Archives for posts with tag: espresso
Crow's Coffee - by Steve Agocs

Crow’s Coffee – by Steve Agocs

I first learned about Crow’s Coffee, one of the newer coffee shops in Kansas City, a handful of months ago from my friend, Emily Farris (the famous radio/podcast personality and freelance writer with a CV three miles long… see Feed Me KC and Feed Me Creative) who was a consultant helping Crow’s get their start off on the right foot (wing?). For some reason I thought Crow’s was in Waldo, but it’s actually a fair jump north of that neighborhood over by UMKC. Good parking, walking distance for students, nice wide sidewalks for a couple park benches and pretty decent amount of room inside. What more do you want to know? Oh, the coffee… 🙂

Crow’s Coffee is using Messenger Coffee Co. coffee, a relative newcomer to Kansas City’s burgeoning artisanal coffee roasting scene. I have been following Messenger on Instagram for a while and didn’t even know they were local. I know virtually nothing about the company or their beans and their website doesn’t lend a ton of information yet, although I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more about Messenger in the coming year.

I ordered two drinks, seen in the photo above, an espresso and the “controversial” (in the coffee community, at least, and then only if you care, which no one does, LOL) Gibraltar. They were both good. The espresso is what I’d consider of the “traditional” variety, leaning more toward an Italian/European style with nice roasty flavors. The other side of this spectrum would be what is considered “West Coast” style espresso, which tends to be really bright, somewhat sharp and even lemony. Hit up Oddly Correct one of these days for an espresso if you haven’t already and you’ll understand what I mean. 

The Gibraltar was tasty and the Messenger espresso (pulled off a gorgeous Ferrari red La Marzocco machine) worked great with milk. Gibraltars are named that because they are served in a small 4-oz glass called by the same name by the company that sells them. Until the past year or two this drink was called a “cortado” which is a shot of espresso with steamed milk/foam poured into it. It’s bigger than a macchiato, which is basically an espresso with a dollop of foam on it, but much smaller than a latte or typical American cappuccino. Although, go to Italy and order a cappuccino and this is about the size of drink you’re going to get, as opposed to it’s oversized American counterpart. So, it’s basically a mini cappuccino. The “controversy” comes from the re-naming of the cortado, thanks to Blue Bottle in San Francisco which was supposedly the first company to pour these little guys into Gibraltar glasses.

Like I said, WHO CARES, right?! There’s no murder, no sleeping with wives, etc around this Gibraltar/cortado/cappuccino mess, so it’s hardly a controversy outside of the blogosphere.

Crow’s was comfortable and quiet while I was there (10-11AM on a Wednesday morning), the decor is pleasant, the coffee is good, and they order a good selection from drip to pourover and Chemex and the usual espresso-based milk drinks. The outdoor seating is a nice plus, especially as we move into Autumn, and I think with their location, good service and solid coffee they are going to have a successful time here in the UMKC neighborhood. 


Naked portafilter photo by Oddly Correct.

I’ve been raving about Oddly Correct coffee for quite some time and for a damn good reason. It’s awesome. That’s about all you really need to read, but here’s some more if you need extra convincing.

I bought a pound of their Stranger in the Alps (I’ll let you do the work of figuring out what the name is all about, but it has to do with hilarious editing of a scene from The Big Lebowski) a few weeks ago and was running low on beans, so with only a few minutes left before they closed I popped into the shop and grabbed a bag of what I thought sounded good (not that I’ve found they roast anything bad). My Chemex and Clever Coffee Dripper were both feeling neglected while Signore Gaggia was getting all the fun, so I didn’t really care what I had grabbed as long as it was for pourover instead of espresso.

When I realized I had grabbed the one variety of espresso they had on hand I was momentarily upset with my “mistake” during the rush, but I recovered. I finished up the last of my Stranger in the Alps yesterday and dug into my selection, Entre Volcanes single farm espresso and all I can say this morning is “WOW!”

I did a little research about the Entre Volcanes farm and found a surprising amount of information here. The farm is located in Guatemala at what the site says is “a significantly higher altitude for the region, and thus the coffee coming from here produces an extremely complex cup.” The farm was founded in the 1950’s and so it would be safe to assume they know how to grow beans the right way.

