In search of the Perfect Joe

Thursday, 9 April 2009 | Tags: , , , ,

I'm not taking about a man here, though they're hard enough to find too. My close friends know that if there's one thing I'm really particular about, it's my coffee. My caffeine fix of choice is the rich and powerful Americano. I only have a cup or two a day so I want it to be just right. Is that too much to ask? Oftentimes, yes.

My first Americano of the day is self-made, as soon as I wake up in the morning. I use the family blend from Continental Coffee on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, which I’ve been buying for a dozen years. I find it’s a perfect roast and the price is definitely right.

Tip: The best indicator of the quality of the coffee beans or grind is the smell. If it has little aroma, it will have little taste.

The Beans

If you’re buying beans (and I confess I don’t — I want my fix and I want it quickly, no time for grinding), pay attention to their appearance. Coffee beans have natural oils that surface over time. If the beans look too oily, it may be over-roasted or they could be sitting for too long. Here’s more info about buying coffee beans.

The Machine

My espresso machine is from ECM at 1st & Boundary in Vancouver. They sell industrial machines as well as heavy duty home models, which are worth the investment. I’ve had my $400 machine for well over 10 years. The price may sound steep, but think about the money I’ve saved over buying espressos from a cafe, plus the savings to my sanity, being able to make my own drink just right.

If you drink espresso regularly, I recommend getting your own machine:

  • Look for a pump model. Avoid those that are steam driven. This refers to the way the water is forced through the grinds.

  • Those semi-automatic machines that grind the beans themselves may seem good, but I like to be able to strengthen or weaken my cup of coffee depending on my call time!

  • More info on buying an espresso machine


Joe to Go

My second cup of coffee is much harder to perfect as I tend to get it on the road. In the city this size, with a coffee shop practically on every corner in Vancouver, you’d think finding a decent cup would be easy, but it’s not. I’ll make detours far and wide to get something that’s palpable.


This is how I like my Americano: strong, in a smallish cup. That means two shots. And here’s the rub: the water must be RUN THROUGH the grinds until the cup is full. It’s essentially a long espresso. Really, really long. This is how a proper Americano should be made. It’s written so, somewhere. I’m sure of it.

Contrary to popular (North American) belief, an Americano is NOT two shots of espresso with hot water added afterwards. Eek! What is this, tea? By running the water through you get that nice crema — the white-ish foam on the top. Adding water afterwards tends to kill the crema completely, not to mention seriously diluting the caffeine kick I’m paying good money for.

When at a coffee shop, I ask, “can you run the water through?” Most of the time, I’m met with the blank stare. If I have to explain it, you just don’t get it.

At places like Starbucks I’ve now learned to order the cup HALF full. I say this very forcefully because half full often seems to translate into 3/4s full, though I’m not sure why. So they only add a little bit of hot water to my precious brew.

Top Joe in Vancouver

To be honest, when I’m desperate, I’ll drink any coffee I can get my hands on. I’ll make my own drip in a motel room with Coffee Mate (I just shuddered when I wrote that), if that’s the only option.

But there are a few coffee joints in Vancouver that get it just right, and I want to sing their praises:

As for other cities in North America? Don’t get me started. I just pray there’s a little Italy somewhere in town where I can begin my search.

Yup, so that’s my meagre list. If you know of anywhere else that makes a mean Americano, anywhere in the world (I travel a lot), I’d love to add it to my must-visit list. Please, please share!



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