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.

Kafe Esaias, Stockholm - Espresso

#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.

The Queens Kickshaw, Queens - Espresso

#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.

Nozy Cafe, Tokyo - Espresso

#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.

Bear Pond Espresso, Tokyo - Espresso

#2Bear 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.

Sweetleaf, Queens, New York - Espresso

#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