Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Houston Espresso

Perfect Afternoon Espresso at Paulie's

NescafĂ© no es cafĂ©. (Instant coffee is not coffee.) – Mexican Saying

In college, I worked for a spell behind an espresso machine. Little did I know how much I would come to like consuming such concentrated caffeine later in life. I didn't care for coffee at all back then. My, how time will change a man.

Living in Brazil after college, I learned to enjoy good coffee, especially espresso. Powerful amounts of coffee are consumed in Brazil, where drinking it is as much about community than anything. It's a reason to break from the routine and socialize.

In 2008, Emily and I passed through Portland, OR on our honeymoon. Known for its artisan coffee culture, the city is often described as having some of the finest espresso in the US.

Where we live today, in Montrose, several entrepreneurs are making high-quality espresso drinks for sale. Below, I've listed my favorite shops in the area, either already in business or soon to be. Typically, these shops roast their own beans or source them from local roasters. Together, they are the heart of a coffee community that may one day rival Portland itself:

Blacksmith Coffee Bar. Behind this shop are the proprietors of Anvil and Hay Merchant in tandem with Greenway Coffee, perhaps the most popular local roaster and shop. These guys do it right, and I look forward to their opening in the old Mary’s on Westheimer.

Boomtown Coffee. Recently opened, Matthew, the owner, roasts his own beans. I like his play on energy terms. I ordered the “core sample,” and it did not disappoint.

Catalina Coffee Shop. The mother of coffee shops in Houston. I started going to this place shortly after getting married, and I haven’t quit. Its light roasting and exact brewing methods produce tasty coffee regardless of origin. My typical order is the "americano," regular or stout. My favorite is the "cortado," which is equal parts milk and espresso. Yum. I also buy its own brand of roast, called Amaya, for home and frequently see it in bars and restaurants around town. For home brewers, I can recommend Catalina's brew guide.

Down House. To those who haven’t been: check it. Not only is their coffee program solid, their draft beer lineup is too. It's a bit of a hipster scene, but the food, coffee and beer make up for that. To my knowledge, these guys brew Cuvee Coffee beans from Austin.

Double Trouble. Tucked away in a vibrant strip of Main Street, I was expecting more of coffee shop feel, especially since it was early when I went one Saturday. What I got was the feeling that I should be ordering a cocktail. Save for the barman, no other coffee drinkers were to be found. I'll try it again.

Greenway Coffee. As I've been only once, I don't have much to add about the shop itself, other than the location in Greenway Plaza is less than desirable (if not for parking alone). These guys do more for awareness of coffee culture in Houston than anyone.

Paulie’s. This casual restaurant opens late and is closed on Sunday. Not my early-morning option, but I love an occasional espresso in the afternoon. Their coffee presence is unassuming, but their beans are sourced from Greenway and brewed on point. Good folks, too.

Revival Market. This Heights market brews Greenway beans as well. Like Paulie’s, it's more of a restaurant than a coffee shop. Zero disappointment. If you don't mind the crowd, try Revival for breakfast on Saturday morning.

Southside Espresso. From roaster Fusion Beans arises another new locale on Westheimer. Located between the much acclaimed Uchi and Montrose corner restaurant, Aladdin, Southside Espresso is “coming soon.” I don’t know more than that.

Sweet Cups Gelato & Espresso. I found this place by accident, right on Montrose, in the same strip as Canopy. I was impressed by the house-made gelato and sorbets that Jasmine, the owner, had on display. This San Antonio transplant spent time in Italy to learn her crafts and sources beans from a rotation of local roasters. I ordered an espresso from Fusion, and it was delish, done just right with crema on top. She doesn’t open until 11am.

Whole Foods Market (Montrose). I like the coffee bar at Houston's newest Whole Foods, especially since it opens at 7:00 a.m. Available are solid shots and java from a variety of brewing methods you would find in a specialty coffee shop.

A coffee culture is brewing in Houston. Give it a shot.