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I said ESPRESSO not expresso


Craig Camp
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As I mentioned before, I'm not aware of any coffee expert who thinks robusta is good for espresso. It's used in the blend because it's cheap. If you're experiencing a lack of dimensionality with an all-arabica roast, it's the fault of the roaster not the beans.

CoffeeGeek.com, which I consider to be the definitive online source, lists the robusta claim as #2 on its list of top 10 coffee myths:

2) Robusta beans are necessary in espresso to give the correct body and crema, which is why the Italians use them.

Robusta was initially used in Italian espresso blends because it was cheap; the crema and body were a welcome side effect if you could tolerate the rubbery flavour. In the poorer south of Italy (and most of France) people have grown up with robusta blends and are used to the taste, but in the north there are several roasters (Illy being the most famous) that produce only 100% Arabica blends.

As far as crema and body are concerned, a properly designed Arabica blend can (in my experience) produce better results than any Robusta blend I have tasted. Most of the Robustas used in the world today are still used for the same old reason, cheapness.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The type of coffee is obviously a valid point. However, why can't restaurants using Illy coffee, trained by Illy technicians using the finest commercial espresso machines make good espresso. Is it just bad training or attitude or is there a more fundamental reason?

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They can. It's just that they don't. As far as I can tell the primary reasons are poor training, lack of experience, and poor maintenance of the machines. Few restaurants have a dedicated barrista who makes espresso all day long. Usually it's whichever waiter or bartender happens to be standing by the poorly calibrated machine.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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isn't espresso supposed to be made from 100% arabica, anyway? both lavazza and illy is pure arabica, as far as i know. different qualities, roasts and blends, of course.

"Supposed to be" is an interesting concept. May I submit that what expresso is supposed to be is subjective. I am told that as one moves south in Italy, there's a growing preference for inclusion of robusta beans in the mix. I've been told that robusta is supposed to give a better crema. Those who tell me that, are careful to tell me they're just repeating what they've heard.

We get our beans at DiPalo where Louis is careful not to guide my taste by expressing a preference. He seems to think his customers should drink what they enjoy. There are days when I think the man is a truly subversive force in the foodie community. :biggrin:

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

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I think one of the major problems is that it should be made "ristretto (sp)" or "short".  On many automated machines, there is a picture of a half cup and one of a whole cup.  Most people who don't know what they are doing think they are cheating you if they only give you a half cup.  Really, that just matches the amount of water to the beans correctly; double the water gives you all the bitterness.  The good flavanoids come our with less water, but the bitter components only come up with more water.

I think this is close to the truth. A visit to Tazza d'Oro (for my 60 cents, the best coffee in the world) in Rome confirms your theory -- their standard cafe is very short indeed -- and almost entirely crema. The consistency is closer to that of Parisian hot chocolate than coffee. Not for mere mortals this.

And speaking of Paris, what shocks me more than the inability to get a good espresso anywhere in the States (the Starbucks effect combined with years of negligence) is nowhere near as shocking to me as the state of coffee in the home of haute cuisine. While the espresso may be marginally better in Paris than in NY (especially in the Michelin starred restaurants), I cannot recall ever having a GREAT cafe in Paris. Shocking!

BTW, if anyone disagrees re: Paris, please respond with suggestions as I will be there this weekend and would love to be proved wrong!

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But why? The barrista at an Italian bar makes hundreds of shots a week. I have never seen a mistake. Even the espresso they pump out at the bars at the huge trade shows in tiny plastic cups always seem to be right on the mark.

Craig,

I think (and this is just my own idle speculation) that it's because the average Italian won't drink crap, and most Americans will. I think the same applies to the food in Italy...even the most mediocre is usually better than the average here.

You can get a decent espresso in the US, or at least in Portland (ok, Seattle too). The Illy-trained servers where my son Joe works pull good shots, nearly every server at the Torrefazione outlets I go to do the same, and even, gasp, Starbucks, with their fully automatic machines that take the work out of the hands of the barista (the fast-food model at work), can produce a drinkable espresso most of the time (ask for a ristretto and the odds go up).

