19 Comments January 01, 2012

Favorite Espresso of 2011


A Collective Post of Multiple Locations 

In 2011, the growth of third wave coffee shops exploded. Tokyo was particularly interesting, where a newly developed taste for great coffee started to compete with its thousand-year-old tea culture. New York, likely the city with the most third wave shops in the country, saw a large delivery of sophisticated La Marzocco machinery enabling baristi to control espresso extraction in ways not before possible. This was not only a great year for food, but for coffee as well.

As most baristi will agree, coffee is temperamental.  The hardest part of the extraction process is consistency.  A great espresso comes with no guarantee of one just as good the next. It is imposible to name a single shop with the most consistently good espresso, because there is no such thing as consistently good espresso. It is only possible to share where and when all the variables, ranging from the barista to the weather, aligned to create an incredible extraction.

In this list, I present the top five espresso shots I’ve had this year.

#5 Kafé Esaias, Stockholm, Sweden (Nov 21, 2011 / La Marzocco Strada MP) (Photos)

This shot was pulled from da Matteo‘s Guatemala beans which, while bright, were tempered by the beans’ darker nutty flavors. Barista Charl draws some of the finest latte art I’ve ever seen, from an ornate rosetta to a fish swimming in the ocean.

#4 The Queens Kickshaw, Astoria, NY (May 25, 2011 / La Marzocco Strada MP) (Photos)

This shot was made with Coffee Labs beans from Nayarit, Mexico, full of berry notes with a gentle acidity. The flavor was remarkably like strawberry — add a dash of milk and it would have been strawberries and cream. Owner/Barista Ben Sandler is obsessive with the quality of his espresso, often pulling multiple shots until the extraction is perfect. This was the shop that opened my eyes to the burgeoning culinary scene in Astoria. Go.

#3 Nozy Coffee, Tokyo, Japan (Jan 3, 2011 / Synesso Cyncra)

At Nozy, espresso is pulled from a variety of single origin beans, each generally high in acidity and fruit notes. The shop is located just outside the city center, creating a calmer suburban atmosphere in which to enjoy a cup of coffee. The staff is young, but don’t let that be misleading: they are very experienced. This cafe is a must visit for any coffee lover while in Tokyo.

#2 Bear Pond Espresso, Tokyo, Japan (Jan 2, 2011 / La Marzocco FB80)

Barista Katsu Tanaka has strict guidelines for his espresso. So much so, in fact, that his shop in Shimokitazawa only serves espresso between the hours of 10 and 12pm, when he is personally in house to pull the shot. He has a strong dislike for sourness and shies away from acidity. The result is a thick, chocolately shot with a subtle hint of smoke. His extractions are so viscuous, one could likely turn an espresso cup upside down without any liquid spilling out. A visit to Bear Pond Espresso is worth a trip to Tokyo alone.

#1 Sweetleaf Coffee and Tea, Long Island City, NY (Nov 15, 2011 / La Marzocco Strada EP) (Photos)

Sweetleaf was the first cafe in New York City to receive La Marzocco’s Strada EP, the newest electronic paddle version of its popular Strada series. This machine allows baristi to focus on the myriad other variables of the extraction while the machine handles the pressure profiling automatically. When co-owner Rich Nieto received this machine he said, “all hell broke loose” in learning how to use it. It’s clear that the time and effort the team at Sweetleaf put into mastering this machine has paid off. This was not only my favorite shot of the year, but likely that I’ve ever had. The shot, pulled from Ritual Roaster‘s Volare beans from Guatemala, was extremely balanced, straddling the line between fruit and acidity. The texture was smooth like velvet leaving behind a creamy, buttery mouthfeel. I can’t wait to see what happens in 2012 as Sweetleaf further masters this powerful machine.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Blue Bottle Coffee, Williamsburg, New York
  • Café Passmar, Mexico City, Mexico
  • Johan & Nyström, Stockholm, Sweden
  • Ritual Coffee, San Francisco
  • Stumptown Coffee, New York

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  • Travis HaleJanuary 2, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    The list is fantastic! Not too many people out there with the resource to make these kinds of comparisons. Makes me want to go to Japan. Do you remember what origin/roaster was in the hopper at Sweetleaf?

