July 8, 2012

Express, Oh

Writing about espresso for my last post reminded me, though I had never really forgotten, that espresso was invented as a beverage of utility. Those wayward tongues that emphasize and imagined "X", as in "expresso", are perhaps not as wrong as we think. Espresso was "express coffee", quick and dirty, enjoy your stale bread crust and then get back to work.

It's come a long way, since then. Granted, you see the occasional customer tossing a double shot down the hatch, quiver a bit, bite their lip, shake it off, and return to their life, now caffeinated. But it's usually not like that. Usually it's ordered by those looking for intensity of flavor, rather than an infusion of exogenous energy.

And that feels right, I think. It's not that other drinks don't, or can't, taste good. But no drip coffee can match the bite, the cutting acidity and the full, deep body. Not ounce for ounce. Not the punch. And not not the experience.

Allow me a moment, not to digress, though it may seem so at first. Caffeine takes a while to do its magic. And yet, when you drink coffee, or anything else caffeinated, you get a boost right then. Maybe your tongue is tasting the caffeine, and preemptively boosting your cognitive function. Maybe there is some other chemical at work, as yet undiscovered. Maybe it's placebo.

But whatever the effect is, and regardless of what it's caused by, there's no denying it, not with drip coffee, and certainly not with espresso. Hold a demitasse, a toasty little doll-sized ceramic cup, filled with amber and bronze. Smell, inhale the promise, and then drink it. It doesn't trickle down your throat, to your stomach, and so on. No, it explodes on your palate, and it's everywhere, right then. Espresso is on your mind immediately, because it damn near feels like it's in your mind too.

You finish, and look at the demitasse. There is something left, maybe a few errant grounds, a crust and a splatter. There is a reminder of what was, even as you're still experiencing what is. You see the remnants in the cup, feel them on your tongue, hold the taste like a sunburst in the mind's eye.


  1. I really like your writing style Alex - you give an excellent sensual representation with your words... If that makes sense?!

  2. Along these lines, whenever I find myself at Starbucks and order an Americano, I prefer them to put it into a kid's sized cup, precisely so I can taste the espresso even more, yet they always look at me with a quizzical look, as if I'm trying to get over on them. This is probably the product of so many people who prefer to drown away the taste of espresso in water, milk, sugar, etc., instead of savor it.

    1. Probably. Though if you were really trying to game the system, you'd ask for a double shot in a kids cup, or even larger, and then fill it with milk. (Not that you'd fill it with milk, but of course, they don't know that.) Thankfully, I can count on one hand the number of times someone has tried something similar, in the 5ish years I've been doing this.