Espresso at Home

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 StationBreville 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

Beans 

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! 

Merch

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.

Subscribe 

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 TCommonplace CoffeeTandem’s Coffee & Vinyl SubscriptionCommonplace MugBaratza Encore GrinderThe Boy with the Arab Strap on VinylBreville Bambino PlusFellow KettleKLVN T

For a nice treat to go with that coffee… see my posts about scones and cardamom swirl bread

Third Wave Coffee Shops in Pittsburgh

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My favorite little pick me up is a well-crafted cup of coffee.  I know, the caffeine is literally a stimulant, so that’s why it always makes me perky and productive, but I really appreciate the care that goes into the coffee.  I like that more and more we know where beans come from, the roast date, the flavor profile, the terroir— it is a real craft.  I’m a total sucker for a cappuccino with a little leaf in the foam.  Third wave coffee shops also tend to pay attention to all the details – the thoughtful interior design, the cups, the snacks – everything, not just the coffee, is elevated.  I’m happy to spend $5 and tip 20 percent on the experience and quality.

Since moving to Pittsburgh I have come to love all the options for craft coffee.  We are really spoiled with gorgeous, thoughtful, independent cafés all over the city.  I love venturing across town to try them all.  This is not an exhaustive list, just some of my favorites, in no particular order.

 

Commonplace Coffee House – Squirrel Hill 
This is my neighborhood coffee shop, I love to bop in for an after dinner espresso, tack it on a trip to the library, etc.  Squirrel Hill is far from their only location, Commonplace Coffee Houses are dotted all over the city, and their roast is sold throughout southwest pa.  I love that the serve a little cookie with an espresso, because that is really common in France it feels extra special to me.


Constellation – Bloomfield / Lawrenceville cusp 
I love this minimalist cafe.  The interior features huge windows that let light from Penn Avenue pour in.  The tin ceilings are my favorite detail.  It is a great place to study or read because it feels kind of homey.  The menu is not exhaustive, but everything I’ve ordered has been really excellent.


Espresso a Mano – Lawrenceville 
Great espresso and atmosphere.  I like Espresso a Mano because isn’t trying too hard to have Instagrammable vibe (even though I’ll admin I always fall for that!).  Every time I’ve been here all the tables are full, so I that they have like a counter to just stand at and shoot back an espresso.


4121 Main – Bloomfield 
This place has the most gorgeous feel to it.  Plants everywhere !  Artisan chocolate / goods!  Dreamy music ! (Deerhunter’s Desire Lines was playing when I walked in, It instantly put a smile only face to hear an almost decade-old song that I love).  I wouldn’t expect to find 4121 Main where it is, because frankly it is kind of on a dumpy street.  It mixes parts of old world glamour, shabby-chic, minimalist and wabi sabi.  That doesn’t make it sound cohesive, but it is.


 

The Bureau – East Liberty 
The Bureau is an outpost  of one of my favorite Pittsburgh restaurants, The Vandal.  It is  located within Schoolhouse, one of my favorite stores in Pittsburgh.  I always seem to order cold brew at The Bureau, probably because I got it the first time I went and it was so good I keep ordering it.


 

Arriviste – Shadyside 
Arriviste takes a very technical approach to brewing. Everything is precise, measured, made to order – and thus takes time.  Expect to wait for it.  The cafe has a midcentury-inspired interior, with a friendly / collaborative atmosphere.  I think it is nice that people share tables.

Fall Destination Guide: Hudson River Valley

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The Mountains cradling the Hudson River are not intimidating as a name like Storm King would suggest. The tall walls of fall foliage wrap the little river towns like a scarf. Independent shops, art galleries and cafés dot the walkable streets. Bountiful farms, orchards and wineries lay just beyond the towns. Many restaurants in the area proudly source ingredients almost exclusively from the valley. Hiking trails through forests, up mountains, and along cliffs lead to panoramic views.   Hudson Valley embraces both the old and the new serving as a backdrop for opulent estates of the gilded age and modern conceptual sculpture. It’s a great place to spend a long weekend and take in the very best parts of the fall season.

Continue reading “Fall Destination Guide: Hudson River Valley”

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