Espresso = sushi or burger?
I wasn’t gonna do it, but I’m gonna have to put my two-cents in on this little article by illycaffe barista, Giorgio Milos. Or, more specifically, some of my friends’ reactions to the little article.
First: Industry folks seem to be up in arms about the statement, “I’m talking about 20 to 25 grams of coffee for a single espresso shot!” Folks on blogs and such have objected to that claim, denying that it’s even possible. Between y’all and Giorgio, for better or for worse, you’re both right and both wrong.
That guy Giorgio has been spending a good amount of his time in New York City, which means he’s in TripleristrettoLand. 20-25 grams? Yes. Single espresso? If you define “single espresso” to mean 30mL or less, then yes, sometimes, cuz there are cafes in NYC that pull 1 oz-or-less “doubles” from that much coffee. If you define it by what sized basket it comes from, then that’s different. Both are up for argument, but coming from his perspective, I think it’s entirely fair for him to employ the former definition, especially when a lot of these shots are coming from single-stream bottomless portafilters.
Italy has, what Giorgio is calling “the authentic Italian technique.” The Istituto Nazionale Espresso Italiano, or INEI, was developed in the late 90′s to help preserve the Italian food tradition of espresso. One way to reduce the Italian espresso vs. The World debate would be to ask if the INEI standards are preserving anything that’s even worth preserving?
My answer: absofuckinglutely.
Here’s the thing that I believe that folks need to understand: espresso in Italy is wholly different from espresso in the US. I’m not talking about the beverage, I’m talking about the cultural phenomenon.
In the US, espresso is sorta like sushi. Over the years, it’s become ubiquitous and easy to access, and like sushi, there are a scant few places in the country where you can get a world-class gustatory experience. It would not be too unfair to say that both espresso and sushi are somewhat inherently pretentious, as it occurs in the American cultural context.
In Italy, espresso is more like a hamburger.
In America, even the most high-falootin’ foodie will admit, the “best burger” is generally greasy, often messy, and inherently unpretentious. The more high-brow you try to take the burger, the less it’s like… well… a burger.
In Italy, you wake up, you do your triple-S*, you get the newspaper, you get on a bus, you get an espresso, you go to work, you get an espresso, you have lunch, you go back to work, you go get an espresso, you go back to work, you go home.
In America, third-wave consumers sit there with their espresso and have look around at all the people having their hand-poured drip coffees, traditional 5-oz cappuccinos, and typing away on their MacBook Pros as they sip their espresso, thinking about how balanced and sweet and bright and syrupy it is. The experience loosely resembles the Italian coffee experience, but only loosely.
There’s a lot lost in translation when we talk coffee with the Italians. That’s why I’m continually fascinated by Australian coffee culture, which seems to represent the perfect middle-point between the all-espresso coffee culture of Italy, and the American coffee culture.
Anyway, that’s what I think about that.
(* = shit, shower, shave)