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Espresso in Austin

Steven Dilley May 27, 2010 05:48 AM

I was lucky enough to have spent the past month in Southern Italy where I consumed copious amounts of espresso. I'd like to know if there are any places serving anything remotely comparable in Austin. I'm not interested in any soy, vanilla, milk-based, nut-infused beverages. A simple, 25g espresso is all I'm looking for. Concentrated, balanced, great texture. I know there are some serious coffee geeks in Austin who go out of their way to source great beans, perfect their grinds, etc. I'm not expecting Sant'Eustachio, but a competent cup would be nice. Thanks in advance.

  1. uarent May 27, 2010 05:55 AM

    Ahhh San Eustachio and Tazza D'Oro. Quanto mi mancha....
    Personally, I like Bennu, Dolce Vita, and Frank for espresso. Teo and Dolce Vita both have very good cappucinos

    1206 W 38th St, Austin, TX 78705

    1. f
      fduran May 27, 2010 07:31 AM

      I usually drink cappuccino, not straight espressos, but the best ones (Cappuccinos) I have in Austin are at Once Over Coffee, Teo, Sodade, and Caffe Medici.

      1206 W 38th St, Austin, TX 78705

      Caffe Medici
      1101 W Lynn St, Austin, TX 78703

      1. t
        topodrinko May 27, 2010 07:32 AM

        Cafe Medici or the recently opened Houndstooth Coffee

        1. t
          tummoi May 27, 2010 10:23 AM

          I guess I'm something of a coffee geek, having a modified Rancilio Silvia espresso machine and a manual La Pavoni here at home... Like you, I prefer either straight espresso or at most a macchiato.

          The most consistent place in town in my experience is Cafe Medici. Like they actually train their barristas or something. In fact I've heard they also enter competitions, which isn't something I hear of many shops doing.

          I've had a good espresso once at "Once Over Coffee". Maybe because they use the same supplier as Medici. They have a nice patio out back, but otherwise I wasn't crazy about the ambiance.

          The others I can mention like Green Muse, Teos, Clementine, Pacha, Epoch, Jos. I enjoy them all, but not compare any of them to the product you'll find at Medici.

          1206 W 38th St, Austin, TX 78705

          Green Muse Cafe
          519 W Oltorf St, Austin, TX 78704

          2 Replies
          1. re: tummoi
            chascates May 28, 2010 06:03 AM

            Is your Rancilio modified with the more accurate 3rd-party PID? At least I've read it's more accurate.

            1. re: chascates
              tummoi Jun 2, 2010 12:08 PM

              It is modified with a Fujitsu PID. I took the same approach as this guy: http://www.digidive.com/coffee/index....

          2. s
            sisundar May 27, 2010 01:04 PM

            In my humble opinion, there are four places that in austin that do coffee right. We seem to be experiencing a coffee renaissance here; just over an year ago Cafe Medici was the only shop doing things right. Here they are in (my personal) order of preference.

            1. Once Over coffee bar: Great coffee, and seriously nice baristas/owners. They use cuvee coffee primarily (though they will occasionally play around with other coffees on the side). The most consistent shop I've found in austin (which might be becasue there are only 4 baristas total that ever work there). Their signature espresso (dead fingers) is an interesting combination of brazil, guatemala and el salvadorian coffees. Flavour profile is mostly deep red fruits (cherries) along with dark chocolate. Not super bright (which a lot of newer espressos are). The baristas (especially one of the owners Rob) are always willing to chat about coffee and will give you every detail imaginable (including how long they rest thier espresso before using it!). Drip coffee is french press only.

            2. Houndstooth coffee : Brand new shop opened around N Lamr and 45th by an ex-medici employee. USP : they use 3 great roasters (cuvee, Counter Culture and Intelligensia), and always have atleast 2 different espressos available. They serve meritage from Cuvee which is a very well balanced espresso - one of my favourites when done well. Their other offerings rotate around too much to describe, but I've had La Forza from Counter culture (exceptional super-dark roasted espresso) and the classic Black cat from Intelligesia. Shot quality has been inconsistent, but that might just be because the shop is new and juggling so many different coffees. Also do french press, syphon and pour overs

            3. Cafe medici : The original specialy coffee shop in town, and still very good. Their signature espresso medici by cuvee is quite bright, sometimes over-assertively leaning onto the side of lemon/citrus. Plus over the last year or so with the guadalupe store and lots of new baristas, the quality isn't always consistent between baristas (no one pulls terrible shots, but there's certainly a differnce between some of the best guys (like lorenzo for example) and the others). Medici Notte (speical event with SO espresso and specialty drinks)is an interesting concept and well worth trying out. French press only for drip.

            4. Frank's Coffee: Weird atmosphere- not very coffee-shop like. As far as the coffee goes, the head barista tyler is good. Not sure about the rest of the staff. They use Intelligensia out of chicago for their beans, and generally use black cat (a classic) as their espresso blend. Typically a very traditional,"safe" espresso - I've never been a huge fan of it's flavour profile. However, it's well executed and well above the average coffee shop fare. They also do french press, pour overs and syphon on weekends.

