Coffee & Tea

Espresso: Why the Chowhound insistence on authenticity? [Moved from Manhattan board]

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Espresso: Why the Chowhound insistence on authenticity? [Moved from Manhattan board]

cmballa | | Jan 4, 2008 01:37 PM

First: consider the way New Yorkers consume coffee. Exactly like the floppy deli croissant, the vast majority like it fast, cheap, and everywhere. The interest in good coffee, a largely west-coast phenomenon born in the 80s, was delivered here far after the boom (a raining of Starbucks), and without its substance. Most New Yorkers consider espresso a denser, yet faster solution ('rocket fuel' ...).

When Chowhounders want espresso, many want authenticity. They go to Via Quadronno, or Sant Ambroeus; establishments that might excel at serving nearly exact facsimiles of Italian espresso. It makes perfect sense; the search for authentic food is a frequent activity on these boards. But the problem with authentic espresso, I'd argue, is that it's an imperfect product, spoiled by overroasted beans. It was a beverage built for speed, and not for sublimity, but due to its history, and ubiquity as a luxury item, its faults are still largely ignored.

I'd like to voice support for coffeehouses largely uncredited (some more than others) on these boards: Cafe Grumpy, 9th Street Espresso, Everyman Coffee, Gimme Coffee, Joe. These businesses (some more than others) go against authenticity, and follow trends that are more vigorous elsewhere in this country. Grumpy (who I want to specifically praise) doesn't even roast their beans to an Italian dark, a degree where most of the flavor is burnt away. To drink a cappuccino (which eschews unnecessary foam; it is simply a smaller, stronger latte) at these businesses is to taste the bean — its roasting, grinding, and manipulation by the barista through brewing and adding of milk. At Grumpy, every aspect of the bean is considered, and delivered to the customer: the location where it was grown, the method of roasting. They also use local milk (Ronnybrook). This treatment blurs the origins of the beverage, but still pays tribute to it (in name); it also opens up new doors: for experimentation, for isolating the simplest, and subtlest aspects of coffee. This is a new, and largely American, philosophy, that will probably take some time to circle back to Europe.

It's a curiosity that New York Chowhounders, which as a group invest a great deal of money in restaurants supporting sustainability and locality, still prefer espresso from establishments that make no mention of its origin or process. Am I vastly wrong in this judgment? Does majority of this community live uptown (and thus embodies these deeply rooted traditionalist tastes for coffee)?. It is unfortunate; every time a coffee thread on this board rolls around, those who I can usually trust for great opinions fall right back into the authenticity camp.

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