The farm also grows poinsettias, macadamia trees, orchids and bromelias. I would like to say I could taste a hint of macadamia with a long orchid finish in the coffee, but that would just be a lie! LOL

I had a feeling I was in for a treat when I opened the hand-printed and labeled bag (a trademark of those crafty fellows at Oddly Correct) and saw the small, hard-looking beans I have grown accustomed to equating with great cups from their magical roaster. A lot of Oddly Correct’s beans seem to be about 1/2 of the size of a “regular” roasted bean and not as darkly roasted-looking. In my mind, the smaller and more pebble-like the bean from these guys, the better. Who knows?

I filled my Kyocera hand grinder (I always go by volume of the beans to the top of the grinder hopper, rather than weighing them out). It felt noticeably heavier in my hand but took the 200-ish cranks of the handle to grind them all, which is normal regardless of the bean I use, and the volume of espresso in the Gaggia portafilter looked right.

I got the volume of espresso I wanted in the time I wanted (about 15-17 seconds) and the aroma coming off the cup was a little grapefruity/citrusy, but the tasting notes on the bag prepped me for that. I feel like now, 15 minutes after I had the drink, that there is a lingering astringency/grapefruit flavor on my palate from the coffee, but that could be purely psychological.

Like the other espressos I’ve had from Oddly Correct, the Entre Volcanes was bright and punchy. If you could describe a sip as a physical thing, somewhere in the middle of it was a fleeting earthy character that my mind immediately associated with cinnamon. It was quick, like “5%” of the overall sip, and it didn’t TASTE like cinnamon, but there was some quality of it that I couldn’t shake as being “cinnamon-like.” I suspect I’ll be running the Gaggia a few more times today, so maybe I’ll have some more comments to note on that!

I got a little cherry toward the end, which seems to be a theme with Oddly Correct beans, and a citrusy, tart finish.

Entre Volcanes is truly handled well by the brilliant OC roasters and they have done this bean justice. The cup was really full-bodied, the crema was gorgeous looking and the flavors were pure, bright, acid and lacked any sootiness or ashiness that comes from most espresso roasts.


No, unfortunately my morning coffee on Christmas Eve isn’t going to look like the photo (is that amazing, or what?), but it’s still going to be a tasty treat I’m looking forward to mightily. It’s ridiculously dark and depressing outside, I’ve had the week off, and my girlfriend is home sick. I’ll be indoors working around the house all day, so why not start it off right with, as the Italians say, a little bit of “corrected” coffee?

In Italy, un caffé corretto is a shot of espresso with a shot of liquor, typically sambuca, brandy or grappa (I shudder to think). My version is a little less hardcore and a little more coffee to enjoy, but encompasses three of my favorite things: booze, espresso and coffee.

It’s a Shot in the Dark corrected with a mini-bottle of Starbucks creamy coffee liqueur, which to the best that I can tell, is basically like Bailey’s in a different bottle. They were selling these for about 99 cents last time I was at Lukas, so I picked a few up.

My Shot in the Dark is a shot of Broadway Café espresso in a cup of organic Broadway Café French pressed coffee. It takes a while to hand-grind my beans (both sets of them), boil my water, brew the coffee, etc, but what else do I have to do on Christmas Eve morning? Add the bottle of Starbucks liqueur and voilá!

espressoWell, friends, after much trial and error with my new Kyocera hand grinder/mill from Orphan Espresso, I finally have my espresso dialed in again. The beans from Broadway Café really blow Whole Foods’ out of the water, too, even when they’re a week or so old. I can’t quite reproduce the full experience of Broadway’s espresso, but I’m close enough that it beats 90% of the competition in the Kansas City area, in my opinion. Not bad for a home setup, if you ask me! Broadway still has me on the body/texture front. Plus it’s cooler to have an espresso and watch all the hipsters than it is to sit in my house and have the same drink.

I really like the Young Press, too, for French press coffee. I have found that 2 scoops of whole beans will produce enough grounds for 2 measuring cups of water, which is about 1.5 “cups” of coffee (I hope that makes sense). I still have a lot to learn about French press, but I’m a happy camper when it comes to my coffee enjoyment, right now. The Gaggia is due for a cleaning this weekend, which is never fun and seems like a lot more work than it should be, but that’s life.

On the beer front, I have some French beers to try, as well as a huge stock of damn near anything you could want to drink. I seriously need to stop buying beer for a while! Sheesh!

pedeI received my Peter Dienes (aka “PeDe”) hand grinder from Orphan Espresso yesterday and it is well worthy of a mini review. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find out much about the Peter Dienes company for this article. As far as I can tell with very little information the company seemed to be based in the Netherlands around World War II. I saw some references to “post-war” and “pre-war” and I know a fair number of these grinders are from the 1950’s. The company doesn’t seem to be in existence today, and beyond that I couldn’t find out much after about an hour of research online.

