(Skip to the REVIEWS)
Espresso reviews on a bicycle photoblog?
Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch, but anything contributing to enjoyment of the good life is consistent with the underlying spirit of The Friday Cyclotouriste.
Here’s Francesco Illy‘s description of espresso to start things off:
…a romantic, remarkably aromatic, and complex liquid. It is at once a solution of sugars, caffeine, acids, and proteins; a suspension of tiny particles of coffee beans and minute bubbles of gas; an emulsion of oils and colloids….all concentrated into a small volume and covered with a light, brown-colored foam known as crema.
Now despite the precision of my rating system, don’t take this too seriously. And please remember: I have my coffee biases–influenced by time spent in Paris, Torino, Porto, and Saigon–so what I consider a perfect cup of espresso may not be perfect for you. Plus, these ratings are as much about the entire “espresso experience” as they are about the coffee itself.
With those caveats out of the way, I offer TFC’s rating system.
ELEMENTS THAT GO INTO ESPRESSO RATINGS:
- CREMA - even before taste it is the crema that creates a good or bad first impression. For a high rating at least 1/10 of the beverage should be crema. The crema should not dissipate quickly. In fact, it should last until the final sip and leave a residue on the inside of the cup. Moreover, the entire pour should have body and an almost syrupy thickness, as opposed to the thin black liquid which can be all too common.
- TASTE – frankly, if all the other elements are nearly perfect, I can be somewhat forgiving about nuances of taste. For me the Buddhist middle way is best: the flavor should be strong, rich, and somewhat bitter, but neither too strong, too rich, nor too bitter. In a word: balanced. When this quality is present, four stars will result. With this quality, plus a surprising and delightful something extra, five stars.
- VOLUME - the importance of proper serving size cannot be overemphasized. Too much volume (as is almost always the case) and the wonderful play of ingredients, smell, taste, and texture is thrown off. I enjoy Italian-sized espresso solos. So for me, a serving about the size of a shot glass, no more than a fluid ounce, is proper and scores five stars.
- PRESENTATION – a small ceramic cup and saucer, a tiny spoon, a bowl of cubed sugar, a small glass of water, all served on a small tray = espresso nirvana. Five stars.
- ECO-FRIENDLINESS – Five stars for organic, sustainably harvested, fairly-traded beans served in a non-disposable cup. (Bonus points for beans grown and hand-picked in my local watershed by a worker owned collective which have been transported to retailers under human power.)