Espresso

An Obsession with Cups

I think my obsession with table wares and kitchen gadgets came from my mother. I remember we never had any matching wares at home because she would couldn’t resist buying up and collecting more and more. Her excuse was “oh it might break later and then we’ll need more anyways” or “we don’t have enough if guests come over” (which never really happened but every once in a blue moon). Hah!

So, I’ve been kind of doing the same thing my whole life, but definitely not on the same scale as her. We have a couple of vintage tea cup and saucer sets as well as coffee mugs and various dish ware by Fire King. I read that in Japan, there is a coffee shop with all sorts of vintage pieces. Not only do they make a cup of coffee exclusively for you, they also make sure they pick the perfect cup to put it in!

So whats the deal with really expensive designer cups? (J: Feel free to read that in Jerry Seinfeld’s voice. I know I did.) I think that professional baristas, as well as home baristas are buying them up because they are a marriage of form and function. They are like pieces of art that you get to enjoy more intimately because well…let’s be honest. You’re basically making out with it.

J: What? You don’t make out with your coffee? Don’t look at me like that. No, I don’t use any tongue. I’m not a weirdo. Coffee is hot. You could burn yourself!

You wouldn’t serve foie gras on a paper plate. It ruins the experience. Shell out a few extra bucks on some decent cups for your coffee. Or don’t. At work, I drink my coffee in a giant Ninja Turtles mug. Why? Two words. Turtle Power.

Here’s a few of the more popular options:

 

Designer Cups

Illy Artist Collection 

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Straight from the illy eShop: “illy Art Collections are a series of limited edition cups designed by contemporary artists that transform the enjoyment of espresso into an inspirational, multi-sensory experience.  More than 70 international artists have contributed, each creating mini masterpieces of beauty to behold.” (Illy eShop) These cups range anywhere from $40 to $225. A work of art in a vessel that is also a work of art!

 

Terra Keramik

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Used in barista competitions worldwide, these cups are considered to be the crème de la crème of coffee cups. Each are carefully handcrafted and individually signed by master potter and sculptor, Felix Volger. The design is spunky, with nice bright eclectic colors, finished off by a showy, platinum handle and rim. I don’t think this is for everyone though. I think it looks a little outdated and too flashy for my taste. However, baristas swear by its perfect size, thickness and mouth feel as well as heat retention all working together to create the best all-around coffee experience. $40-$45 each

 

Budget and Space Conscious

World Market – Stacking Mugs and Espresso Cups

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Comes in different colors and designs, these cups are a great place to start if you have a limited budget as well as limited space. I have a set of the espresso cups and they have held up really well.  The quality is not superb, but they look nice and modern. Overall, you can’t beat the price at $12.99 for a set of 6!

 

Affordable Quality

Sur La Table – Café Collection Espresso Cup and Saucer

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I bought these in the 2 oz. demitasse and 5 oz. cappuccino. They really caught my eye because of the simple, modern design and solid build weight. I love having heavier porcelain wear. These also retain temperature really well and for the price, its a great place to start a coffee wares collection. $5.95 to $14.95 each

 

Williams-Sonoma – Brasserie Porcelain Cups and Saucer, Set of 4

Very similar to the Sur La Table one, but this one has a lower-profile saucer. It comes in a convenient set of 4 and is available at almost any mall, but I do prefer the design of the Sur La Table’s. It also comes in 2 other styles, one with a blue and one with red band, all for $59.95. Not bad.

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Bodum Glass Double Wall

Bodum has a large assortment of double-walled glassware thats just been really popular over the years. I’ve read that they provide amazing heat retention while still being comfortable to the touch on the outer glass wall. I like that since its clear glass, you can see the different layers of coffee, crema, milk, etc. $15-$25 each

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Setting the Standard

Intelligentsia Black Cat Project

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These beauties were created after 3 years of collaboration with NotNeutral, an LA based design firm. 3 years! Not only is the design fabulously modern, it is also meticulously designed to meet the strict needs and standards of barista champions around the world. $12-$20 each

 

notNeutral Lino Collection

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notNeutral’s description:

notNeutral, in collaboration with world-class baristas, brings you the premier vessels for enjoying everything coffee.

Meticulously designed and tested, the MENO cups achieve a seamless marriage of form and function. The contour of the interior provides optimal fluid dynamics for the perfect pour, while the wide mouth accommodates the drinker’s nose to take in the aroma. The base is thick to retain heat, while the rim has an elegant mouth feel. The graceful profile of MENO is comfortable to grip and rests easily in the palms of the hands.

What a beauty! Prices vary.

 

Coffee is an experience. So much goes into making a single cup, whether its espresso or pour over. The grind, the pour, etc. Why would you spend so much time creating something, and then serve it in something that diminishes the quality of the experience? That would be like putting on a production of Romeo and Juliet with the Montagues in dinosaur costumes while the Capulets wear space suits. Wait…that would be awesome. And hilarious. It would be more like going to see your new favorite movie (Captain America: The Winter  Soldier) in a theatre filled with crying children, sticky floors, and the pungent aroma of fresh hobo urine emanating from the seat next to you. Yeah. That. I get chills just thinking of that.

