The quest for espresso - Volume I

Dany Marquis

To listen to the audio version on Apple Podcast

The Quest for Espresso - Volume 1

The holy grail of coffee. The gold Rush !

During the last podcast, I launched the idea of ​​doing a retrospective of the year 2020 in terms of coffee and an overview of the chocolate industry. But during the holiday season, I took over the communications torch since my colleague Maélie took a well-deserved vacation.

As my business family has grown, I sometimes feel like I'm always hovering at high altitude to keep an eye on all the operations.

And on all facets of what the management of several businesses can include, I reserve the editorial position of the choice of imports and selections of coffee and cocoa, I take care of quality control, and I stand very close to our clients.

It's important to me and it gives me an excuse not to do accounting.

Ah Ah!

In short, while I was chatting with colleagues in the industry, to find out what had marked them in 2020, in Quebec, and in France, our social media did not let up.

I was getting a plethora of questions about espresso: grind, bean types, method, equipment questions, etc.

I felt like I was reading questions from people who had heard there was gold in the Klondike and were asking me how we get there, what they need, how we do it. find gold.

My husband bought me a beginner prospector's kit at Costco, is that enough to get me to the Klondike?

It is my main job to support my clients in this quest. Don't think that all these questions annoy me, quite the contrary. I take this very seriously and it's our job to help you find gold and support you in your quest.

So instead of doing a boring episode, which would only be interesting to people in the industry, I'm going to do a series of episodes about espresso.

So, we forget the retrospective of 2020. In any case, 2020, we throw it into oblivion.

In short, I will accompany you in your quest.

And I emphasize the word quest, because that’s really how it should be considered.

And if you are close to us, as a customer, have read my blogs, listened to our podcasts, you will see that I have a love/hate relationship with espresso.

Let me explain a little why.

It's not that I don't like espresso. On the contrary, I love espresso, when it's done well.

For me, it's like baking, it has to be precise, well measured, well cut.

When the perfect combination of the many parameters involved gives you a divine dose. Or when I visit a coffeeshop, sometimes I get a good espresso. But it remains extremely rare.

And for my part, I have some of the best equipment in the world; a La Marzocco Strada with integrated scale and brew ratios calculated by the machine. And a separate kettle for each group for a total of 4 kettles. We use VST baskets. We have Malkhonig Peak mills with 80 mm millstones, the mill indicates the temperature of the millstones in real time and uses double ventilation to cool them as needed. My barista team is very competent, understands the material and we follow the preparation protocols carefully.

As for the coffee, I select the green coffee, and I play an active role in our quality control committee.

In short, I don't want to brag by saying this, but it's to give you a picture of my environment, and to tell you that sometimes, the coffee doesn't live up to my expectations. I am very demanding, but I am able to say that an espresso is acceptable, and also that it is not.

Let's say there is a margin of error.

And that's normal. It’s part of the very nature of this beverage.

And that's what's magical, because once you've tasted a perfect espresso, you're left spellbound.

A bit like a teenage love, for a summer, like in the song “une belle histoire” by Michel Fuguain.

Once the cup is finished, we will feel great satisfaction, but we will be faced with the abyss of finality.

It was intense, short, magnificent.

And for a while we will wander to find the same thing. We will even end up idealizing this love at first sight to make it inaccessible forever.

In vain. Like a void that can never be filled.

Sometimes it wasn't just the contents of the cup that was extraordinary, but the porcelain of the cup, the charisma of the barista, the sun on the hotel terrace, etc.

Just yesterday, a customer wrote to me to share his search for a coffee that would taste like the one he drank on the terrace of the Do Pozzi hotel in Venice. I didn't know about this hotel, I googled it, and it looks lovely.

Maybe the coffee was amazing, but maybe the environment, the juncture of events, was just as amazing.

A bit like the apples that we were going to steal from the little orchard of Mrs. Liette, the 3rd year teacher. I have never found apples this good.

Or the espresso that I was served in Gisenyi, Rwanda, on the terrace of a small restaurant after spending the day on the shores of Lake Kivu.

Or the one at the small branch of Irish Town Café Blue, in Jamaica, the one on the B1 road which leads to the Blues Mountains National Park. The terrace has a completely breathtaking view. In this case, the espresso was perfect. But probably my judgment was impaired!

In short, the appreciation of an espresso is therefore the sum of very technical preparation parameters, added to a host of subjective factors which influence consumption.

Admit that there is everything for romantics like me.

But now, what annoys me about espresso is when the environment and the context take over and we end up accepting to drink certain espressos and saying that it's good when they are no longer in the spectrum of the margin of error.

And this is where I believe some coffee makers, and those who serve coffee, are exaggerating.

Which is understandable, because it pays a lot to sell bad coffee and pass it off as great.

For me, an espresso should be close to a dessert.

A bit like a chocolate and coffee mousse. A pastry chef will never produce a mousse that will taste like ash, charred sugar, camphor, wet rags, etc. I've even tasted some that reminded me of the smell of an old mop or the smell of my old aunt's wet dog that smoked like a chimney.

