This week I’ve decided to take a break from food and write an article on something about which I am very passionate; coffee—specifically, espresso. Even more specifically, I’ll address where to get a decent cup of coffee in the capital city.
Many people mistakenly believe that espresso comes from a different species of coffee bean and is completely different from what we term “regular” coffee. This is not the case. Even more frequently people believe that espresso roast beans should be very dark and almost burnt. This is my third least-favorite pet peeve—the first being flat tires and a low seat on a squeaky mountain bike in first gear on a city street. That just irks me to no end! The second, I’ll discuss more in-depth below.
For a concise history of coffee, I’ll direct you to the website of a Richmond favorite, Rostov’s Coffee in uptown. It’s really very interesting!
I also must address an issue people have with espresso. It’s bitter, right? Like the darkest blackest coffee condensed into a bitter shot that makes you cringe? This is absolutely incorrect and a myth about plain black espresso that has been propagated by a certain Seattle chain coffee house. Espresso is very dark but should be smooth and complex. It should have a thick layer of tan crema made of complex coffee oils and proteins. Starbucks—okay I’ll mention them by name—serves espresso in the same vessel as a “tall” coffee like a little bit of bitter spit at the bottom of the cup. Espresso, like wine, needs to be drunk out of the correct cup, a tazzino or “little mug.” To give espresso such little respect and subjugate it to waxed paper cups is my second least favorite pet peeve. The French sip theirs and the Italians take it like a scalding hot shot but always from a little mug.
So where do we get good coffee here? Rostov’s is a clear choice for selection and quality as well as great coffee making gadgets and cups. I would, and do, shy away from their espresso blend. It’s over roasted to the point of burnt. I actually used a bunch of old grinds that were undrinkable to stain a table I made. Also, don’t order a plain espresso from Rostov’s. It will inevitably lack crema and be served in a 12oz. cup, which I mentioned before is disrespectful. The flavored drinks are superb however and they have a large selection of syrups to choose from. Other blends offered at Rostov’s, like the Viennese blend and the Copenhagen are perfect. A number of Richmond restaurants offer locally roasted beans from Rostov’s. Look for their emblem in the window of your favorite places around town to know you’re getting nice beans.
For a great albeit huge espresso, try Blackhand Coffee Co. on Shepard between Park and Patterson. Come for a great cup of house-roasted espresso or a smooth cup of coffee and a pastry from the Flour Garden but be warned that the atmosphere is practically suicidal. The music is usually indie ballads from Elliot Smith or awkward silence and the tattoo-less will feel belittled and unwanted. All self-consciousness aside, they do a good job roasting and pulling excellent espresso.
If you’re in Manchester just over the 8th street bridge, try Savor for espresso or lattes. While you’re there try a sandwich or a salad from mostly local organic menu. Located in an old corrugated box warehouse, Savor uses Rostov’s beans to create spectacular coffee drinks in an interesting modern atmosphere.
Personally, I’d love to buy my beans from Rostov’s and support a local business to brew in
my home espresso machine but how local can coffee from Arabia be? I recommend that you go to Rostov’s for your top of the line equipment and brewing advice, like how to make cold brewed coffee and then make a trip to Olio, formerly European Market, and pickup a tin of Café Kimbo or Lavazza for superb espresso. Maybe try that once, take note of the aroma and color and then go to Rostov’s and get whichever blend or roast is closest.
Coffee shouldn’t be a caffeine delivery device to be masked with sugary syrups or even worse, by added flavoring. Coffee beans are exotic, delicious delicacies to be treated as such. Think about it—coffee cherries have to be shipped across the ocean—from the third world most commonly. They have to be peeled, dried and blended just right and roasted then pulverized to exactly the right consistency and subjected to the right water pressure to produce sweet, creamy espresso. If even one step is done wrong, a bitter black liquid that requires additives to make drinkable is the product. Take the time and honor the bean! We have some great stuff here at our disposal. If all else fails, buy a machine and do it yourself!
By David Mattera