Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Good Espresso in Austin: Teo

Good news for Austinites! Good news for Austinites who want good espresso, anyway.

I've never thought of myself as a coffee snob, and when it comes to drip coffee, I'm not. I drink drip coffee that my friends think is revolting.

But when it comes to espresso, I've been spoiled by my time in San Francisco. Ritual Coffee Roasters was 2 blocks from my apartment and pulled some of the most delicious cappuccinos I've ever had. They were smooth, bold, but not bitter at all, creamy with the milk. I started off getting them tall, but they talked me down to a short double cappuccino, and their espresso was so good that, I admitted, they were right: It didn't need the extra milk. Even their macchiato (a shot of espresso with just the tiniest bit of milk and froth, served in a shot glass) was smooth.

Then there was Blue Bottle Coffee. Further from my apartment, their stand in Hayes Valley was more something I read about than something I frequented, but they set up shop every week without fail at the Ferry Plaza farmer's market, and their mochas were to die for. They were so good, they put other mochas to shame (well, there's Philz Coffee, and their mocha is incredible, but it's more like an overwhelming dessert than anything else; comparing Blue Bottle's mocha to Phil's is apples and oranges.)

I got back to Austin and discovered that most places apparently don't know how to make espresso. I'm sticking to my guns on this one: It's not that I'm a snob. It's just that most espresso is really not very good, and most people don't know any better. I was a little surprised when every coffee shop in Austin offered me sugar with my cappuccino. Why would I need that? Then I took a sip, and without fail, every time, the milk froth was floating atop a cup full of black, bitter espresso, like I'd ordered a cup of syrup of ipecac.

I doubt most people enjoy cappuccino in places like Austin. I bet they think it's supposed to be some kind of drink for the hardcore, unpalatably bitter to normal people. In truth, it's supposed to be smooth and delicious, but it just takes a lot of skill to do. So most people probably get mochas, or have their drinks flavored, to make them drinkable. I don't blame them or look down on them: What else are they supposed to do? The espresso at almost every place in this city is really unpleasant to drink.

This morning, after physical therapy, I headed over to Central Market to pick up some lunch supplies before driving the rest of the way in to work, and on a whim stopped at a gelato place I've been a few times, Teo. I wasn't sure what I was going to order, but on the way in I saw a picture of the owner standing next to a pretty old Italian dude, and the caption on the article said that they were, in fact, in Italy, and the old Italian dude was teaching him to make espresso.

I hesitantly ordered a short, double cappuccino, and the friendly barista chatted with me about coffee while pulling it, saying that she no longer drinks espresso from any place in Austin besides Teo.

The result? Impressive. I've only had the one, so I'll reserve judgment, but it was extremely close in quality to the Ritual version. Smooth espresso, just enough milk to give it a creaminess, and only the slightest hint of a bitter edge to pick it up, just the right amount. It was easily the best cappuccino I've had in months (well, to be precise, since the last time I was in San Francisco, for the Game Developer's Conference, and had one from Blue Bottle every single day.)

Teo is not in my neighborhood, but I've made a mental note: When I want espresso, I'll go nowhere else. Why pay for a cup of bitter motor oil now that I know this place is around?

I heartily encourage anyone in Austin who likes espresso to give them a shot. That old Italian dude apparently knew what he was doing.



Lulu said...

I got coffee from Ritual this morning instead of my usual tuesday-morning place, and I ended up throwing it out in the garbage can in front of my usual place. It was thin and sour and had no body. Is it a change in their beans, or should I just never order anything but their espresso-related beverages?

June 19, 2007 4:04 PM  
brian said...

Never get Ritual's drip coffee. Every time I had it, it was bad. I think they just brew it and let it sit around.

Actually, a telling story: when I had brunch the one time at my place and went all-out with the coffee, mimosas, omelets, wild rice pancakes, etc. I went to Ritual to buy a pound of coffee, asked how you brew drip coffee since I don't do it often, what measurements they'd suggest, and most of the baristas didn't know.

I recommend just getting an Americano if you want normal coffee.

June 19, 2007 8:22 PM  
Mark said...

It's weird that most coffee places I've been can only have either good espresso or good drip. I haven't found a place yet with both!

But I did just recently find the Philz that opened up on 4th and King. For a week it was very close to my office... and wow was that a week of caffeine-induced pleasure. Wheeeeeee!

June 20, 2007 1:52 PM  
brian said...

Blue Bottle is the exception there; their espresso and drip are both really good. But that's probably because they make each cup of drip individually, when you order it, with a little filter over the cup.

June 20, 2007 2:52 PM  
Moloko said...

Hey, there. Since I'm rather new to Austin, I spend most of my time exploring the city and looking for good coffee.

I agree with you in that espresso is made bitter more often than not. However, I came across a great coffee shop; have you heard of Caffe Medici? Their cappuccino lacks that bitterness and instead takes on that lovely acidity coffee should have. With beautifully frothed milk, of course.

August 8, 2007 9:35 AM  
brian said...

Ooh, I hadn't heard of them before. Right over on West Lynn and 11th, near my last Austin apartment. What a great neighborhood. Thanks for the recommendation. I'm going to check that place out this weekend!

August 8, 2007 9:37 AM  

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