I appreciate that some may think I'm a pretentious idiot or that I just want to complain, but I have sat by in silence too long. Baltimore has a host of problems and a bunch of benefits as well. We're often looked down on by our larger neighbors for being too small, having too much crime, and having inadequate public transportation. But what we all know is that Baltimore excels in gastronomy. We have world class dishes for every type of person and appetite, from crab cakes and lake trout to amazing pizza and wonderful local breweries — all the way up to high-end French and Italian cuisine.
So with that in mind, I bring up my favorite daily coffee item. I'm not talking about the latte or cappuccino — all that milk can easily cover a multitude of sins. I'm talking the straight dope: the double shot. The one that comes in the small cup. Baltimore, we have a problem with espresso.
When I first came to the city years ago, the espresso was good. I would take a break to have one from Starbucks or a local shop to feel that I was on vacation instead of struggling to find a job or, later, to build my career. With an espresso, a book, an internet connection and some attractive clientele, life was great!
Then around 2012, I walked into a small, trendy café on Charles Street and tasted what I could only call bitter sewage water instead of espresso. To add insult to injury, they even served it with a heinous little cup of some sort of seltzer or sparkling water. I hadn't traveled much at this point, so I assumed they were making it in some inexplicable Franch or Italian manner (maybe Turkish?) — I mean, heck, I'm from Iowa! What do I know, except my espresso experiences in university towns and in Chicago's Gold Coast?
Now, six years later, I can say that the sickness has only spread. With only a few exceptions, every coffee shop I enter has this bitter evil cousin of espresso. I asked one of the baristas at a shop near Hampden if maybe they were making the espresso with salt water, or even the seltzer water — I needed answers, and I found none. I can only surmise that some hip shop in Baltimore made this evil concoction and convinced people that it was "the true way" — that you had to make a foul face after drinking it, praying that you could hold it down. Maybe this café taught barista classes, causing a viral spread of insanity across our fair city. People maybe thought: Well, my beer now has so much hops in it that it tastes like La Croix infused with green plant matter, so my espresso should too!
Baltimore, it doesn't have to be this way. Beyond our borders, people don't make that bitter lemon-eating face when they sip from their small demi-cups. I've now been to Italy, France and even Greece, and I can tell you they serve the smooth buttery shots that I remember from long ago. I'm here to tell you that the emperor has no clothes, that we've been duped. And, by god, we can do better!
Coffee purveyors, please heed the call. We are just simple people who need an espresso in the morning (and the afternoon, and in early evening, followed some beer at night). Look deep into your hearts and try to remember why you got into the bean game. Then, open up YouTube, queue up a video from some Italian guy making espresso, get some gourmet illy grounds, fix your eyes on your favorite religious figure to instill courage, and brew up the nectar of the sleep-deprived gods. And in the name of all that's holy, throw away whatever that water is that you serve to the side of it.