            Obviously, different fans will put these shops in different orders. But I believe that most coffee enthusiats will agree with me that these are some of the top choices in austin.

            One last note : S.Italian style is traditionally dark-raosted. You'll be hard pressed to find such a dark profile at most specialty coffee shops in austin (with the exception of some counter-culture roasts like La Forza).

            Counter Culture
            Austin, TX, Austin, TX

            3 Replies
            1. re: sisundar
              scrumptiouschef Jun 1, 2010 10:07 AM

              Before Michael, the owner of Medici became a local coffee baron he was but a humble barista pulling shots at Jp's Java.

              Love him or hate him Jp has had as big an impact as anyone in Austin on our current coffee renaissance.

              I don't get by there as much as I'd like but yesterdays Americano was flat delicious. The morgue atmosphere of the place has lifted a bit now that they're serving a brace of well selected micro brews.

              1. re: scrumptiouschef
                sisundar Jun 1, 2010 05:23 PM

                You're certainly right; they've had a huge influence. I guess I never go there, because of the UT parking situation so they slipped from my mind. I'm sure there are others that I neglected to mention...

                Do you happen to know what roaster they are using right now?

              2. re: sisundar
                nk. Jun 17, 2010 12:28 AM

                I've never seen a better or more accurate post on here.

                One nice touch at Once Over that hasn't been mentioned is the complimentary San Pellegrino that comes with espresso. It was unfortunate that Medici stopped doing this long ago.

              3. s
                Steven Dilley May 28, 2010 04:39 AM

                Thanks so much everyone. Extremely useful stuff!

                Medici and Frank, neither of which I've visited yet, had been mentioned by friends, and now I have a few more to add to the list. I'll try to report back.

                Tummoi, what do you think of your Rancilio? I purchased a manual Pavoni several yrs ago (upon returning from another trip to Italy... go figure) but eventually gave up on it. And the Rancilio is the one machine I've considered since.

                5 Replies
                1. re: Steven Dilley
                  Deepblue fig May 29, 2010 09:09 PM

                  If we only could have brought the soft Mediterranean breeze to Austin... then there might be a chance of getting a perfect cup of Italian espresso over here.
                  When you have a coffee craving your options are, Houndstooth, Once Over, Cafe Medici, JP's Java. The rest might please your eye, but your desire to have a perfect cup will, sadly, not be fulfilled.

                  In my opinion, Houndstooth is the coffee shop for those who appreciate excellent espresso in Austin.
                  Sean, the owner, is an artisan who can coax the best from the beans. He pulls a truly perfect shot of espresso... one of the finest on this side of the Atlantic. The La Forza grind (from Counter-Culture), when made by Sean, is the closest to come to this ideal.. Thick, deep, dark yet not bitter.
                  The shop also has a siphon brewing method, which is ideal for extracting the true flavor from the beans. Even novice taste buds will take notice of the sea of citrus, or chocolate ...
                  They serve beer too,- and good beer at that. La Fin du Monde - one of my favorites, and something splendid that I tried the other day - Mida's Touch.
                  The ambiance is just right; bright, welcoming, sleek, not too stuffy. Everything is there to serve you the best coffee.
                  For the best brewed coffee, I highly recommend one of the single origin coffee grinds "brewed" with the rare Clover coffee machine at JP's Java. I enclose the word "brewed" in quotes, as the machine is quite unique and sophisticated at extracting the coffee with the optimum temperature, time, etc. The result is 16 oz cup that has a wonderful bouquet, body, and complex flavor.

                  At home, we typically use a French Press, and find that the water, the grinder, and the bean all play a key role in producing a good cup.

                  Enjoy your journey while you are experiencing your different cups of coffee.

                  1. re: Deepblue fig
                    Steven Dilley Jun 1, 2010 05:12 AM

                    Thanks for the detailed response, Deepblue.

                    It sounds like Houndstooth is a must. It also sounds like my kind of place. I plan to give it a shot today or tomorrow. Hopefully Sean will be there pulling shots. The best I've had in the States came from a shop adjacent to the Seattle Museum of Art, but it was only knockout when the super-obsessed owner was on the machine.

                    I'll check out JP Java's, too. That one's new to me. Cool that they have a Clover. The coffee that I've had from Clover machines in NY has been impressively full and concentrated. Speaking of which, is Starbucks actually deploying those machines in their stores now, or did they just kind of buy 'em to eliminate the competition?

                    I swung by Medici over the weekend and was underwhelmed. Though it might have had as much to do with the roast as anything else. I tend to prefer a slightly acidic finish, which can kind of 'wrap up' the deeper, darker notes, if that makes any sense. My shot at Medici was a bit too bitter (over extracted?) and one dimensional.

                    Funny that you mention French Press... over the weekend, I actually dug up one that had been given to me as a gift several yrs ago. Now I just need to find my old grinder...

