Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Jul 21, 2008 01:47 PM

Bouchon Warning -- horrible latte!

I apologize if this isn't news and the topic has been beaten to death; I couldn't find it when i did a search (checked both bay area board and Chowhound generally)

I was in Yountville last weekend, stopped by Bouchon for coffee & pastry. The pastries were good, not spectacular. The regular coffee, i.e. "here's a cup, go pump yourself a cup of coffee from the back bar" -- was OK, nothing remarkable in either direction good or bad.

I made the mistake of ordering a latte instead of a second cup of coffee: I was STUNNED at just how BAD that latte was. I recall noticing when they made it, they stuck some kind of teabag thing into the espresso machine in place of tamped-down fresh-ground espresso -- that must've been the root cause, since I'm pretty sure the milk hadn't gone sour (it was Clover, maybe organic).

Perhaps I've been spoiled by Blue Bottle, but that mess tasted like it spewed out of my company's Kafeteria Koffee Maker at 5:30 pm, after 'baking' on the burner since 7 am.

I took one sip, flinched, took a second to make sure it was really as bad as I thought (i thought Thomas Keller was famed for attention to detail?), then I tossed it straight in the trash. If it's pastries & latte you're after, get at least the latte part ELSEWHERE!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Those are Illy "pods." Keller had his Unic machine specially modified to use them. The whole point of pods is that they make very consistent espresso without requiring a skilled barista.

    All I can think is that they're buying them in bulk (rather than individually wrapped) and not storing them properly and/or not going through them fast enough.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      OMG! They did that ON PURPOSE!? too funny!

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        There really is no such thing as a fresh pod. They go stale as soon as the coffee is ground. I guess those restaurants that use them don't give a fig about coffee. Probably because their customers don't either.

        1. re: chipman

          A bakery-cafe owner that didn't care about the quality of his coffee wouldn't go to the extra expense of buying Illy pods or modifying an espresso machine to use them.

          Some pods are vacuum-sealed individually, others are vacuum-sealed in big bags. The former stay fresh until used and produce a consistently good product (not the best in the world but better than you'll get from an unskilled barista). The latter start oxidizing seriously when the bag is opened. My guess is the idea was to use the former and at some point they switched to the latter. Alternatively, the machine needs adjustment.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I'll bet you will never see Blue Bottle pods. For once, I'm on the 'shouldn't be pre-ground' side.

            1. re: rworange

              Pods are definitely not an artisanal thing, but Bouchon Bakery's not the French Laundry, either. It's the prototype for a chain (which now has branches in NY and Vegas). Using pods seems similar to his use of frozen potatoes for the french fries at his Bouchon restaurants, both in the purpose being consistently good quality and in snobs pooh-poohing the whole concept.

              Personally I prefer coffee made from vaccum-packed Italian dark roast to fresh-ground beans from Blue Bottle. Fresh-ground Peet's is my regular, but I keep bricks of Lavazza Oro or the like around for emergencies.

            2. re: Robert Lauriston

              I still disagree on the relative freshness of Pods. I also disagree that pods can produce a good espresso. I will agree that an unskilled barista can produce something undrinkable no matter what kind of machine is used.

              As far as having an espresso machine modified for pods? The only modification needed is to change the basket in the portofilter. Takes five dollars and five seconds to do.

        2. link

          Bouchon Bakery
          6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

          1. Nothing ruins my morning faster than paying top dollar for instant coffee. When I walk in an establishment like this I expect a skilled barista making real coffee not pseudo service ala Mcdonalds.

            8 Replies
            1. re: Docsknotinn

              Perhaps the barista put the pod in upside down, which is easy to do. The result is a weak-ass shot. Down with pods and shame on Illy for making them and Bouchon for using them.....Blecchh!

              1. re: adamshoe

                I have to agree at least in this case. I expect fresh coffee not instant. I know some might argue the pods not being instant but really it's an issue of fast food Vs real food from my perspective.
                Converting a machine to pods in an establishment like this no matter how much it costs was not a wise move. If they wanted to upgrade then they should be using illy whole beans but then they would actually have to pay some one that knows how to make coffee.
                I expect this is a lot more about profit than consistency or quality.

                1. re: Docsknotinn

                  If I do not smell fresh coffee beans or see a grinder on the premises, I have ZERO expectation of good coffee...
                  Not snobby about most things but I get my coffee (and not that watered down coffee drink stuff but the real deal straight up) from Peets or Petaluma Coffee and Tea.
                  If I want down home comfort food coffee from a diner-- Pete's Henny Penny on Redwood Hwy (sometimes you just have to have some old fashioned diner food that is made fresh in the middle of the night).
                  Bakeries tend to be bakeries not bastions of decent coffee:)

                  1. re: drmimi

                    link 2

                    Henny Penny's
                    4995 Petaluma Blvd N, Petaluma, CA 94952

                    1. re: rworange

                      Thanks reworange-- having a carpal tunnel flare--

                  2. re: Docsknotinn

                    Bouchon did not convert their machines to use pods, nor does using Illy pods represent an extra expense. Bouchon has always used Illy pods for espresso, as have all of Thomas Keller's establishments until recently, when he began switching over to superautomatic machines that grind, tamp, and produce an "espresso" at the touch of a button.

                    Max was absolutely justified in being shocked and appalled. That Keller has been able to get away with using pods and superautomatics in place of a proper semiautomatic machine, grinder, and trained baristas speaks volumes about the degree to which fine coffee is the poor stepchild of the restaurant industry.

                    Keller prides himself on doing everything from scratch, yet here he is serving pod coffee at Bouchon and using superautomatics at his restaurants. I have heard it claimed that a really good, well maintained superautomatic can make a decent espresso, but no pod or superautomatic machine can match an espresso prepared with freshly ground coffee by a trained barista.

                    The Italians have broken espresso preparation into the four Ms: macchina (the espresso machine), macinzaione (the grinder), miscela (the coffee blend) and mano (the person making the shot).

                    It is extremely challenging for a restaurant to turn out good espresso drinks, and i could be argued that pods are a better restaurant option than turning the process over to a clueless barista, but it is simply unacceptable for a chef of Keller's stature to remove the mano from the process and resort to short cuts.

                    1. re: TopoTail

                      Keller doesn't pride himself on doing everything from scratch at the Bouchon restaurants and bakeries. As I noted above, they use frozen potatoes for their french fries. That ensures more consistently good fries than they could get with highly variable fresh potatoes anywhere near the same price point.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I think the french fries and the espresso are completely different situations.

                        Keller may not do everything from scratch at the Bouchon outposts of his empire, but he does absolutely trade on his reputation for meticulous attention to detail. In the case of the french fries, the frozen potatoes yield some darned tasty fries, so I see no reason to fault him for finding a convenient way to present a consistent product. In the case of coffee and espresso, judging from the tenor of this thread, he is merely trading on his name to sucker people into paying top dollar for an inferior and ill-considered product.

              2. The original comment has been removed
                1. The original comment has been removed