I have a pretty nice espresso machine which was a gift from Dr. Fiance for Christmas a couple of years ago. I have a number of really awesome espresso cups too, and since I’ve had the machine I’ve made some passable espresso. However, more often than not I end up with weak, thin espresso with not a lot of crema. Lately I have been lazy about buying espresso coffee, and have instead been sticking with my usual half gallon of drip coffee every day. But now that Park Avenue Coffee has opened up their second location a block and a half from my studio, I felt it was time to get back into espresso.
First of all, let me just say (again) how excited that I am to have a new coffeeshop downtown. We need all of the new businesses down here as we can get. And I think that a coffeeshop is a wonderful addition because it provides a place where people can congregate and hang out that isn’t a bar. Don’t get me wrong, bars are great too, but a coffee shop provides a nice change of pace. Park Avenue’s downtown location is a nicely styled open space with plenty of seating, and is a real comfortable environment.
It wasn’t super busy when I went in on Friday afternoon, but I have been seeing a lot of Park Avenue cups around on the streets downtown, so I’m thinking Park Avenue is off to a good start. In addition to having super great coffee, the staff rocks as well. I asked for a recommendation for espresso, and Dale Schotte (the owner) was more than happy to talk to me about what kind of coffee I should try. Even better, when I asked for some advice on the actual production of a shot of espresso, Dale brought me around behind the counter and walked me through the process of pulling a shot of espresso from start to finish. Try getting them to do that at $tarbucks! Dale loves coffee and loves talking about coffee, and that kind of enthusiasm really makes the difference in a business. Dale recommended a mixture of a medium roast coffee and a dark roast coffee, which results in a really nice flavor.
Dale also outlined a number of tips which I am going to use in my attempts to master making espresso at home. He explained to me the importance of pressing the top of the puck level, and showed me how to “polish” the puck as well. Unfortunately, while my espresso machine is pretty good, it is not as good as the professional machines that Park Avenue uses. Something about the pressure means that it just won’t be the same, no matter what I do. My first few attempts using Dale’s advice resulted in so-so results. I’ve come to realize that my tamper sucks, so I need to do some research and find a decent one.
The other problem seems to be the grind. Dale ground up the coffee that I bought and suggested a slightly coarser grind than he uses in the commercial machines, as apparently mine wouldn’t have enough pressure to blast through the very fine stuff. Unfortunately, the grind is still too coarse, and I can’t compress it into a solid puck. I have been putting off buying a burr grinder for, oh, ten years, and I think until I can control my grind I will never get the espresso I’m looking for.
Luckily for me, until I magically become an espresso genius, I have Park Avenue Coffee a few steps away on 10th Street (map). Oh yeah, and also there is gooey butter cake to be had …