                    1. re: Deepblue fig
                      Steven Dilley Jun 1, 2010 12:41 PM

                      Swung by Houndstooth this afternoon for a quick espresso. Excellent. I'm in the area on a regular basis, so this will likely become a regular stop for me. Thanks everyone!

                    2. re: Steven Dilley
                      tummoi Jun 2, 2010 12:26 PM

                      The Rancilio is the standard machine by which others are judged due to its industrial construction and commercial sized portafilter. Its too bad the temperature control out-of-the-box is so wide due to its use of mechanical switches instead of electronic controls. I added an electronic PID controller to mine, but it takes some effort and probably another $150 in parts to do nicely.

                      This machine is quite powerful and can produce copious amounts of steam. However, I find pulling consistent shots to be tricky. You need a good grinder, but even though I've paired it with the Rancilo Rocky grinder, I still find it hard to get a great shot every time.

                      I have a Gaggia Classic here at work, and its a bit more user-friendly and pulls good shots, but can't quite hit the best shots I've gotten out of the Silvia. It also doesn't have near the steam power. The steam wand has a frothing aide that tends to blow big bubbles into your milk (basically its a Venturi tube).

                      The La Pavoni gets pulled out for special occasions. Mine is old and has no electric controls. It heats until the pressure blows great clouds of steam out the release valve, just like a pressure cooker. It's always impressive at dinner parties.

                      1. re: tummoi
                        Steven Dilley Jun 7, 2010 10:58 AM

                        Thanks for that. I'm tempted but worry that it would eventually end up much like its predecessors. Still, maybe I'll keep an eye on Ebay...

                        I've been by Houndstooth several times since my last post and have been consistently impressed with their pulls. Really good stuff.

                    3. t
                      taliesin15 Jun 14, 2010 09:27 PM

                      I must say that I'm rather disappointed that nobody's mentioned Russell's Bakery next door to Anderson's Coffee on Kerbey Lane--Anderson's is easily the best coffee purveyor in Austin (if not the Southwest region), and Russell's is one of the few places around that serves Anderson's in espresso form--this is the closest I've tasted to the best espressos I've had in my life, which were in Italy and France...

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: taliesin15
                        foodiefind Jun 16, 2010 05:45 AM

                        If you are serious about your home brewed coffee, you must go to Anderson's. You can buy cuvee beans at Once Over, but I think Anderson's has a bit of a leg up on the bean quality because it is so fresh. Plus, they were the original coffee geeks in town, they've been there since the 70's. Any home roasters on this list?

                        1. re: foodiefind
                          addlepated Jun 16, 2010 09:52 AM

                          I roast my own. I rarely buy coffee from places around town because I can't find anything that can stack up to what I can make at home. Is Anderson's a contender?

                          1. re: addlepated
                            taliesin15 Jun 16, 2010 10:30 AM

                            Anderson & Co. has been around since the early 1970s, and Tom Anderson started out working for Alfred Peet when the first Peet's Coffee opened in Berkeley--basically, those two guys started the coffee revolution in this country--Anderson's sources are ones he's cultivated for years--they only roast twice a week, and I know of people that are so hardcore they want to roast their beans more often than that--there are two problems I have with most of the other gourmet coffee purveyors in town--one is the the quality doesn't measure up to Anderson's gold standard, and second is it doesn't taste as freshly roasted--since I've worked in restaurants in the last ten years, I've gotten to know some people with some of the companies mentioned earlier in the thread, and have found out that some of the more highly touted companies roast their beans, then freeze them--which doesn't surprise me at all--the resulting coffee or espresso isn't very good--another problem I have is some of the gourmet purveyors in town competing with Anderson's simply don't understand how to do dark roasts right--what's up with people selling a Viennese medium to light roast as suitable for espresso? And why do restaurants, cafes and customers put up with such substandard fare? Whenever I encounter something like that I scratch my head and wonder is it ignorance or is it laziness?

                            1. re: taliesin15
                              sisundar Jun 17, 2010 04:07 PM

                              About your claim that some of the roasters mentioned in this thread freeze their roasted beans before selling them, can you tell us which ones you've heard of indulging in this practice? I'd certainly like to know if that's the case...

                      2. c
                        CrookedGrin Jun 18, 2010 09:25 AM

                        Seconding Frank; Tyler has moved to LA to head up something or other for Intelligencia, but the rest of the staff there is excellent -- all pretty consistent, and all capable of impressive latte art. I highly recommend their cortado. Medici used to be my favorite, until I discovered Frank.

                        Also, if you're downtown, Teucher Chocolates on 2nd has really great coffee; they also use Cuvee beans, and they have a Clover machine (the only one in Austin, to my knowledge). And, of course, their mochas are outstanding, what with the melted real chocolate. If I'm feeling super-decadent, I'll get a small (4oz) drinking chocolate with a shot or two of espresso mixed in. Have more than one of those and they'll be scraping you off the ceiling with a spatula.

                        One more: Patika coffee, a trailer on Congress near 2nd, pull a pretty good shot, and are cheap and really friendly.

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