While no one was looking, under the cover of darkness, the magnificent Italian hand built La Marzocco machines were replaced one by one with fully automatic computerized press-a-button versions. (This took place in thousands of Starbucks across the land.) This is the day when the romance and theater of Starbucks died.
This disturbing trend is taking place on many levels of society.
Many argue that removing the human (error) factor makes for a more consist product and increased customer satisfaction. But really, truth be told, it is because of training costs, speed of service and efficiency. Not bad things in themselves from a overly worked Barristas point of view. (The solution for a busy store is to have two to four machines and double the staff, like they do in Buenos Aries. Really, they do.)
However they are ignoring the romantic factor. Where is the romance and theater of pushing a button? Where is the skill and passion of the Barrista?
For a quick lesson in romance, look to the humble Volturno. One of the things that the Italians brought with them to Argentina was this little stove stop espresso maker. (Made internationally famous by Bialleti.) While not true espresso and I am not comparing it to espresso, it deserves a place in every coffee lovers arsenal.
We brought ours back from Buenos Aires, a national brand called Volturno. Although it mostly gets it use when we travel, there are still many a days when we when we opt for the intense room filling aroma and the seductive whisper it makes to tell you when its ready. Where Bialetti has compromised to appease the North-American hordes by making a stainless version, the humble Volturno still uses the time honored and tested traditional aluminum which gets better with age.
Simply follow a few simple rules handed down from the old Italian bubbas. First, you need to condition the pot before use by brewing a pot with just water, then a second time with coffee that you leave sit overnight. The second rule is to never wash the inside with soap, just rinse with hot water and air dry. This way you do not want to disturb the coating left by the oils in the coffee. The third rule is to pile the slightly coarser than espresso grind coffee in a mound with the peak passing the top of the filter basket. This way the coffee will be compressed to just the right amount for optimum extraction.
While these basic rules seem to defy normal coffee logic, in the Volturno they unexplainable work. Enter the romance factor. While producing good coffee is based on scientific principals, fully automatic press a button espresso machines can never compute nor replicate the romance (human) factor.
Those old Italian bubbas know best. Please leave button pushing to accountants and Starbuck Barristas. Stay original… it’s only human.
Mature waiters in white tuxedos, gleaming brass machines and professional baristas pouring double espressos in handmade white porcelain cups. It is a time to reflect, take stock of the day and enjoy the moment. This is the daily ritual for the people of Buenos Aires.
No line-ups at the counter, no 16-year-old servers and no fully automatic espresso machines that produce the same mediocre espresso time after time. In this bustling city of 17 million you will find no giant 20oz cups to go filled with way too much milk for a grown person, to cover up the poorly chosen, poorly brewed bitter espresso.
When did what we refer to as a coffee break, cease to become a break? When did going for a coffee cease to become an experience? When did a waiter cease to become a dignified profession where one could support a family?
One of our favorite espresso experiences in Buenos Aires is at the Cafe Martinez. They roast their own coffee, and offer several varieties and degrees of roast. You choose the variety and the roast that you want your espresso to be pulled from. They have experienced well-trained baristas who take pride in their work. You receive a small glass of mineral water and a hand crafted chocolate with every espresso. Playing in the background is either classic tango or neo tango fusion such as the Gotan Project or the Bajo Fondo Tango Club.
Another great coffee experiences can be found in Quebec City, Canada. In a dark and romantic cafe in the heart of the old city, you have the option to choose the variety, then one of four methods of preparation: espresso, filtered drip, French press, or an Italian stove stop that brews right at your table over a small flame, the perfect choice for a romantic rendezvous. Over time you become intimately acquainted with all the subtleties of one variety through the different brewing processes.
It is no longer just coffee, it is an experience, and each experience is unique and original. We invite you to think about your memorable coffee experiences, and more importantly WHEN will be your next.
Stay original… enjoy the moment.