All tagged coffee

Favorite Drip Coffee of 2012

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.

Favorite Espresso of 2011

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.

The Queens Kickshaw

I first visited The Queens Kickshaw when I learned they had received a La Marzocco Strada MP, the latest of a new line of hand-crafted espresso machines from the Florentine manufacturer that allows for the manual control of a shot's pressure profile during the extraction. In theory, this kind of pressure control can bring out flavors of coffee beans that traditional machines cannot. While this fancy machine was the bait that drew me into Astoria, it was the flavor of the resulting coffee that kept me coming back. The more I visited the Kickshaw, the more impressed I became. Owner Ben Sandler is the barista in charge. While he's made it clear from the beginning the kickshaw is not only about coffee, they happen to serve a great shot; one of the best in the city, in fact. Single origin coffees from Coffee Labs Roasters rotate in the grinder, most of the lots trackable online to a specific farm ensuring fair-trade practices. In addition to espresso drinks pulled from the Strada MP, the Kickshaw does V60 pour over and, more recently, 12-hour cold brew coffee on tap.

Café Passmar

En route to the Frida Kahlo's house in Coyoacán, I made a pit stop for lunch at Mercado Lázaro Cardenas, the covered market in Colonia Del Valle. The market, abundant in colorful piñatas, fruits, and antojitos, also had another surprise: excellent coffee. I was floored to see a La Marzocco occupying the small space squeezed between two fruit-vendors. It's hard to imagine a more perfect afternoon snack than fresh tostadas followed by an espresso (or three). Café Passmar has some of the best coffee I've tasted in Mexico. Passmar's house blend is entirely Mexican in origin, a secret mixture of beans from Guerrero and Chiapas. The coffee is roasted just next door to the storefront at Passmar's micro roastery. This was the first time I'd tried coffee in the same country from where the beans originated. All the best espresso I'd had previously contained beans that were cultivated, packaged, and air-shipped halfway the world before being roasted. After seeing what the dryness and low pressure environment of air transport does to food I've packed myself, it would be hard to imagine that extended air transportation doesn't have an effect on coffee beans.

The coffee I tasted at Passmar was some of the nuttiest most chocolatey espresso I have ever tasted. My girlfriend -- who despises coffee -- took one sip and nearly finished my first cappuccino.

Bear Pond Espresso

The last time I was in Japan I didn't care much for coffee. It wasn't until a revelatory experience at Joe's in the summer of 2009 that I started to like it. Rather, become a bit obsessed. And so when I visited Tokyo this December I was determined to explore the city's cafe offerings. I was particularly interested in how Japanese precision and general distaste for sourness would translate to espresso. I started with a list of twenty-five cafes that my friend and barista Yukimim put together for me. I went to all of them (in four days!). Of all the cafes I visited, one place really stood out as extraordinary: Bear Pond Espresso. Bear Pond is the home of barista-owner Katsu Tanaka, an 18-year New York resident who recently moved back to Tokyo and opened shop. Tanaka -- who doesn't allow another's hands to touch the espresso machine in fear of lack of consistency -- closes the doors to Bear Pond at 2pm. "After 2pm," he explains, "too many people come and I cannot make consistent coffee." Bear Pond's shots, really a pseudonym for Tanako's since he is the only barista, are remarkably consistent.