Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.


I do not believe I have ever used this blog to communicate my love of espresso. My love of mochas, lattes, cappuccinos, correttos, Cubanos, ristrettos and affogatos. It is difficult to convey exactly why I adore these drinks so much, but I’ll try my very best.

It began when I was fourteen. I was in a little coffee house in the beautiful town that is Banff, and I was reading the list of all of the coffees one could have. It struck me that, obviously, these were not based on plain drip coffee, but rather based on a very strong coffee I’d heard of called “espresso” (or “expresso”, for those who are French, or incapable of comprehending the lack of an ‘x’). This ‘espresso’ coffee was right there on the board — for a mere two dollars, one could have a single ounce of pure, high-pressure extracted coffee. And for just a little more, one could have virtually unlimited permutations of milk, syrup and shot options. What a fantastic idea!

When I was sixteen, I fell in love with the cappuccino. I’d tried lattes, but found them a little weak — it was a higher proportion of liquid milk — and I wanted lots more of that wonderfully luxurious foam. I also became more selective (read: picky) about which coffee shops I frequented.

While many criticize on end about Starbucks’ questionable business practices, their trade ethics and their environmental impact, I can only be up in arms about their espresso, which is roasted until it has burned off all flavour leaving only ash. It’s sad, because the same ingredients in a mocha, for example, can yield a much better drink changing only to a better bean. And thus, with a better espresso machine at home (our Solis Crema had crapped out long ago), I began the search for my favourite kind of coffee. One I can drink day in, day out, and not have it grow tiresome. One which can be savoured with or without syrup, hot or cold, with milk, or just plain and unadulterated. The hunt was on.

Finding quality espresso in Calgary is something of a challenge. I stuck with the beans I’ve used for years, to start with. They’re a medium-dark from the local Italian market and while they weren’t bad, they were not the rich, full-mouth flavour I was seeking. Curiousity got the better of me as I struggled to find the perfect roast. Caffé Beano has excellent espresso, especially when mixed with milk, but I found it to be a little dark for straight drinking. I even struggled to find a perfect roast from the café I work at.

The best I found was when my dad and I went to France and Switzerland. As an aside, Swiss coffee is particularly good. They run a double espresso shot until it fills an 8-to-10 ounce mug, and it’s exquisite. It’s extremely rich, but not overwhelmingly so. French espresso (or expresso, if I were to use their spelling) is undeniably top trumps. Café Richard in Paris has a truly excellent blend called Richard Premium. I only brought back half a pound of it, and I’ve been kicking myself ever since. Sadly, there’s no way to order it online to be delivered to a Canadian address.

Currently, I have some Blends La Rosa Red in my grinder. It’s a blend of four beans, one of which is picked when it is bright red. It’s a medium roast with very little surface oil, and it’s extremely smooth. I like it, but it isn’t quite as good as the Richard Premium. I also have a pound of Be’ato Café Sorrento in an airtight container in my pantry, begging to be tasted. It’s a dark French roast, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.

I can only hope it’s as good as the Richard Premium.