Espresso – Drink of the Week

July 03 2009 - 11:30 AM

I take my coffee seriously. 
Well, to clarify:  I take my espresso seriously.  I call
it coffee because that’s the only way I make coffee, and the only
coffee maker in my house is a semi-automatic espresso maker.  Alongside
it sits a powerful burr grinder, an essential part of good coffee (ok,
espresso) making.

I truly believe that American coffee drinkers are no less capable of appreciating espresso than our Portuguese or Italian
peers. Many of us already drink lattes, an American invention
but espresso-based nevertheless, on a daily basis. 

When it comes to drinking espresso by itself or with small amounts of milk (cappuccino, café cortado, espresso
macchiato), there is a common notion of these drinks being too bitter,
too harsh or, my favorite, too strong.  No one can explain to me
whether “strong” refers to the beverage’s body, flavor, taste or amount
of caffeine.
  Whatever it is, many of us out there use large amounts of latte to disguise the elusive “strong” quality of caffé espresso.

On the average, two ounces of espresso
contain about 40 grams of caffeine.  One 8-oz cup of drip coffee
contains about 300 grams.  Do the math and calculate caffeine content
for two ounces of drip.  Yep, almost twice as much as the bitter stuff.

At
present, there are very few coffee shops in Chicago that produce a
quality cup.  Micro-roasters Metropolis and Intelligentsia deliver the
best espresso-based beverages in town, hands down.  I purchase freshly
roasted beans from either shop, though more often from the latter as my
office is very close to their two locations in the Loop.

Stella Espresso Company, located on a less exciting block of Edgewater, is a
newer shop and I would put them as number three on the list.  They use
Intelligentsia beans and know their way around the equipment, which is
a lot more important than many baristi think (yes, I use Italian
plurals, call me pretentious).

The bottom line is that in most
places – coffee shops, restaurants, cafés – espresso is indeed too
bitter, too harsh and too strong.  By "strong" I mean caffeine
content, which often skyrockets when a barista lets the water run
through the coffee puck for two minutes and produces five or more
ounces of “espresso”, which at that point should be called something
else.

Good
coffee shops in Chicago, as in other cities, are a rarity, but that
shouldn’t mean we have to keep drinking Starbucks mass-produced
cappuccino, masquerading bad coffee flavor with vanilla syrup. 
Espresso was born in Italy, but perfected and refined right here, on
the Northwest coast of the United States.  And there are easy ways to
replicate this refinement right here in the Windy City.

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