Only when we demand a good espresso will we consistently get one. But when the typical drink at a 'specialty' coffee outlet contains 12-16 oz of milk, some sort of sweetened, flavored syrup, and a topping of whipped cream, the espresso lost in there doesn't really matter.

Jim

olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

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And speaking of Paris, what shocks me more than the inability to get a good espresso anywhere in the States (the Starbucks effect combined with years of negligence) is nowhere near as shocking to me as the state of coffee in the home of haute cuisine.  While the espresso may be marginally better in Paris than in NY (especially in the Michelin starred restaurants), I cannot recall ever having a GREAT cafe in Paris.  Shocking!

BTW, if anyone disagrees re: Paris, please respond with suggestions as I will be there this weekend and would love to be proved wrong!

Well, the espresso at Le Carre aux Feuillants (Alain Dutournier's restaurant just off the Place Vendome) has stayed in my memory for perhaps five years now.

No, I agree, that's not a very current recommendation, is it?

c

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I think (and this is just my own idle speculation) that it's because the average Italian won't drink crap, and most Americans will. I think the same applies to the food in Italy...even the most mediocre is usually better than the average here.

Jim I believe has hit it on the head. It is the expectations of the customers that sets the standard.

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I too wondered why the espresso virtually anywhere in Italy was better than espresso here in the U.S. (even at Autogrills). When I asked a nice old woman making it at her bar she told me "l'acqua negli Stati Uniti e stanca."

The water in the U.S. is "tired."

I wonder what that means.

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By the way, I've noticed a trend in Spain for some of the more expensive restaurants to feature Italian brands of coffee -- Illy, for instance. The pity is that I get a better, nuttier, more chocolatier and less bitter cup of coffee from every bar in Spain that uses a Spanish brand. I've found many people who prefer the coffee (espresso, of course) in Spain to that of Italy.

Bux, are Spanish coffees available in the US? I don't believe I've ever seen any. Perhaps on the web somewhere? The espresso we had in Madrid and Barcelona was excellent.

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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It most certainly is the customers and perhaps, most of all the employees of the restaurant who don't know the difference. I have watched hundreds of people drinking horrible espresso without complaint.
Despite all the variables one must account for while drawing a shot, I cannot believe that espresso's learning is so steep that two-thirds of all baristas and restaurants fail miserably in their attempts. I put the problem at training. Coffee quality is another.
As for American espresso, it's my experience that in most restaurants nobody has really been trained to pull a good shot properly. When you factor in the semi-mysterious process at work, more often than not the results suck.
They can. It's just that they don't. As far as I can tell the primary reasons are poor training, lack of experience, and poor maintenance of the machines. Few restaurants have a dedicated barrista who makes espresso all day long. Usually it's whichever waiter or bartender happens to be standing by the poorly calibrated machine.

It's not the barrista's fault. It's a management problem.

If the owners can't tell quality espresso from instant coffee and think you can't, they won't care enough to train their employees and keep track of the quality of the product they sell. So why would some kid who's only doing it til he gets a job paying better than minimum wage care?

Key are good beans, freshness, and time of draw.

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Bux, are Spanish coffees available in the US?  I don't believe I've ever seen any.  Perhaps on the web somewhere?  The espresso we had in Madrid and Barcelona was excellent.

I've not run across any Spanish coffees in for sale in the US and when we were in Spain, the labeling was confusing and we weren't sure which ones to buy, so we didn't bring any home.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Jim I believe has hit it on the head. It is the expectations of the customers that sets the standard.

In the greatest sense, yes. But there remain those rare individual practitioners whose only goal is the excellence they know, not the common denominator the customer will accept.

One such establishment exists on the main street in Calistoga, CA, where a Venetian man has taught his daughter the right way to do it.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Funny thing is, some do care - or even make a career of it. Not everyone strives only for the almighty dollar.

Those people are making $12 an hour. That's twice what coffeeshop employees make where I live. Somebody could decide to live on those wages, and pursue their craft, because in paying them that much, the owner is also paying respect to their talent and skill.

But I still think that it's a reflection on management when the employees are untrained, not on the employees themselves. It shouldn't have to be up to minimum wage employees to figure out how to make a quality product when the owner can't tell the difference, or doesn't care, and think's it's a waste of time.

