One of the things I’ve missed most about the world during the pandemic has been hanging out in coffee shops, so I’ve spent the past year turning our apartment into one. It’s partly why I bought those nice speakers (mentioned in the last issue). I started to think about how I could bring more coffee shop vibes into our apartment, and it’s turned into a full-blown hobby. With so little else going on, the little ritual of making a great coffee in the morning became the highlight of my day. I’ve been sampling different roasts from around Pittsburgh and beyond, measuring every detail about my espresso to get the perfect shot, and failing at latté art.
The Brew Station – Breville Bambino Plus
When I traveled to France during college, I fell in love with espresso. Since then, I’ve always wanted to have it at home. When I realized we’d be working from home indefinitely, I invested in a basic espresso machine. I bought a Breville Bambino, which I liked because it was small and beginner-friendly.
I didn’t expect to get so invested in the science of brewing a consistent, perfect shot. While the Bambino does make great espresso, there isn’t a lot that can be controlled about the other little details that go into each cup (like water temperature, pressure, extraction time, etc). Even when I control for as many variables as possible, I still get different results. This is me being really, really picky. Overall, it still makes great espresso and I’ve found that the most important thing is starting with great beans.
With the Bambino, I also got a grinder and kettle (for pour overs, French press, Americanos, or tea). The grinder is the Baratza Encore, which is considered a great all-purpose Burr grinder. It’s better suited for pour-over and French press than espresso, but it does the job. I also decided on the Fellow kettle because it is so well designed, but I also like that you can set the exact temperature.
Practice makes… progress
I’ve learned how to pull shots from my espresso machine. Measuring progress making espresso shots is easy because everything is measured in seconds and grams. Latté art is different and most of the time, I get blobs and swishes of milk instead of precise leafs, hearts, or flowers. There are a lot of things that factor into latté art: the freshness, temperature, and texture of the milk, the angle which the pitcher is held as it froths, the angle the pitcher is held as it is poured, etc. It is not as easy as it looks. I also don’t drink lattés every day, so it I don’t get as much practice as I’d like.
Practice makes… progress
Supporting Independent Coffee Shops
This may sound obvious, but the most important component to a great shot of espresso is freshly roasted beans. While I love the selection from Commonplace, our favorite coffee shop in Squirrel Hill, I’m having fun sampling different roasts. I’m keeping a little log of every type I’ve tried this year. So far, our favorite is shop out of Wisconsin called Ruby Roasters. Because of the shipping costs, it’s pricier than buying from a coffee shop in the neighborhood, but it’s definitely the best. If you have any favorite roasters, please let me know!
In addition to shopping small for all of my coffee beans, I’ve been slowly collecting merch from my favorites. I’m currently living in this shirt from Commonplace, which is incomprehensibly soft. Rob and I also have matching sweatshirts from Tandem Coffee Roasters in Portland, Maine. I think it’s a great way to give coffee shops a little extra support now.
At the beginning of the lock down, I joined Tandem’s “The Good Thing” coffee and vinyl subscription. There is a waitlist to join! Each month, Tandem ships out a bag of beans and a record. I love that they include a flyer talking about why they chose the record. Subscriptions like this are great because they give business a guaranteed stream of revenue. I’m also considering subscribing to coffee from Ruby Roasters.
|Commonplace T, Commonplace Coffee, Tandem’s Coffee & Vinyl Subscription, Commonplace Mug, Baratza Encore Grinder, The Boy with the Arab Strap on Vinyl, Breville Bambino Plus, Fellow Kettle, KLVN T|
For a nice treat to go with that coffee… see my posts about scones and cardamom swirl bread