That said, I’ve been looking to improve the quality of my home espresso setup. I have a decent espresso machine (Gaggia Espresso), but was relegated to using canned pre-ground espresso (usually Alessi or Medaglia d’Oro). While this setup isn’t amazing by any stretch, it makes a serviceable cup, particularly for the very occasional latté I drink, or the more frequent Americano. The big factors I was missing out on is fresh beans, and, as an essential component of fresh beans, a good grind.

To review, a good espresso grinder is generally going to run in the $250+ range, generally closer to the $400 mark. That’s a lot of money for a one-trick pony. I happened to be reading the CoffeeGeek forums last week and came across a discussion about using hand grinders for espresso. As it turns out, a good hand grinder can give a good electrical grinder a serious run for its money, usually at a fraction of the cost and, in my opinion, a much higher cool factor!

The main issue, though, was that there is a huge range in quality of vintage coffee hand grinders. Some are great, some are terrible, some work for espresso, some don’t. In this discussion the name of a company, Orphan Espresso, came up. One of Orphan Espresso’s products and services is to find vintage hand grinders, clean them up and recondition them, and then test them for acceptability for different brewing methods. The company classifies whether a grinder is acceptable for espresso or not and sells them as such, guaranteeing their work. 

So, I visited the site and fell in love with the PeDe wall-mounted grinder you see in the photo above. It has a cool, ’50’s-ish ceramic hopper painted in white and gray. The burrs of the grinder are in a repainted cast iron housing, and the original glass grounds catcher is still intact. The grinder and Priority Mail shipping cost me $110, which is a far cry from $250-$275 for a basic entry-level electrical grinder or more! Plus, the Dienes looks cool, and, to me at least, there is something satisfying about hand grinding my coffee.

The grinder, including the glass cup, is about 12″ tall, so this is not huge or obnoxious in any way. The mounting board is maybe 7″ wide. The hopper can hold a lot of beans, I’m guessing about a pound if not more, but the glass cup will hold about 2.5 tablespoons of beans (whole or ground, un-tamped of course). The hopper has a plastic lid that fits snugly to the ceramic to create a bit of a seal. 

After mounting the grinder last night I ran to Whole Foods and bought two kinds of beans: Bel Canto and Sierra. I knew Whole Foods does their own roasting right on site and also labels when the beans were roasted, so I figured that was a good reference starting point. The Bel Canto was labeled as being bright and fruity, a Northern Italian style roast good for espresso or drip while the Sierra was much darker and more oily.

Before grinding the good stuff, I ran a couple tablespoons of some cheap coffee through it. I tried to visually compare the PeDe’s grinds to the canned Medaglia I had, and thought it looked a little coarse, so I tightened the burr adjustment knob about 1/4 turn, then ran two tbsp of Bel Canto through it. I put it in the double basket, tamped and ran the machine. It choked the Gaggia. Not a single drop of espresso came through!

So, I turned the knob out about 1/4 turn, tried again, and again choked the machine. I turned it out another 1/4 turn, maybe a little more, and this time got a nice double shot in about 24 seconds. Eureka!

The Bel Canto made a pretty nice espresso with lots of crema. I know it isn’t “perfect” but it is SO far beyond what I was doing that it’s amazing. The Sierra ground a little finer than the Bel Canto did, and pulled a little slower and with less crema, so the key will be to stick to one type of coffee for a while as a lot of playing with the adjustment knob on the PeDe will lead to inconsistency.

In any case, I couldn’t be happier with my PeDe or the product and level of service offered by Orphan Espresso.

When it comes to coffee, I am a purist. My first choice is espresso… no sugar, no flavors, just pure, wonderful joy in a little cup. When I’m at home and I want something that won’t be gone in 60 seconds, I make an Americano, which is simply a double shot of espresso with enough hot water added to it to fill a normal coffee cup. I don’t add anything to those, either. In a pinch, I settle for regular drip coffee, but I tend to add a little hazelnut creamer to it because the coffee where I work stinks.

It’s nice to have a home espresso maker, but it can quickly become an obsession. The general consensus for making espresso at home is that, for the most part, there are three main components: the machine, the grinder and the beans. There are near infinite variations on these themes, like the weight used to tamp the grounds, dosing just the right amount of espresso into the portafilter, etc, but that is for another time.