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"ristretto (sp)" or "short"

Our housekeeper and cook in Italy, Julieta, worked like three people. Her energy knew no bounds. Her good humor was inexhaustible. Her cooking was renowned. She was a Tuscan woman of simple beauty and high virtue.

Once in a while, I would say, "Julieta, let's take a coffee break." She would look up from whatever she was doing with a look of slight surprise, and, seeing that it would please me, she would give an assertive nod and march to the kitchen, where she would produce two perfect ristretti from her own machine. I would sit at the kitchen table, watching. With one in each hand, she would come over to the table and hand me mine, already mixed with the amount of sugar she knew I liked. Inevitably, she would ignore the chair I had pulled out for her. As I took the first of the two or three sips in the cup, Julieta would raise hers and knock it back like a shot of whiskey. She would pause reflectively for a second or two, then she would smack her chest a couple of time with her palm. "Buono!", she would say. And then without another word, she would wheel on her heel and go back to work.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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The place where my son works bought a new commercial machine when they opened, and the Illy rep came in to train everyone. Even he couldn't get a perfect shot every time, and he said that's typically the case.

But why? The barrista at an Italian bar makes hundreds of shots a week. I have never seen a mistake. Even the espresso they pump out at the bars at the huge trade shows in tiny plastic cups always seem to be right on the mark.

What is the mystery?

The main reason for espressi being so bad in the states is because no one is trained on how to clean the machine. Most bartenders place the gruppo (the part where the grinds go) in the dishwasher at the end of every shift. The first think I was taught 20 years ago here in Italy by a barista is to never wash a coffee machine a stove top moka or a regular machine) with soap. No soap, ever! When you use soap (and hot water too) you take off all of the lovely oils that the grindsleave behind. This is what gets the crema.

When we bought our big $10 grand machine for our restaurant (12 years ago), I bought a 5 kilos of beans and started making espressi. Took quite a while (coupole of hours) but the result was a great coffee from the first day we opened. I taught all of our bartenders never to wash the gruppo, just to rinse it daily with cold water. Of course every once in a while, someone would through them in the dishwasher (a fill in bartender or the cleaning crew) so I would have to start all over again with my 5 kilo bag. :shock::wacko:

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  • 4 weeks later...
I think one of the major problems is that it should be made "ristretto (sp)" or "short".

Not to be pedantic or anything, but actually a ristretto shot is not the same as a short shot. Short shots are merely less water through the same grounds as a normal (or long) shot (a shorter brew time in essence). Ristretto shots are made using a different (much finer) grind, resulting in the same volume of espresso as a short shot, using the same (reduced) amount of water as a short shot, but with a full duration pull.

Short shots are slightly more intense in flavour than normal shots.

Ristretto shots are far more concentrated and extracted in flavour than normal shots.

I've found very few places in the US that will do (or know how to do) true ristretto shots.

Finally - I'd tend to argue that espresso need to be normal, short or ristretto to be quality. I've had great "god" shots pulled all three ways.

The truth is that pulling great shots requires knowledge and training. Most american "baristas" have neither. Sadly, the truth is that most american customers not only don't care - but often prefer "bad" espresso to good (the over-roasted starbucks beans, the over-extracted 2 oz shots at many coffee shops, the 16 oz "cappucinos at Peets). It's why the Cafe Latte is the prefered drink and why Torani syrup sells so well here.

Finally, it is (of course) a vast overstatement to say that you cannot get good espresso in the US. I can name dozens of places where the espresso is on par with the good cafe bars in France or even Italy. I admit, I cannot name a single one that is on par with the great cafe bars in Italy, but that may be asking too much.

fanatic...

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The place where my son works bought a new commercial machine when they opened, and the Illy rep came in to train everyone. Even he couldn't get a perfect shot every time, and he said that's typically the case.

No-one can pull a perfect (aka "god") shot every time. This includes the Baristi at the great Italian joints. There are simply too many variables.

This issues is that, in the US, it's rare to find someone making espresso who deserves being called a Barista as it's rare to find someone who can pull great shots ever time. In fact, it's rare to find someone who can even pull good shots each time. This is the problems.

My fear is that, when you say "perfect" you're describing what some might consider either "good" or "great".

fanatic...

