>On the Quest for Coffee

>I have long bemoaned the fact that it seems nearly impossible to get a proper cup of coffee in this country. By coffee, I do not mean the swill that comes out of a glass container with burnt sides/base kept on a warmer all day, nor the putrid, wax-flavored treacle that one is served in a national coffee shop chain, but rather what is called a “cortado” in Spain, or a “tallat” in Catalonia: a strong shot of good espresso, “cut” (cortado) or “tailored” (tallat) with a shot of hot milk. Some years ago a friend visiting from Barcelona explained that the best one could do in the States, in her experience, was to order a macchiato. This nearest-cousin of the cortado uses the foam from steamed milk, in the Italian manner, although the results in my experience are often very uneven.

This is not to say that I am some sort of a coffee snob, the coffee bean equivalent of a “wine-y”, discussing complex theories of nose, tannin, detecting phantasmal hints of raspberry and mulled shoe leather, and so on. When one can get a proper cup of coffee at virtually any corner bar or cafe in Spain for a euro or two it should not – in theory at least – be so difficult to obtain the same in this country when most espresso machines are imported from Italy or Spain. Yet the results from place to place, and indeed from one franchise location to another, are so varied and distinct as to seem truly bizarre.

For some time now I have been discussing with other bloggers my desire to take the time, periodically, to review what I am served when I request a coffee from various locations I visit. So beginning tomorrow I will, as the mood strikes me, present my findings and (admittedly very personal and non-expert) opinions as to what is good and bad about the coffee I come across in my travels. It seems to me that many people have formed an idea of what an espresso-based drink is, and is not, and have consequently formed their opinions on espresso based on a false bill of goods: correcting that false impression by pointing to places which produce a good result may help my readers to find new and better places to enjoy proper coffee.

Because a good cortado is the rule rather than the exception when traipsing about the Iberian peninsula, it would not be fair to single out a particular establishment as having the “best” cup of coffee. However, should you find yourself in Barcelona any time soon, The Courtier recommends that as you admire the Gaudí mansions and high-end shops along the Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona’s equivalent of Midtown 5th Avenue, you make a little pilgrimage to the original Caffe de Francesco located just across from the Hotel Majestic. Now the flagship of a small chain of five cafes, the coffee here is uniformly superb, and Francesco’s is always one of my favorite places to return to whenever I am in the Ciutat Comtal. The photo below was taken at teatime – or in this case, coffee-time – on my last full day in the city, doing one of the things I love best: enjoying a good coffee and smoke, and writing down some thoughts on things I have observed and coming up with ideas for future plans.

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