How has owning an espresso machine changed your impression/experience of 3rd wave shops?

Want to talk espresso but not sure which forum? If so, this is the right one.

#1: Post by dsc106 »

Has owning an at home machine changed your experience of espresso, and impression/opinion of 3rd wave coffee shops? How do you taste, appreciate, and experience things different now? Do you view the beverage differently; are you more or less impressed by good cafes?

With the pandemic I haven't been out to a shop in ages, so my memory may be foggy. I am curious how it will be revisiting the best cafes in Portland. I suspect I may be less impressed than before. Even only 2 months in, and with a relatively humble setup (Niche Zero, ECM Synchronika) as compared to say a Monolith grinder or La Marzocco, or commercial grade machines, I find I am making superb drinks that rival the best I've had at the best PDX cafes (and we have a high bar here). Yes I've invested a lot into practicing and reading, and yes I have a LONG way to go. But still.

Perhaps it's "pulled down the curtain" a bit as it may be. Like learning to make craft cocktails at home, the once mysterious aura is gone - I see the inherent weakness in the cafe system and can better tell the errors in a drink. Even at the best, slow places they don't have the ability to perfectly dial every puck each time. I'm remembering times where I've had varying quality drinks and at the time, thought it was just the particular bean or roast. I'm now aware of all the errors you can make along the way, and what each error looks or tastes like. I look at old pictures of drinks and can see too many micro bubbles, or mediocre latte art, or remember drinks that tasted a bit flat.

On the other hand, I wonder if I might simultaneously be MORE impressed at times. When I go in, and get the perfectly dialed high altitude coffee, or perfectly frothed and poured flat white, etc. An awareness of the lows bringing an even better awareness of the highs to speak.

Finally, having an espresso machine at home is NOT what I thought it would be. I thought it would just be a nice way to fill the void of espresso and milk drinks since it'd been so long with covid that I could hit a cafe. But that is NOT what it's been. It's been a paradigm shift on what espresso is. When you remove the barrier of ~$5 for a cappuccino/flat white, or ~$2.75 for a doppio (plus tip, plus any accompanying food). And when you change the context from needing to drive out and finding park at a cafe, etc. and have it right on hand... well, the entire culture shifts. It means a morning cappuccino, an afternoon affogato or doppio, a PM decaf cortado. It means spiking a PM dessert drink with .5oz of Frangelico (not something you can generally get someplace that also makes excellent craft espresso) and having it with a movie. It means what would have been a drive and an event becomes a simple at home pleasure. I would never spend $15 on cafe espresso drinks in a day, but at home, I'll spend the ~$5 in costs to make 3 in one day sometimes. All in all, having an espresso machine at home has made espresso more of a culture.

So, curious to hear from all of you. How has home espresso changed the cafe experience for you?


#2: Post by TallDan »

For me, personally, I just appreciate the difference between the best coffee shops and the rest a bit more. I have more appreciation for what it takes to make great coffee on a small scale. So, when I get some great coffee from a coffee shop, and I know that it's just one of the hundreds of drinks that the barista will make that day, and that barista is just one of several on staff, either I'm lucky to have got the best shot from the best barista, or they're doing a pretty amazing job.


#3: Post by TallDan »

Oh, and, I'm always impressed by the latte art. I'm happy with how my drinks taste, but even rookie baristas make drinks that look better on Instagram then mine.


#4: Post by thirdcrackfourthwave »

I too live in the Portland area. I'm not gonna call any places out by name but. . . .I find, based on what I've had, the reputations of some of the cafes are overheated. 'Third-wave' stuff that is just flat or, to my taste, a bit too acidic--to each their own but the shots have not been interesting or had depth. There is the Seinfeld 'comedians, cars getting coffee' show in Portland where their drinks aren't hot. The last time I went I met my Nespresso owning Philly based cousin and he wasn't crazy about his shot either. Bad barista? Don't know, I can't taste every shot they pull. So I don't doubt that with your set up you are doing a good job of it. If I get invited to meet someone sure I'll go but at this point I'm quite happy to not pay what they are asking.

Supporter ♡

#5: Post by MatGreiner »

I think of cafes as being instructional and inspirational, like eating out is for a serious home cook. It's also a luxury to have someone else make the drink once in a while or to chat with baristas. For about a year I drank, at home, the same espresso that one of my local third wave shops uses as their house espresso. I'd never liked their espresso much, so it was surprising when I found the bean to be not only to my taste, but very forgiving. I liked it at home, but not at the Café.

During most of the pandemic I've been drinking different blends. Recently, I was in their shop for the first time for a long time and was surprised at how good my old favorite tasted. It was balanced and sweet and complex. So I went back the next day to have another. It was made by the guy who's known for being one of the more serious, senior baristas. It was... ok. Too bright and typical of the reasons I hadn't liked it before.

A good breakfast spot does a great job serving Big Trouble, which I don't care to pay for at home (they don't sell the 5# bags I prefer and are pricier than other options I like), so that's fun to get if I'm out. Not often these days!

Meanwhile, a third wave shop in town is able to coax flavors from their espresso that I do not easily or consistently achieve at home. On a recent day trip to the Twin Cities I had a shot at Wesley Andrew's that positively redefined what I think can be possible. It had all the hallmarks of 3rd wave OJ, but was balanced and delightful. The citrus, rather than being bright and forward, was spiced and integral with the texture of the shot. If there's a way for something to simultaneously taste like earl grey tea and great, chocolatey espresso, that's what this was.

Love the description of what a home espresso setup turned out not to be. I use my machine in myriad ways and for all sorts of fun stuff that I would not have expected.