Moving away from espresso

I've discovered something about myself. Like fellow barista Stephen Morrissey, I believe I am not an espresso person anymore. Sure, I appreciate espresso. It is the most concentrated representation of coffee and brings out characteristics that are not apparent in any other mode of preparation. But, it has to be done well. That's the issue I think. There are so many intricacies in getting that proper extraction. If anything goes wrong, it is magnified in that little demitasse more than if I made a nice 12 ounce press of a microlot offering from a world class roaster.

What's really interesting is that in the ten days I have been back in Vancouver, arguably one of the better North American centres for top quality espresso, is that I have had one macchiatto and no espresso. I even worked a shift at Wicked. However, I have had a lot of french press (at home... mmm... Intelligentsia Honduras La Tortuga), a fair bit of Clover coffee at both Elysian and Artigiano (Cup of Excellence...) and a few americanos at the Boulevard before I got the Intelly beans (I'm not counting those americanos though). I've thought about getting espresso, but when I see a list of coffees available on the Clover at Elysian, it's too tempting. Those cups can exhibit a complexity not only in depth of flavor, but also a complexity that evolves over the course of drinking. This happens with espresso too, but it's quick and can have rather unpleasant results if you let it cool too much. Ideally, espresso would have that pleasant evolution, but I haven't witnessed it much.

Maybe it's not the espresso though. Maybe it's the current availability of incredible coffees in Vancouver on incredible equipment. I haven't been a part of the scene here for very long, but it seems as if all of a sudden, there is a wealth of stunningly diverse and carefully produced coffees at several shops. The scene has expanded too, with even more people sharing their ideas and coming out for tastings with other like minded folk. And... since the incredible CoE coffees, the microlots, the little estate coffees aren't available often as single origins (or, one wouldn't want to do that to them), you drink them on the Clover or press them. Makes sense, right?

Then again, maybe I'm just a whiner, not trying hard enough for perfect extraction and not paying enough attention to my work.

Today I am making it a priority to get an espresso from Elysian (no pressure guys!). I hope, and think, it will convert me back to espresso.


Blogger flyingthud said...

espresso is over rated, in my books at least.

Anonymous conrad said...

it's funny, what really got me into coffee was the learning experience. and then with espresso there is so much to learn! you try and try, and finally you get that great shot, and then you learn how to repeat it... then when you go out to other shops, you realize that everyone is always learning too. and it becomes obvious that some learn faster than others. it got to the point where i would stop by a place, and look in to see who was on bar before i went in.

in may i had my first cup off the clover at elysian, a nicaraguan, and i just sat back and enjoyed it. since then i've had more then a few cups off different clovers, and different cups off of french presses, and there's no choosing between baristas anymore, only between coffees. instead of looking for imperfections in the shot and trying to think of what was done wrong, you're looking for different floral or fruit or nut notes.

but then last week i somehow pulled a shot of caffe d'arte's firenze that tasted like fresh potato bread (off the swift even!) so now i'm all about pressurized coffee again... for now...

Blogger Shaun Taylor said...

Yeah Peter, I completely understand what you just laid out. I too have been going through something of a switch - I didn't turn on my BII this morning and that is not the first time it's happened; it has been used less and less over the last month. For now I am digging deeply into the Aeropress experience, on the surface it appears to be a simple device (it is) but the more you play the more it offers (like espresso). I just finished a cup of Malawi Mapanga AA+ and it was crazy what was going on in there, prior to that I Aeropressed some freshly roasted Ethiopian Lekempti which is an incredible coffee and
I can't seem to pull on the BII.
I suspect it will be a roller-coaster ride moving between Aeropress and espresso over a period of several months.

My next comment is the real reason I am writing. I don't agree with your comment about you not being an espresso person anymore (nor do I agree with jimseven's most recent post and I will post there next). You are most certainly an espresso person and will continue to be one for a very long time. You may not drink it as much or feel as passionate about the science and experimentation, nontheless you are still an espresso person in so much as you have deep experience and knowledge and taste for espresso. Now you may not drink it as frequently as you taste the fruits of other possible extraction processes but you are still by definition an espresso person. Coffee in a mug and coffee in a demitasse are indeed the same bean but are worlds apart, no doubt. Either one could be better than the other depending on your frame of reference, current palate, what's interesting you at that moment and so on and so forth. You have enough passion and understanding to appreciate that. When both are done well it is heavenly and worth staying involved with - but you know that.

I think it's a transient phase and you will be loving/fascinated with espresso equally as much again. Simply... one of your average espresso shots is better than a really good cup of bad coffee. Or vice versa.

Anyway, I dig what you are doing and would probably do the same (I may even be a little envious). In lieu of, I am trying to experience as much of coffee (in its various forms) as I can via home roasting (I've now broken through the 100lbs barrier). I'm having fun, loving the bean and getting good results... as noted by the guy two houses down who was mowing his lawn last night. As I tried to drive past him, he ran into the middle of the street to let me know they were out of the Oaxaca Finca El Olivo I had roasted for them last week. Told him I would drop off some more, I should have asked him to mow my lawn first. ;-)

Anonymous Joe Miller said...

Peter, I think thatwhat you have just described is the problem that even the layman has with espresso; accessability. People want to enjoy espresso but can't (or are unable to) because of the intensly intricate process that goes into manking the perfect shot. But then again, do you remember the old days, sitting in east day room drinking Espresso and analysing the intricacies of the cup infront of us? You see the more you learn the harder it becomes to not notice problems or imperfections in anything let alone espresso, look at music as another example. The one good thing that comes out of this is, the world is diverse and there are so many things to try and experience, it is sometimes quite refreshing to leave old habits behind and pick up new ones.

Anonymous steve said...

ok, this is weird. i'm at work and i'm thinking "wow, that muffin i got at bumpy's this morning really rocked. i should call them and see if i can get a dozen for the office tomorrow" and i google "Bumpy's calgary" to find their number and happen upon your blog. just kind of reading along, you talk a lot about coffee, (that's cool, who doesn't like coffee?) and then i check out your last.fm playlist and i'm like, "hm, this seems familiar". so, i click on it and access your last.fm profile and then, this is the weird part, i'm the top person on your neighbour list! it's me, blue6353!

anyway, if you want to share your bewilderment drop me a line at last.fm.


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