Call me culturally deprived, but I've never been to Europe and don't really "get" espresso... to me it tastes worse than reheated burnt coffee BLAH! My friend from Torino said that my aversion stems from the fact that I only know "espresso" as it comes from Starbucks or Peet's.
So do my palate a favor and educate me! Where can I go (preferably Westside) to get the perfect shot? The most authentically Italian-like?
And don't say to do-it-yourself, since I wouldn't even know if I was preparing it correctly.
in san diego for real espresso go to , tapenade in la jolla, osteria romantica in la jolla,chianti on 5th downtown san diego, the ocean room on 5th, bella luna on 5thn acqua blu also on 5th ave downtown san diego, vincenzo's on india st, zagarellas on india st, there are a lot to mention, have a grat espresso!!
Great question! I should know, as I've been there. It's the type of question that budding espresso seekers ask during the first couple of years of what unfortunately ends up being a fruitless search. Unless you're lucky and happen to be in a town with an active espresso culture, like Seattle, Chicago, or the Bay Area.
But even in those cities one must choose carefully, as it's still the odd cafe that truly pulls an outstanding shot. ...as opposed to Italy, the birthplace of espresso, where it's just the other way around...
But espresso seekers must be true optimists, as despite the odds I still occaisionally muster the courage to order an espresso at a promising-looking cafe, just because the vibe looks right for a well-pulled shot.
If outfitted with the right equipment and technique, I'd say that the best espresso one can generally have is the one that they pull themselves at home, as of all the times I've ordered an espresso in L.A., none of them were worth writing home about, and most were simply unpalatable. But L.A. is a big city with plenty of cafes, and again the eternal optimist part of me is convinced that there are cafes out there that must know what they are doing. (Speaking of which, you might want to check-out Groundwork; I've heard good things about that cafe but haven't had a chance to try it out myself...) There was only one exeption that I can remember, and that was at Vivoli Cafe in West Hollywood. But only when pulled by Luigi, a waiter there who must be the long-lost twin of Roberto Benigni, the comic Italian actor in "Life is Beautiful".
More on this later, but first a little comment on what was so surprising about this little find... As much as I've been dissappointed in L.A. at finding even a drinkable espresso in its cafes, I've found that the odds go precipitously lower once you order one at a restaurant. And the fanciness/priciness of the restaurant never seems to be reflected in the quality of the espresso. Even in the Itallian restaurants.
But sure enough I had a wonderful espresso at Vivoli. (And although sometimes one gets lucky, pulling a good espresso is so difficult that luck is rarely involved when a shot is good...) The reason was clear. Every good espresso I've ever had were always pulled by people who were as fanatical and enthusiastic about espresso as I. And such was the case with Luigi. He can talk up a storm about espresso and coffee, and so can the owner of the restaurant - which is why he was hired. As Luigi related he was a homesick Italian longing for good Italian food, and while dining as a customer talked so passionately about espresso with the owner, (keep a mental picture of Benigni talking about espresso rather than about winning his Oscar, and you kind of get the idea...), that he was hired on that basis alone. Ultimately, however, Vivoli is a restaurant, and consistency in espresso in such an environment is very difficult.
"Espresso-heads" know how rare a well-pulled espresso is in the States, and that what most people believe is a bitter and unpalatable drink is in reality nothing but a poorly executed drink. I honestly believe that there is no more unpalatable a drink as a poorly done espresso pour, while at the same time enjoying a well-executed espresso pour must be one of the top sensory experiences a foodie can have.
So espresso is a double-edged sword, and more often than not it falls on the wrong side. Every pull can generate the worst tasting drink unless everything is aligned just right: * The temperature of the brewing water, where just a degree lower produces a sour drink, and a degree higher produces a burnt-tasting drink * The right blend of beans * The roast, where unfortunately the mass market in the States over-roasts their beans, perhaps to punch through the milk bomb lattes that seems to be the fashion, or more likely because no one anymore, except for the brave and the silly, orders an espresso anymore * The grind, which if too fine causes an over-extraction of the less desireable components, while too course causes an under-extraction * The tamp, where more than just mere tamping pressure but also the pressure distribution within the puck of coffee grounds is critical * The length of the pour, whereby too long a pour extracts too many of the bitter components as well as thins out the pour * The cup, which should be of heavy porcelain, pre-heated to preserve espresso's fleeting flavor and aroma for the brief moment before it can be quickly consumed, and small (only the rare knowledgeable cafe even knows to stock small porcelain cups, tazzinas, made for ristrettos) * The layout of the cafe, such that the espresso is served in a way that it is delivered straight from the barista to the customer, and that can accomodate the customer who wishes to enjoy their espresso while still standing at the counter
One final note: at the true palaces to espresso you will find the barista occaisionally throwing out an espresso pull after only the briefest look at a shot. They are trying to maintain a standard, as pulling a good espresso consistently every time seems to be in the domain of non-mortals.
So when you go to a place that has a good "rep" but doesn't quite have the fortitude to throw away that less than stellar shot that they had just pulled for you, at least know this...
...that they are still bucking the averages and pulling out that stellar shot more often than not, the kind that just might make that lucky customer rethink what an espresso can taste like,
create yet another espresso fanatic!
Great post, very passionate and informative !
I'm wondering if, in your travels, you've ever tried the espresso at Emporio Rulli ? http://www.rulli.com/caffes/index.shtml
I've only been to their location in Larkspur in Marin County, but it looks like they now have several locations. The espresso I've had there on several occasions has been excellent IMO.
Also next time you're traveling through the OC, you might consider stopping in at a little coffeehouse in Orange called "Kaffa!": http://www.kaffainc.com/ I've had some good espresso here.
I haven't had a straight espresso at Urth Caffe - only latte and cappuccino - but I would imagine that if those are great (which they are) the espresso must be pretty fine. Most commercially avaiable coffee can't compare to the organic coffee at Urth.
Sunday's approaching, so it's on my mind.
re: Michael Robertson Moore
The espresso at urth cafe is inconsistent. Sometimes it is decent to good; sometimes it is not. The last time I went I ordered a single in a to-stay cup. The barista served my espresso not in a demi-tasse but in a huge, cold, dripping-with-water coffee mug. I rushed to drink it, but the espresso was already luke-warm... ruined. I recently had a good espresso at a place that I believe is called Espresso Mi Cultura on Hollywood Blvd and Gramercy Pl. in Thai Town (GP is one block west of Wilton). The barista there said they use City Bean's espresso blend.
There are several in LA. They have an incredibly rigid barrista training program and are legendary among coffee growers for their pickiness. Some people prefer a milder roast, but I love the sytle.
They are the best at foaming milk for capaccino's too.
Starbucks sucks except for regular coffee, IMHO, and Il Fornaio is wildly inconsistent from store to store.
If you get to San Francisco, check out Cafe Greco on Columbus for one of the best coffee experiences you can find anywhere.
By mail or if you are in NY, check out the long-time family owned favorite, Porto Rico Importing Company. These guys are fanatics and believe in a mellower roast than the Seattle style (Peets, Starbucks). They are full of incredible knowledge which they will happily share by phone or in person.
I agree with MC Michael that Il Fornaio, at least the one on Beverly Dr. in Beverly Hills serves consistently the best espresso I've found.
I go there every weekday after lunch for my daily shot. Try to make sure that Luis is your barrista, and ask for "corto", which means a short shot. Nothing ruins espresso more quickly than too much water.
They don't routinely serve lemon peel, so that won't be an issue.