I’m taking a break from espresso. I can’t remember the last time I ordered one at a cafe or attempted to make it. At home, my Rancilio Silvia with PID kit has been collecting dust for almost a year. There are simply too many variables: time, temperature, pressure, grind size, tamping uniformity, etc., which need to be re-adjusted continuously throughout the day as the environment changes. It’s not that I don’t like espresso, but it’s too temperamental a drink; it’s inconsistent, even for the best barista.
Espresso is a hobbyist’s drink: an oftentimes futile quest for perfection. The perfect shot is unlikely to be found at a high-volume store as the variables are too many and difficult to control. For me, 2012 was the year of drip coffee. Coffee shops started to take pride in their filter coffee instead of it being an afterthought to the espresso machine. Some shops, mostly in the United States, are regularly calibrating their extraction with a refractometer.
Compared with espresso, the dozens of drip methods (chemex, clever, V60, bonmac, nel, etc..) are more forgiving, allow for greater control of the myriad variables, and are less prone to human error. Once the variables are set and “locked-in” the extraction can be repeated with a great deal of success. The clover machine–recently acquired by Starbucks–does a fantastic job of brewing a fully-automated cup of drip coffee. There are no fully-automated espresso machines that can yield quality shots as consistently as that of their drip coffee counterparts. (Sorry, Nespresso.)
Last year, I wrote about my five favorite espresso shots; this year, I am sharing my five favorite cups of drip coffee.
#5 La Avellaneda, Mexico D.F., Mexico (Jul 23, 2011 / Yama Coffee Siphon) (Photos)
Hidden inside Mexico City’s Coyoacán, a few blocks from Frida Khalo‘s home, lies a quiet drip bar serving Mexican beans from the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Veracruz. While the Americano still dominates cafe culture in Mexico, it’s refreshing to find a burgeoning third-wave coffee scene in Mexico City. La Avellaneda is one of the only cafes in Mexico to carry an aeropress, clever, and siphon. My coffee from Coatepec, Veracruz was brewed on a siphon, and had medium acidity highlighting the beans’ dark berry flavor.
#4 Café Magnífico, Barcelona, Spain (Oct 31, 2012 / V60)
As one of Barcelona’s only roasters, Café Magnifico does a great service for the city. Not only does it supply most of Barcelona’s third-wave shops, but it takes its time to carefully educate customers of bean varieties, origin, and extraction methods. It’s the Johan & Nyström of Barcelona. My cup of coffee–Guatemalan beans dripped through a V60–was served in a wine glass to increase aeration and bring out the coffee’s bouquet. (It was strange to swirl a cup of coffee, I admit, but these glasses are designed to disseminate aroma.) These beans had medium acidity and notes of red fruits, with a subtle chocolatey body to give it substance.
#3 L’Ambre, Tokyo, Japan (Oct 6, 2012 / Nel Drip)
Stepping into L’Ambre is like stepping back in time: some of the beans it serves have been aged for more than 50-years. The suited staff brews with solely nel drip, emanating a serene intensity that could only exist in Japan. My coffee was a Colombian “demi-tasse” with beans from 1954. Despite being half a century old, the beans tasted and smelled fresh: they were aged green and roasted a few days prior. After hand-grinding the beans, our barista tightly dripped 180g of water through 80g of grounds. The result was full of body with mild acidity, intense and slightly viscous with a strong nutty flavor.
#2 Drop Coffee, Stockholm, Sweden (Jul 7, 2012 / V60) (Photos)
Since Drop Coffee started locally roasting its own beans last year, it became one of Stockholm’s best coffee drip shops. Drop serves single-origin beans with an emphasis on Latin Ameria, dripped through a V60. My Colombian coffee came from Finca Cerro Azul. Full of acidity with a viscous mouthfeel, this coffee had a lot of character. On the one hand it was fruity: cranberries and cherries hit the high notes, but there was also structure underneath with its subtle chocolate and tobacco-like flavor.
#1 The Coffee Collective, Copenhagen, Denmark (Jul 8, 2012 / Espro Press)
The first time I visited The Coffee Collective in 2009, I was impressed. When I returned in 2012 for the MAD conference, it was no coincidence that the Airbnb apartment I found was directly above the original Jægersborggade location. The unpretentious and extremely knowledgable staff carefully brews each cup using one of several extraction methods, depending on the bean. The cup that blew me away last year was the Hacienda La Esmeralda from Cañas Verdes in Jaramillo, Panama. Flavors of apricot, pineapple, and peach jumped out from the cup with strong acidity, but were balanced by the bean’s subtle spice and bread-like body from the Espro press pot.
- Be a Good Neighbor Coffee, Tokyo, Japan
- Blue Bottle Williamsburg, New York, United States
- Café Rococó, Mexico D.F., Mexico
- Caffè Streets, Chicago, United States
- Little Nap Coffee Stand, Tokyo, Japan
- Novo Coffee, Denver, Colorado
- Panther Coffee, Miami, United States
- Sightglass Coffee, San Francisco
- Shozo Coffee Store, Tokyo, Japan
- Sweetleaf Williamsburg, New York, United States