  • AdamJanuary 2, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Thanks! The shot at Sweetleaf shot was pulled from Ritual’s Volare beans from Guatemala.

  • jesper boodJanuary 4, 2012 at 4:18 am

    Guatemalan on both first and fifth place, I see a pattern here ;)

    Really happy to see the Kafé Esaias crew on the list! Had one of the most memorable espresso of 2011 there just before the turn of the New Year as well. And well deserved, Sweet Leaf!

  • AdamJanuary 4, 2012 at 8:43 am

    @Jesper: me too :). Hope to see you around, either at Esaias or perhaps a visit to Sweetleaf! Happy new year!

  • SUMJanuary 5, 2012 at 6:57 am

    6.30am, Toronto. Must shower. Must wear clothes. Must head off to find me an expresso.

  • Meister @ The Nervous CookJanuary 5, 2012 at 9:21 am

    A great list, and what sounds like a fantastic year of espresso. I love Katsu, who owns Bear Pond, and am always happy to see his shop pop up on best-of lists. (Full disclosure: There’s a picture of me with him in the Bear Pond “Espresso Is Life” book.)

    Have you had any great coffee in Italy, by chance? I’m traveling there later this month and am having a hard time tracking down non-touristy, non-Illy cafes.

    Happy caffeinating in 2012: Can’t wait to see what’s on next year’s list!

  • Jonas MöllerJanuary 6, 2012 at 6:19 am

    My office is two blocks from Kafé Esaias, just went by to grab a cappuccio and a sandwich, Great place!

  • tom@morethanpepperJanuary 6, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    never been to vancouver I see

  • tafinoJanuary 6, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    thanks for the post. for espresso lovers like me is good to know when im out spain where go to drink a delicious espresso. sometimes so difficult. :)

  • VincaJanuary 10, 2012 at 1:26 am

    I am missing Heart coffee and roastery from Portland here. Absolutley the best I have experienced from my travels around the globe.

  • DanielJanuary 11, 2012 at 4:06 am

    Really like the blog. Got stuck for a few hours last night.. “The list” seems to lack a few Stockholm places? Concerning espresso: What about Sant’Eustachio in Rome? Closest I ever came to consistently good espresso. Will try Esaias today!

  • VincentFebruary 15, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Funny: you found “Kafé Esaias” to have the 5th best espresso you tasted last year, but it doesn’t even have the 5th best in Stockholm, let alone the world. I guess you like your espresso overly sweet and with a clingy aftertaste. Like I said: funny.

  • Marissa BurkettFebruary 20, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    I agree with Daniel, I was just about to mention Sant’Eustachio il caffè in Rome. It’s amazing, although you will have to elbow through a mob of italians to get to the counter.

  • AdamFebruary 21, 2012 at 11:40 am

    @Vincent: What are some of your favorite places in Stockholm?

    @Marissa/@Daniel: I’ve been to Sant’Eustachio and Taza d’Oro in Rome. Not my style of espresso. The robusta beans they use are too harsh and, from my experience, don’t have the same complexity as the arabica beans served in the places on this list. It’s a fun place though … definitely captures the Italian coffee spirit :).

  • VincentFebruary 22, 2012 at 5:32 am

    Personally, I prefer old school italian-style espresso to the trendy sweet espresso that’s so popular nowadays in Stockholm at places like “Kafé Esaias” or “Johan & Nyström”. Hence, my choices for best espresso here would be “Sosta”, “Caffetteria del Corso” and “Poli Caffé”: they all serve consistently excellent italian coffee, strong but not bitter and with a subtle dark chocolaty finish.

    (I hope I didn’t offend anyone with my previous comment, though: I was trying to be facetious – probably a bit too much)

  • AdamFebruary 22, 2012 at 10:41 am

    @Vincent: I liked Sosta during my visit in 2009. You can read my review here:

  • DanMarch 6, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    Great work – thanks for this

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