In my mind, an espresso must remain pleasant to drink. And this, regardless of the context.

And yet, if we move to the side of beer or wine, a bad beverage will not last long. It doesn't matter how smiling the maker, waiter and decoration are.

Besides, being part of a few beer tasting groups, videos of unhappy customers pouring beer down their kitchen sink always make me smile. No pity for the piquette! We should do the same with espresso.

And on the other side of the Atlantic, in France, where we learn to taste wine in kindergarten. France, cradle of world gastronomy, with the great schools, with the great chefs and the prestigious MOF (best worker in France) designation, we mostly drink coffee worthy of the worst piquette. Saying it's delicious.

In the culinary arts, we find certain rules; common core on what is good, pleasant, what may surprise, but remains in the pleasant stimulation of the 5 senses.

It seems that, in the café, we have allowed ourselves to be convinced that what is bad is good.

It's like Orwell's 1984, but instead of asking what 2 + 2 does, we ask if the espresso is good.

In whiskey for example, I can understand that very peaty, slightly salty notes tending towards smoked herring could be displeasing, but we are still in a spectrum of the consumable and the experiential.

It's still good, and it's a matter of personal taste.

Why has espresso had so much influence?

Why in espresso do we end up saying that 2+2=5?

I think it all started one morning somewhere, when two people found themselves at the counter of a coffee bar, facing a barista who was very proud to serve them their little cup.

The two individuals take a sip simultaneously, and the barista says to them:

- And then, it's good, huh?

And there, at that very moment, the history of the drink changed.

At that precise moment, the espresso served was bad, under-extracted, from a cheap coffee blend filled with rubber-tasting robusta that the boss had unearthed.

It's much more profitable that way.

The very fatty coffee made a thick and dense crema, but with a very bitter taste. So much so that the barista suggests adding sugar. And in front of the sugar floating on the layer of crema, the barista will say that this is how you recognize good coffee, you know when the crema is so dense that the sugar takes forever before sinking.

The two customers, accustomed to other taste references, trusted the proud barista, not daring to contradict him, and added a good dose of sugar to the beverage.

A subtle game of influence, which would have angered the barista.

And picketing has become the norm.

I must also point out that espresso was not invented for tasting, but for speed of service. How to serve a lot of coffee in a short time.

That's why it's called express espresso.

It is therefore the equivalent of fast food.

Sometimes I tell myself that it's like trying to make a big mac at home. And reproduce the recipe.

Some will want to reproduce exactly the same experience, others will improve it according to the standards of good taste that we know with science and knowledge of the culinary art.

It's a bit the same thing with espresso. With time, technical development, the 3rd wave, modern and scientific roasting methods, producers who make the best quality and make it more easily accessible, it is possible to make delicious espresso.

To reinvent the big mac.

In short, I invite you to rethink espresso, and to be more critical of this beverage.

Don't hesitate to contradict the barista, and be wary of the expert aura of the coffee seller, the coffee maker seller.

To trust your taste.

If it's bad, it's simply bad. Even if they present it to you with an Italian, French, Portuguese accent, trust yourself.

And now that the table is set, I will address in the next segments the technical aspects that will allow you to understand this method and give you tools and knowledge in this quest.

Because yes, I love espresso, when it's done well it tastes like love.

To +

Danny Marquis

Volumes 2 and 3 of The Quest for Espresso are out!

Find them here:


  • Joey

    Salut très plaisant à lire, j’attend le volume 2 avec impatience et surtout très hâte d’arriver à obtenir cette « or noir » dans ma tasse grâce à tes conseils « en or » !

  • Vincent Goulet

    Message intéressant.

    Cependant, je m’élève un peu (voire plus) contre cette idée qu’un espresso mal fait le serait nécessairement à partir de grains torréfiés foncés et qui contiennent du robusta.

    Très souvent dans des établissements qui pratiquent toute l’orthodoxie troisième vague on m’a servi un espresso certes pas amer, mais d’une acidité qui te fait mal dans les mandibules. Ce n’est pas non plus parce que c’est torréfié léger et extrait avec toute la quincaillerie à la mode que c’est bon.

    Puisque tu as toi-même fait le parallèle avec la bière: ce ne sont pas toutes les micros qui font de la NEIPA (et elles en font à peu près toutes ces temps-ci, je remets en question leur stratégie de positionnement de marché, mais c’est un autre sujet) qui font quelque chose de bon et, surtout, de maîtrisé.

    Cela dit, je suis d’accord: il faut se fier à notre goût. Le mien est davantage pour le café à l’italienne (non, sans le sucre) et la bière à l’anglaise. En autant que ce soit bien fait.

  • Jacques Matteau

    Et la machine complètement automatisée pour un expresso ?
    Qu’en pensez !

  • Maxime

    Salut Dany, mon message sera court et simple. J’ai adoré te lire, ton texte ça reflète bien ma façon de voir l’espresso et le café en général. J’ai bien hâte de lire la suite!

  • Helene ARBOUR

    C’est toujours agréable de te lire et ton écriture me fais du bien! J’ai déjà hâte aux prochains segments! Merci.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published