blog from the ceo & superbarista of phoenix coffee, home of the best baristas in cleveland, ohio

Thursday, May 12, 2005

It's mysterious, it's frustrating, it's glorious, it's espresso...

Does it have take years to learn how to make a beautiful shot of espresso? Maybe it does. Maybe it can't be learned in a seminar, or in a day, or in a month, or in a year of days, or a year of months. I know it took me years to just start by just giving up. I had to give up my notion that espresso was a formula. I had to give up my idea that I knew what I was doing. I had to give up the precious thought that espresso was simple. Give up that espresso is linear. Give up whatever grasp I had on it and start over. Pretend like I know nothing. Pretend like I'm a beginner. And then the new and unknown can begin to operate and interesting things happen.

I wanted espresso to be something that I could show other people how to do in a one-two-three manner... i.e. follow these steps and you'll have it. In fact, I do hand out a sheet to espresso enthusiasts that is called "Ten Steps to a Perfect Espresso". But its really an oversimplification. I could spend all day just exploring the variable of the grind. Each variable in the process could take an entire day to explore. Let's take the consistency of the crema for example. One day Dennis (espresso technician extraordinaire) and I spent the best part of the day experimenting with different blends of coffee and different pulls of the shot, different tamps, different coffee quantities, in order to acheive the consistency of crema that we were looking for. It took over 10 pounds of coffees before we learned anything substantial or came up with a recognizable result.

And I will admit that when I pull a shot I still have to taste it before I can be completely sure of its quality. Sometimes even when it looks like you have done everything right, the flavor still isn't there. It's mysterious, it's frustrating, it's glorious, it's espresso. It is a process that responds well to love and attention. It's a process that gives you immediate feedback on how well you just spent the past 60 seconds of your life. Did you pack the basket correctly? Did you tamp correctly? Was the polish complete? Is the blend optimal? How about the grind? Was it correct, given all the other variables? All these questions and more are answered immediately after you finish the brew and taste the shot. No waiting around, just immediate, unfettered feedback and experience. It's not like baking or cooking where you have to wait to find out how you did. With espresso, you know as soon as you complete the swallow.


Blogger Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Sarah,

Melisah noted tonight that she thinks I'm the only person who's ever bought a guzzler's card for espresso.



6:56 PM, May 13, 2005  

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