Don’t Make A Mess-o of Your Espresso

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The man didn’t know what he was doing. I was at a Brooklyn coffee shop whose name is synonymous with donkey and I ordered an iced latte. The man (I’d call him a barista, but he clearly wasn’t) took a glass and filled it with ice. And then–this was the crucial error–he pulled two watery flavorless shots of espresso which he poured on top of the ice. The ice melted a lot. Then he topped the whole thing with a splash of milk. It was insipid.

The next day at my favorite coffee shop in America (including Seattle) I paid close attention to how the baristas at Joe make their iced lattes. Ice in the glass: check. Then they fill the glass almost to the top with milk. “Whoah,” you might think, “there’s so much milk. How can this taste like a latte?” The answer lies in the picture you see above: they pull a really strong shot. Not just a strong shot, an expert shot. It infuses the milk with magic coffee flavor and produces the best iced latte I can imagine. The secret is in the espresso.

Lucky us, one of Joe’s most prized baristas has a blog. Welcome to the world of Erin Meister and her blog Meet The Press Pot. I stole this post’s image from a post in which Meister writes: “To say an espresso is good is sort of like saying a girl on the street is pretty: Every good shot of espresso and every pretty girl may share this or that characteristic, but if you were to line them all up, one hopes one’s taste is varied enough that they would all be rather different piece by piece. Right?”

She concludes: “So how does one train one’s pupils to pull good espresso? By making them taste, taste, taste and taste again. This is a people-driven industry, and a taste-bud driven industry. And if there’s no way of standardizing ‘great’ espresso, the least we can do, I guess, is create great baristas. One hopes.”

Let’s hope the Meisters of the world outrun the donkeys. Or, at least, that more people learn how to pull a good shot of espresso. I know where I’m headed for my next iced latte!

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