I'm the (self-proclaimed) "Espresso Guy." I created this website to educate the home espresso making newbie and to provide recipes, tips, and troubleshooting steps for those already pulling their own espresso shots. If you're having trouble deciding what to buy, there's guides on buying beans and equipment.

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When is a macchiato not a macchiato?

Over at Thrillist, food journalist Nicole A. Taylor penned an article titled “How the Starbucks Macchiato Ruined My Indie Coffee Shop Experiences.” It’s a perspective I hadn’t entirely considered before.

The gist of the story is Taylor first encountered a macchiato at Starbucks. Now when going to indie cafes, she wonders why the drink they call a macchiato isn’t what she expects.

Here’s where my experience and hers overlap despite a significant difference. Yes, my first macchiato was at Starbucks, and yes I was also confused when ordering one elsewhere only to find it was a completely different drink. See at Starbucks what they call a “macchiato” is essentially a latte sweetened with caramel. But that’s not the traditional meaning of a “macchiato.”

My first confusion about what the word meant was at Peet’s, an American coffee chain that’s much smaller than Starbucks — though by no means an indie cafe. I was just a teenager at the time and didn’t understand why the Peet’s version of the macchiato was so much smaller and not as sweet as the drink of the same name at Starbucks.

In those ancient times before wifi, Google, and smartphones definitive answers to questions like “what is a macchiato” were not readily available.

The answer by the way is Starbucks has muddied the waters so to speak; if you want a traditional macchiato at Starbucks you have to specifically order an “espresso macchiato.”

But Taylor’s life experience is quite different from mine. She’s an African American woman from the South, now living somewhere on the East Coast. A typically pretentious indie coffee shop doesn’t just have cold customer service, when they don’t make a macchiato the way she’s used to it makes her question if she’s being discriminated against for either her race or southern accent.

Taylor’s reaction might seem odd at first, but as a white man from California I’ve never experienced discrimination on either of those two fronts. I haven’t lived in her shoes and who am I to judge the experiences of others anyway?

Although she eventually learned like many of us about the difference between a traditional macchiato vs. a Starbucks macchiato, her takeaway is that Starbucks has friendlier customer service than most indie cafes, which… is almost certainly true. Though I have to say, if only Starbucks had given their sugary, caramel beverage a unique name instead of re-branding the humble macchiato we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place.

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No, there’s no gender basis for enjoying espresso

I’m a guy who likes espresso. This shouldn’t be new information; it’s kind of in the name of the site, isn’t it?

Yet I was more than a little skeptical of an article that popped up in Google News titled Why Men Like Espresso More Than Latte? Questionable headline grammar aside this was from a site I’d never heard of, The Good Men Project. Okay, I try to be a good man! You’ve got me hooked: is there some reason men prefer espresso over lattes?

Well… probably not.

The article starts out with a brief explanation of espresso and its history, before describing a study that caffeine has a stronger effect on men than on women. It doesn’t name or even link to the study, but even if we take the alleged conclusion as a given what follows is truly a stretch:

Espresso is kind of drink men want more than latte because of its authentic flavor. A latte is just milk and has almost no coffee in it according to most of the men. And as caffeine has more impact on men than women, men love to drink espresso more than latte as the concentration of caffeine in espresso in more than a latte. We can say that espresso is more like a golden drink for men. Espresso shots and lattes: they’re from two inverse sides of the espresso-based drinks available.

Let’s put the spam-like poor grammar and small factual inaccuracies about what a latte is aside to consider the core argument here: since men are more affected by caffeine, they prefer the flavor of caffeine. Huh? The article makes no attempt to connect these two tangential points.

Even if — and this seems like a big if — men somehow are more affected by caffeine than women, it’s quite the leap to suggest a gender difference in the preference of espresso vs. espresso-based drinks without any further evidence whatsoever.

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Italy’s coffee culture could be overdue for a shake up

Happy 2019 everyone! I wanted to mention an article that’s been going around online from the Washington Post: Italy invented coffee culture. Now it’s a coffee time capsule.

The gist of the article is that while Italy was pioneer in coffee and espresso, in recent years many cafes haven’t kept up with the times. They’ve cut corners with the quality of their beans in order to keep prices from rising with inflation and other costs. Despite Italy’s ingrained coffee culture, the “third-wave” coffee trend is slowly coming to the country with higher quality espresso (and higher prices to match.)

Personally I’d say it’s far too early to say if Italy will accept this change, but I bet tourists from big cities outside of Italy will welcome high end espresso even if the locals are uninterested.

Similar changes happen all the time on a much smaller scale. For example someone might work for years on coming up with the best tacos and open a new taco restaurant with customers lining up out the door on day one. Customers rave about it and with stellar reviews, the place claims to have the best tacos in town. Then ten years go by and nothing changes — they’re still making the same tacos they were ten years ago. Now a new taco place opens down the street with an amazing new recipe, better ingredients, and a more up-to-date interior. Customers flock to the new place and the former “best” taco restaurant sees their customer base dwindle. Why? It’s not because the old place changed, it’s because it failed to keep up with the times. They could have tried new specials, updated their ingredients, etc. but instead of embracing change they rested on their reputation.

In the business world there’s a name for this: The Innovator’s Dilemma, which comes from the title of a book. It’s often talked about in the technology industry (think Yahoo vs. Google Search) but the core concept applies to any business; it’s cheaper to adapt to your customer’s ever-changing needs than to continue doing the same thing and eventually get surpassed by a rival.

I brought up tacos only because food trends tend to move pretty fast, and we’ve all seen restaurants stagnate and go out of business. The world of espresso is no different: the best cafes in the world are subject to the same market pressures. What’s interesting about this article though is the latest trends in espresso seem to have skipped an entire country, not just a single establishment.

Time and money permitting I’d love to revisit Italy in a few years and give their cafes another shot.

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Cafelat Robot

Recently a Kickstarter project called the Cafelat Robot came to my attention. It’s a minimalist espresso machine that’s barely a machine at all, let alone a robot. In fact, the “robot” is you! As a user of this device you have to grind the coffee, tamp it, and heat the water — then you have to apply the pressure on your own, just like a manual lever machine.

After a few prominent high tech crowdfunded espresso machines went bust it’s refreshing to see an extremely simple espresso machine hit Kickstarter, let alone one that covers pre-infusion, recommends against blade grinders, and takes food safety seriously. The only reason I can think of to be skeptical of this project is the low goal of $50,000 USD. Physical products cost a ton to manufacture. It’s unclear how much investment this project has outside of Kickstarter.

That said the video does make it clear this is their first production run, so I’d expect a beta quality product. Even if you do wind up getting a Cafelat Robot via Kickstarter (which is not guaranteed) it’s unclear if and when replacement parts will be made available.

My verdict is to wait and see. For the price of $300 USD I’d expect a little more, like a quality hand-cranked burr grinder such as the one shown in the video. Still I’d love to see this project succeed in the long run, if for no other reason than how little counter space it would take up in my kitchen.

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Conan drinks espresso in Naples

Recently American late night talk show host Conan O’Brien visited Italy with his Italophile associate producer Jordan Schlansky. Among many other clips posted online, in one video Conan and Jordan order espresso in a cafe in Naples.

While the video’s humorous intent is clear, the reaction of one Italian man when Conan tries to order a pumpkin spice latte was a look of genuine disgust. He’s not wrong; I had to pause the video because I was laughing so hard at his expression.

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