After my recent post about the poor quality of espresso served in some local coffeehouses, I did a little research. The result: I know much more about why the espresso is often so bad, and I have an plan for those who want to maximize their espresso experience in North America.
At the root of the problem are American coffee culture and coffeehouse economics.
Remember the "bottomless cup" of coffee that some diners used to advertise? The general idea was vast quantities of inexpensive brewed coffee, consumed with cream and sugar, or black, in big cups or mugs, which would be refilled at no extra charge. I'll bet that "bottomless cups" are still advertised somewhere in the US and Canada, although I haven't seen any around here recently. If any Coffeeblog readers spot such an ad, please post a comment or send an email with a photo.
The perfect Italian-style espresso is radically different from the "bottomless" cup. The espresso cup is teeny, and only half-filled with very strong coffee, extracted with an Italian-style machine, not brewed. The roast is chosen carefully and probably made from high-quality, high-priced coffee beans. Italians may request a "ristretto", made with a "restricted" amount of water, since over-extraction with too much water can pull bitter substances into the cup.
In the USA coffee drinkers linger over their cup, often while working, or while finishing their diner lunch. In North American coffeehouses, modeled in appearance after the cafes of Italy and France, patrons expect to linger, reading books or using laptops after purchasing a coffee. In many French cafes, the price of a cup of coffee depends on the seat occupied by a patron, ranging from a stand-up bar, an indoor table, to an outdoor terrace. Americans expect to be able to keep a table, even a scarce seat on the street or terrace, for hours if they wish, for the price of one cup of espresso costing as little as US $1.25, about one euro at current rates.
Under such conditions, how can North American coffee houses stay in business? For an answer, read Part 2, coming soon.
Meanwhile, enjoy the photo of a perfect cup of espresso from Berkeley's famous Peets. In Part 3, I will detail Jonathan's Plan for maximizing the possibility of getting such a good espresso even if you are thousands of miles from a Peets or a seacoast. (If you can't wait for Part 3, read this, which is a great source of espresso lore, published in 1999.)| Technorati tags: Espresso Caffe Mug CoffeeCup Peets
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