Concerning the machine, I’ve learned to trust the advice out there that this really isn’t the most important part of the deal. True espresso requires a minimum of about 8 atm of pressure (around 120 PSI) to extract the coffee properly.gaggia-espresso-parts As long as a machine can produce the requisite pressure, the rest is sort of details. I went with a refurbed Gaggia Espresso from Whole Latte Love for under $150. It doesn’t even look like they sell that model anymore, replaced by something prettier. Mine is pictured on the right. It’s a decent machine. Once you ditch the frother attachment thingie, it does a serviceable job of frothing milk, the portafilter is a stout 58mm. It’s a fine machine, especially considering the price I paid.

Second on the list of primary components for making espresso at home is the grinder, which goes hand-in-hand with #3, the beans. The grinder is where the real money is spent. It’s virtually impossible to buy a grinder good enough for espresso for under $200, and until fairly recently, one worth buying new would be closer to the $300-$400 range! Ouch! I haven’t made a commitment yet, but it looks like my personal decision for a grinder is coming down to the Cunil Tranquilo or the Le’Lit PL53. They are both serious, dedicated espresso grinders and both run around the $250 mark. Ouch!

Grinding coffee for espresso is really, really important. The grinds need to be uniform without any big chunks or dust to sneak through the portafilter. Consistency is everything. A mediocre grind will, along with a few other factors I won’t get into, cause over or underextraction of the espresso, creating crap in a cup.

The other part of this story is the beans. You need fresh ones. Always. So, it can become an obsession to be out buying fresh beans every few days, grinding them perfectly, etc. What a lot of people end up evolving to is the mad scientist at home roasting their own green beans every few days. The labor of good coffee borders on obsession, truly!

alessiSo, in the meantime I settle with cans of pre-ground espresso from the grocery store. For what I can buy around here, I like Alessi Caffé Espresso. It costs about $6 per can. I’s not like fresh, so it doesn’t give the best extraction no matter how I tamp it, but the bottom line is that it is still better than most cups of coffee I can get locally, and I am not spending $2.50 at a coffee shop to have my little espresso shot, although there is at least one place here in Kansas City that is well worth the price of the shot (and it’s under $2, but it’d be worth it at $10!).

The bottom line is that I decided to be fancy this morning and I also needed to get rid of some milk in the fridge, so I made myself a latté. Was it good? Yeah, not bad at all. It cost me about 50 cents to make, so that made it taste a lot better! lol

coffeebeansI have been a coffee geek for a long time. I have a decent espresso machine, a Gaggia Espresso, and a lot of experience as an espresso drinker, not to mention a degree in chemistry, which helps me understand some of the fine points of making good espresso. 

I lack one thing, though…. a good grinder and fresh beans. To a point, all espresso machines that create the requisite amount of pressure to make true espresso are going to do about the same job… the really important links in the chain are the quality and freshness of the beans and the grind. Sure, sure, tamping and all that is an art form, too, but let’s not micromanage overdo it!

Up to now I’ve been using pre-ground cans of various Italian espressos. These suck. They’re good for about 1-2 days, maybe, then the espresso is flat, the extraction is way too fast, there is no crema, no depth. The espresso is watery and sour. So, I need fresh beans. Unfortunately, with fresh beans, one needs a good burr grinder, an investment of minimally $100 and usually more like $200 or so for one really worth buying. Then there are the beans themselves…gaggia-espresso-parts

Beans are at their optimal a handful of days after being roasted (for 2-5 days after roasting, they “degas” and release CO2, a process that should be left to happen). This means a trip to the coffee shop, most likely, to get new fresh beans every few days or at least once a week, and that’s assuming you can get good, fresh beans from the shop. Here in Kansas City we’re lucky to have the likes of The Roasterie and Broadway Cafe, but fresh beans are expensive and it’s a PITA to be running around town all damn day to buy the beans!

So, that leads to the ultimate in coffee nerditude… roasting your own. There are a lot of ways to do this… low tech, in a pan on the stove, slightly higher tech using an air popcorn popper, and the real way, using a real temperature controlled roaster. 

Me being me, I have to go cheap, but I know what roasting coffee smells like and the mess of a chaff, so I will be doing the popcorn popper method, outside. First I have to collect the grinder (probably from Whole Latte Love), the beans (probably from Sweet Maria’s) and the popper (probably from a soulless box store). Stay tuned for more info on how the experiment goes throughout the next few weeks!