"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2002 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
17I have tasted the Nectar of the Gods- lesser Gods, undoubtedly, but Gods none the less!
Nectar of the Gods
(The Goods Arrive)
On Thursday, November 9, I came home from our semi-weekly shopping trip to the city and lo and behold, there on the front porch was a parcel delivery- nay- THE parcel delivery! Inside was the precious cargo I had awaited so long- Silvia, Rocky, and Precision Roaster. All bow your heads and give thanks to the UPS man!
It wasn't long before the living room was filled with empty boxes and packing peanuts and the kitchen, or at least one corner of it was filled with wonderful equipment. Silvia was filled with water, and was soon warming herself in excited anticipation. The Folks at Whole Latte Love were kind enough to throw in a 1/2 pound can of roasted Illy beans so it wasn't long before Rocky was a grindin' and Silvia was a brewin'. They also included three, half pound packages of green beans to get my roasting going.
They had told me to start with Rocky set to about "8." It seems that Rancilio doesn't set the Rockys too accurately and there is some discrepancy between individual grinders. I checked mine and the burrs started to touch at about 4 or 5. I ground the first batch with the Rocky set at 8 as they recommended and it choked poor Silvia. The 8 grind looked like powder and it did not allow any water to pass through. I tried a few variations and ended up using a 15 grind with a medium (estimated to be about 20 pound) tamp.
With a coarser grind the water was able to flow and the espresso filled the shot glasses. it took about three or four pulls to get everything working and the crema flowing. It was on about the third of fourth pull that I actually saw what I believe to have been the Guinness Effect (or at least, something that approached it)! It was magical. It looked like water, mercury, and oil flowing in some magical mixture- it looked alive! During the pull the entire shot glass was filled with a light brown mixture, but just after the pull ended it separated into espresso and crema- a delightful crema layer that lasted quite a while. There, in my own home, I had achieved crema!
Now, I have mentioned earlier, I never actually tried espresso previous to this. The few coffee shops I had frequented had not always done that well with lattes (sometimes quite bitter), or at least, had not been very consistent. Because of that I never had the nerve to try a straight espresso. Of course, as you know by now, espresso is what this is all about. It contains all that is good in coffee and leaves out all that is bad- at least that's what is supposed to happen when everything goes according to plan.
My first pulls from Silvia looked delightful but the real test was the taste. I sipped from the shot glass, straight from the portafilter. It was remarkable. Different from anything I have experienced when speaking of coffee. It was sweet, bitter, chocolaty, earthy, and a whole lot of other things I will have to study just to be able to describe in words. I can say it was unlike any coffee beverage I had ever tasted. So many sensations and flavors that it can't be easily described, and a flavor that stays on the palate for quite a while after sipping.
My wife even got up the nerve to take a few sips of straight espresso. She has not liked the taste of coffee in the past, and the look on her face as she prepared to take her first sip reflected an expectation of medicine and not a delightful anticipation of a delicious beverage. She was not impressed at first, but just before her second sip I told her, "Chew it before you swallow." (How many times have we all used that line?). She did that and here face lit up as she chewed the sip- then a third and a fourth sip. As it was late in the day and all we had was caffeinated coffee with which to test, neither of us drank too much, but it was clear by the look on her face that she was amazed by the taste.
I then steamed up some milk and some soy milk and put together a couple of cappas. Although my frothed milk would not be much good for latte art, it surely was silky and smooth and sweet, and added a delightful body to the espresso shots.
I poured a shot into a cappuccino cup and added a good portion of steamed milk for a cappa. She sipped, then sipped again, then once more. Now, these sips were unsweetened except for the natural sweetness of the milk and this is a woman who previously did not like the taste of coffee at all. After three or four sips, she walked over to the pantry cabinet and withdrew her bottle of Italian caramel syrup. I then made Wifee her favorite coffee beverage (at this point anyway). A "Caramello"- a cappa with carmel syrup. She took a sip and her eyes lit up- "That's my caramello!" she exclaimed. After a few more sips she begged me to take it from her before she finished it- it was around 5:00 PM at this point and she knew she would never get to sleep from the caffeine if she continued.
When the brewing was over for the night it was clean-up time. Believe everything you hear about espresso being a mess. If a spotless kitchen is a priority in your life, I would suggest that you think about going out and buying your espresso at a coffee shop. If you brew at home there will be coffee grounds on the counter that spilled out of the portafilter, grounds will be all around the grinder, water will get on the floor when you remove the portafilter or the drip tray, you will drip coffee when you go to empty the portafilter basket, there will be coffee grounds in the sink, there will be two or three (or more) towels stained with coffee each time you brew (find some brown towels, now!), and you will end up with a sink full of cups, saucers, pitchers, shot glasses, and more.
After clean-up had been completed we went on our evening doggie walk and had time to discuss the taste of espresso in more detail. She told me that she had recently read that Americans are addicted to sweet tastes. Our palates had become unaccustomed to, and were inexperienced in appreciating many other tastes. This makes sense as we are the world's top consumers of sugar as I remember. Many other countries savor bitter tastes in certain foods whereas, generally speaking, Americans rate virtually all bitter tastes as bad and something to be avoided. It is a cultural factor, and one that keeps a lot of Americans from being able to enjoy a lot of foods that are considered gourmet treats in other parts of the world. Espresso is possibly the best example. There is a bitterness to espresso, but it is a delightful one that is only a small part of the overall taste. If you give your palate time to enjoy and become accustomed to it it can be a wonderful experience- at least when it is properly brewed.
It's a good thing you like the smell of coffee. I know you do or you wouldn't have read this far. The oils and other aromatic elements of the bean get into your hands, nose, and clothes and the smell will be with you for a while. Even hours later, from out of nowhere you will get whiffs of coffee. You will be outside mowing the lawn and the smell and taste will hit you. Maybe only for a fraction of an instant, but it will be unmistakable. It seems to permeate everything.