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

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The first shot is for the machine

It's an Italian tradition that the first shot that you make is for the machine. But we still tasted it to remind ourselves why that first one is generally discarded. As we contorted our faces, Dewey asked why the first shot is no good. Just chalk that up to one of the mysteries of espresso. It's not logical, but it's true.

For the two subsequent shots I used the same amount of coffee and replicated the tamp pressure and polish technique as closely as possible. They got progressively better, but I still didn't have the shining example of complexity that I sought.

With a grin and a hand gesture towards the machine, Dennis let me know that he wanted to flaunt his prowess, and he stepped up to the grinder. I introduced him as the Espresso Wizard that he is, and after another false start due to our use of the incorrect basket shape, he produced a shot with all out nuttiness, complete smoothness and wonderful complexity. This is why we love espresso.

While Dewey may have been impressed with the "final" product, he was duly overwhelmed by the effort and consideration that went into making this exemplary shot. He got up and wandered into Carl's office, seeking consolation. Was it really this hard to be in the coffee biz? Would a superautomatic machine solve all these problems?

After coaxing him back out to try some other espresso permutations (namely naked espresso), we explained to him that if we had made all six of the shots on a superautomatic machine, they would have all rated a 7.5 or an 8. As it was, the first shot rated a 0, the second a 4, the third a 5, all the way up to the sixth rating a perfect 10. The question he has to answer for himself is how much of a gambling man is he? The superautomatic is a sure bet. A traditional machine requires extensive attention to detail and commitment to the art of espresso, which not many are willing to make.


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