Anyway. Nice things are more enjoyable in nice packages. There are many nice choices out there that can fit any budget!

Vietnamese Style Black Eyed Pour Over

It’s finally getting warmer outside now! This past winter was long and brutal for the South. The only acceptable type of polar vortex here is the one happening in our drinks.

So, we’ve finally begun to dedicate some time into developing specialty coffee drinks that we can offer seasonally (or permanently based on popularity) on our truck! So exciting! After filming the video, we roamed through the aisles of Whole Foods picking out various spices, dried flowers, berries and fruits that we can incorporate to enhance and compliment the flavors already present in various coffees.

The whole car smelled amaaaazing. More drinks coming soon!

Latte Art #3

Here is my third latte art video. New posts every Tuesday and Friday!

So I’ve been watching pro barista videos where they pour milk in and out of pitchers to get the right consistency of milk. I sort of attempted this today, and it certainly looks a lot better than spooning out extra foam.

Latte Art #2

Today I practiced my latte art with a shot pulled from the De’longhi. I used old coffee with a course grind and pulled a crappy shot with no crema. Why? Well I have decided that I will focus on my milk foaming and latte art because the non-pressurized basket from Seattle Coffee Gear is out of stock. I’m going to wait until I receive it before doing full videos from grind, dosing, tamp, milk, to pour.

I poured high at first, with the milk pitcher tilted just enough to get a steady pour. This allows the less foamy milk to incorporate with the shot, giving it a nice thicker texture and giving the foam a nice rich color. When I’m ready for the rosetta to start forming, I tilt the pitcher at a greater angle towards my cup to allow foam to flow out.

Latte Art #1

Today I learned from watching my video that I wasn’t tilting my cup down enough to let the foam pour down to start my rosetta. The more the milk pitcher is tilted, the more foam comes out. Thats how you can control when to start the rosetta.

My Equipment: Espresso (and Modifications)

1. De’longhi EC702 15 Bar Pump-Driven Semi-Automatic Espresso Maker

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This was a gift from my mom two Christmas’s ago in 2012. I did a lot of research before I deciding on this machine, but it didn’t take long for me to grow out of it. The temperature is inconsistent, it has a pressurized basket in the portafilter and comes with a really small steam wand. There are other small things I dislike, but these are my main complaints.

However, to pull good shots and steam good milk on a La Marzocco Strada is one thing, but to be able to do that a piece of equipment that costs only about $200 is a whole other thing. This is the machine that I have now, so I will make the most out of it. I’ve read so many people say that its impossible to make a quality espresso shot/drink with an entry-level home espresso machine, but I wonder if anyone has ever really tried to push this machine to see the limits of its capabilities.

I know there are readers who are like “why even bother?” Frankly at this point, I have no choice because I can’t afford a commercial machine. Here are a few tips for the readers out there who have a home espresso machine and would like to pull shots and steam milk that more closely resembles higher quality, traditional machines.

Modifications:

1. Remove the panerello wand. The wand makes messy large foam bubbles that are miles away from the texture of microfoam. Not only does large bubbly foam has a very unpleasant texture and fails to bring out the best in your milk, microfoam is a must when attempting latte art.

2. Purchase a non-pressurized basket upgrade. Seattle Coffee Gear sells them here. Guide2coffee.com has written an awesome article explaining the differences because pressurized and non-pressurized baskets. The article can be found here.

To summarize the article,

  • Pressurized baskets do most the work for the domestic user. It helps to take the variables of espresso making such as grind size, dosing and tamp pressure almost out of the equation. It has a single small exit hole which creates a high pressure environment in the basket. This pressure forces and water to spread more evenly though the basket which results in a more even extraction. The small single hole also prevents water from flowing too quickly just in case the user has a course grind or too light of a tamp. However, the basket takes too much control away from the user. It prevents a rich full-bodied extraction. If the pros don’t use it, why should home coffee enthusiasts use it either?
  • Non-pressurized baskets gives more control to the user but requires more skill and experience and thus more time devotion. The grind, dosing and tamp needs to be just right but when it is, the payoff is worth it.

 

2. Gino Rossi RR45

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I bought this from an eBay auction for $169.50. I wish I had taken pictures of it when I first got it and opened up the machine. It was caked in 1/8th to 1/4th inch of espresso goop! Its been through a lot from the looks of it, but its a workhorse from what I’ve read. I get really a really nice, even grind and at the finest end, the grind is like powder.

 

3. Counter Culture Coffee Beans

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I’ve just started using Counter Culture. My first bag was Kona, which I really liked for pour-over. I will be using Rustico for espresso!