

What was nice was that each espresso did get progressively better as we moved from shop to shop, or my standards were lowered to make me feel as though the trip wasn’t a complete failure, but we’ll pretend that wasn’t the case.

The best shot on this lazy Sunday afternoon came from Etes Vous Prets, or EVP on Mineral Point Road. But it was still a far cry from the double Sonnie pulled me at Metropolis in Chicago a few months prior. That was tasty.

Yeah, toss that box around. It’s only full of ceramic cups.
July 15, 2007, 2:16 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

This is not what you want to see when your espresso cups and saucers arrive.

Ceramic Cups and Saucers

Thankfully, they were double-boxed within. The odd thing was that the inner boxes were marked “Fragile.” The outer one mentioned nothing of that. Ah well, the cups were unbroken.


Cup and Saucer 

Now, they’re off to the printer’s…

It breaks my heart
July 4, 2007, 6:34 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Coffee with your cream? Espresso with your milk, syrup, and sprinkles? Half-decaf, half-fat, half-this, half-that. This bothers me, even though it really shouldn’t. People like what they like, and if that makes them happy, that’s great. And yet, I begin to cringe thinking about a drink that gets cold by the time it’s finished even if it’s guzzled. Twenty ounces is just too much. The espresso is drowning. It cannot fend off that much milk. By the time that first sip is taken, the espresso’s dead. You’ve killed it. Well done.

Where’s the appreciation for quality over quantity? Good coffee, good espresso blends, are wonderful in small sizes. Poco ma buono. Small but good.

I hate to say it, but I doubt the well-pulled ristretto will ever find a mainstream audience. It’ll be forever relegated to back alleys and closed shops where small groups of coffee purists (coffee snobs) hunch over portafilters measuring their doses to the gram as they wipe powdery streaks of espresso from their cheeks. 

But that isn’t going to stop me from trying to educate and serve the smaller drinks to the general public. If it’s free, why turn it down? I will even add flavorings to drinks, just not a lot. Think signature drinks at barista competitions rather than white chocolate, raspberry, and vanilla (3 ounces of each). The espresso will only shine brighter in the drink. It’s the star, not the steamed milk, not the oversized cup, and I’ll know I’ve done my best to uphold the elegance, sophistication, and romance that can be espresso.

Then why, oh why will I still be haunted by 20 oz. cappuccinos? I don’t know. I just will. I should let it go, but I can hear the espresso screaming. It’s dieing, and it breaks my heart.