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Check this article out. Well written, by one of the most respected american "experts."

As noted in various previous posts (and the above article) the problems are myriad.

For what it's worth - following are the key steps I teach our Baristi:

1) Use the best quality appropriate coffee (by appropriate I mean an actual espresso blend and roast),

2) Use the best quality espresso machine (I tend to swear by the La Marzocco),

3) Make sure the espresso machine is correctly set up and calibrated (if you live somewhere with extreme changes in temp or humidity throughout the day you'll need to calibrate at least 3 times a day, otherwise once or twice each day should do it) - a single shot should never be more than 1.25 oz and should be 1 oz after crema has settled,

4) Clean, clean and clean again. Clean the hopper on the grinder, clean the burrs, clean and backflush the machine, clean the frother, soak and clean the portafilters and the mallets and most of all clean the portafilter between shots,

5) Leave the portafilter in the grouphead at all times (most portafilters, if cold, can absorb up to 15 degrees Farenheit - resulting in espresso brewing at a lower temp).

6) Watch the grind, calibrate the grind, have the correct grind,

7) Use the correct amount of coffee (we spec 16 grams for a double),

8) Tamp! Tamping is incredibly important. I can't tell you how many places I've seen where they're actually using the POS plastic tamper that came with the machine. Get a real tamper, practice getting consistent 30 lbs of pressure with it and make sure you polish and remove any stray grounds.

9) Taste your shots. This is the most important step of all.

Edited by malachi (log)

fanatic...

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Malachi, if we're talking about Italian coffee here, and not to get Pedantic, aren't Cafe Lungo and Cafe Doppio two different things? If you want a tall, you ask for a doppio, a double. Ristretto is the stronger of the two, while Lungo is much weaker, perhaps watered down? (I haven't been for a few months, refresh my memory, Bill or Craig?)

Illy actually has a great system. The guy in charge of Illy brewing goes down to Brazil or wherever it is that he gets his coffee from, and yearly hosts a contest, giving 100,000 dollars to the winner in the best bean category. With the 100,000 dollars, he binds an official contract to use the best beans, the ones of the winner, and then cuts it with about 10 to 20% lesser quality beans, roasts them, and puts them on the market. The result is still a far superior coffee than what most of us are used to.

I like it.

I don't ever want to pay 2,3,4 dollars for a double shot of shit. Most people who complain that espresso here is motor oil, they're right. They have a right to be pissed, but not if they keep sucking it down because it's the only option out there. Make a search, even if it means ordering beans online, getting that coffee machine, or driving 10 miles out of your way to get a great shot.

Don't settle. Especially in settings not of large cities, no one knows how. The practice of making a cup is not regimented. The respect to the greatness of the product is not shown. Watch some high school joe jockey scrape the chaff off the top, and give a half assed pat to your coffee, or give a shake to the grinder to change the size of the grind itself. That really busts my hump. It busts it because I know exactly what it takes to make a good cup of coffee, and they should actually pay attention to me when I tell them what I want.

Yes, sacrilege here to some, but many times I need a frothy milk infused coffee beverage. For God's sake, learn how to use the frother. Or at least care about your job.

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I think one of the major problems is that it should be made "ristretto (sp)" or "short".

Not to be pedantic or anything, but actually a ristretto shot is not the same as a short shot. Short shots are merely less water through the same grounds as a normal (or long) shot (a shorter brew time in essence). Ristretto shots are made using a different (much finer) grind, resulting in the same volume of espresso as a short shot, using the same (reduced) amount of water as a short shot, but with a full duration pull.

So In Italy, when you ask for a ristretto, is that a 'true' ristretto in general? Because I haven't normally noticed them adjusting the grind or using different coffee. Maybe I haven't been looking carefully.

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So In Italy, when you ask for a ristretto, is that a 'true' ristretto in general? Because I haven't normally noticed them adjusting the grind or using different coffee. Maybe I haven't been looking carefully.

No a ristretto here in Italy is the same grind. Ristretto means tight, you make a coffee with the same type and amount of grinds but just get the first part of the run which has more of the coffee flavor. The longer you let it run, the weaker the coffee that comes out. You can watch it coming out and pull away the cup at the right time by noting the color.

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