Recently came back from a long holiday weekend spent on the North Coast of CA, and was struck once again with the sad, inescapable reality that good espresso is shockingly hard to find. Even in California. "New wave" coffee still hasn't penetrated much beyond it's dark urban caverns in most of America.
The coastal region of Northern California is pretty much the birth place of the modern foodie/organic/farm to table movements, and one of the last places one would expect to have trouble finding good espresso. But even in this land of abundance, and relatively modern tastes, most people remain stuck in the Stone Age of coffee.
We knew it was still hard to find microfoam outside of the coastal cities in the US, but in Mendocino County???
It was both a little shocking, and frankly, disappointing, to find so many otherwise sophisticated Californians still drinking the coffee equivalent of Budwiser.
The "drive thru" parking lot coffee kiosk in this part of the world, is pretty much like the "drive thru" anywhere.
(The "beer" analogy is still one of the best ways to describe where we are in the lagging coffee drinking evolution of America. Most of the US is still not even up to "imported beer" yet when it comes to coffee drinking. It is still 1971.)
On this little weekend trip, we went to all the "best coffee places" we could find, and even used Yelp (admittedly a "tool" one only uses when desperate and totally clueless about the local scene, but we were both! It was obviously no help.)
We didn't make it as far as Eureka, but we covered a lot of the North Coast in those three days, from Ukiah to Fort Bragg, and did not find a single good latte the whole time.
Hills covered with organic Zins and Merlot, heirloom apples, grass fed dairies, and the finest outdoor Sensimilla abound. But decent coffee?
Muddy brown "coffee drinks," with burnt beans and scalded froth on top, is as much the order in these parts, as it is in Omaha, or Oklahoma.
Obviously a reminder of the ossified coffee habits of America as a whole, and just how entrenched "old fashioned" (i.e. bad) coffee habits are in this country.
(Which reminds, we're gonna finally add a "guide" of indy places to buy "third/fourth wave" espresso in the US, and will appreciate contributions from locals everywhere. Obviously, "good espresso" is pretty subjective, but the existence of microfoam in any coffee establishment should be pretty easy to recognize, and a logical place to start for inclusion on "the list." Email your suggestions to email@example.com, and when we get a critical mass, we'll start the new feature on the website.)
I'm not talking about the mere non-existence of "latte art." A phenomena that has gone from cute, to boring, to downright annoying, in quick succession (I'm now "unfollowing" people on Instagram who post pictures of cats or the empire state building constructed on top their espresso.)
So don't get me started on "latte art."
But microfoam is NECESSARY for a decent espresso drink. And the truth is, it's really not THAT hard to make.
If I can do it with a 40 year old Riviera lever, anyone can. You don't need ultra sophisticated gear to achieve microfoam. (Check out the millions of youtube videos on the subject, if you're somehow still not even sure what it is.)
Yes, like many formerly cool things that devolve into embarrassing "fads," latte art has come to distract from the raison d'etre of microfoam. The essence of which is to turn fresh milk into a lovely, "chewy," dessert like mouth feel media for presenting sweet espresso shots.
Microfoam is not for making a latte pretty. It's for making a latte, period.
So I would gladly take cat pics or even little hearts on top of my espresso, if that was my only option to get a real latte in a small town.
But the lack of microfoam in flyover country, points less to a lack of "talent" or "creativity" among minimum wage slaves, than a complete and utter cluelessness.
We have people in the "espresso business" who don't give a shit about espresso.
Our Trumpnation operates most coffee shops like it runs carpet stores or sells time share condos.
It's a "living." A way to pay the bills. Not a "craft," or any kind of labor of love.
"Coffee drinks" remain a commodity for most people. Part of the local caffeine delivery system. And the faster places get the hot drink in front of you, the faster another few bucks changes hands.
Like so much of what has gone "wrong" with America over the last half century, it's as simple as that. Indifference meets money grubbing.
And of course, the Starbuck's franchise phenomena has only made the evolution of good espresso even harder.
Whatever genius originally said, "If it takes more than four words to order your coffee, you're part of the problem," was dead right.
But we're not just complaining about Counter Revolutionary coconut caramel "lattes" here. We're talking about the vast majority of "espresso shops" in our country not being able to make a professional latte. AT ALL.
Ok, after this screed we're taking a vow to stop ranting in "the blogs" about bad espresso. We'll try to focus on writing about "good stuff" instead, when we come across it. We'll strive for Positive, rather than pointing out problems. But microfoam doesn't seem like too much to ask for. If somebody has the nerve to take four bucks for a drink that may cost them 50 cents or less, they should at least take the job seriously.
Heck, if you charge money for ANYTHING, you should take the work seriously.
And you can't be serious about making a latte without microfoam.
It's not just not about being a namby pamby "sophisticate" in this day and age, it's about being competent. About being a Professional.
Yet another great reason to stop enabling bad excuses for espresso in your neighborhood, by buying your own gear, and making it yourself.
Cheers, to those of you who already do.