Give espresso a shot

A perfect espresso has “crema” on top, a lovely creamy froth that sits on the surface.

Mitchell Fasolo

A perfect espresso has “crema” on top, a lovely creamy froth that sits on the surface.

By Mitchell Fasolo, Staff Writer

The sweet, rich aroma woke me up better than any alarm clock could ever dream of. I stumbled out of my room only to be greeted by my then brand new German roommate, Lukas.

“Good morning Mitch, espresso?”

As thrown off as I was, my confused self quickly took him up on his offer. From the first sip out of his dainty white espresso mugs, I was hooked. Since having a brief “espresso for dummies” conversation with my barista of a roommate, I’ve become a beginner espresso enthusiast myself.

For those who don’t know, espresso (not expresso), is a coffee brewed by forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water under pressure through very finely ground coffee beans. Espresso is both a coffee beverage and a brewing method. It is not a specific bean, bean blend, or roast level. Contrary to popular belief, any bean or roasting level can be used to produce an authentic espresso, but for the most part “espresso beans” tend to be roasted longer at a higher temperature than traditional coffee beans. Espresso is generally stronger and thicker than coffee brewed by other methods and has “crema” on top, a lovely creamy froth that sits on the surface of your beverage. The smaller more concentrated serving size is more convenient and satisfying, while packing even a bigger punch without that bloated feeling.

Oahu offers a wide variety of espresso options, from authentic styles of espressos to various experimental and truly unique takes. An espresso should be judged on taste, price, and presentation. There are several espressos on Oahu, from both chains and smaller locally owned businesses, but only a few stand out.

image3My standard is a double-shot espresso. When it comes to taste you should look for a light natural sweetness, it should be rich but not too bold, and it should not be too acidic or burnt tasting.

It may come as a surprise, but my overall favorite tasting espresso thus far is Il Gelato Hawaii‘s espresso made with an Illy blend. This may be due to my heritage, as an ??Italian it’s only natural that I find the best-tasting espresso to be one that uses an Italian roasting company. Illy coffee beans pack an authentic and bold flavor, blended from arabica beans from multiple sources. Other places that use inauthentic fruity blends such as Morning Glass in Manoa Valley, whose espressos often taste too sour and acidic. If you’re looking for authenticity, look to Il Gelato Hawaii.

As students, price is a huge factor. Most espressos on the island range from $2-$3. From my experience, aside from Starbucks, Seattle’s Best Coffee in Waikiki has the cheapest double-shot espresso at just $2.36, but the espresso itself is nothing special. If you want the best bang for your buck, go to The Curb; its espresso only costs $2.40 before tax. The Curb is a trendy, hipster coffee shop that started out as a food truck offering all type of items until the coffee took over. It now has two small locations, one on the UH Manoa campus and the other on Waialae Avenue in Kaimuki. The Kaimuki location is my go-to spot with its laboratory feel, ever-changing blend options  and experimental brewing methods. The espresso is easy on the tongue, eyes, and wallet.

image2When you order an espresso, you never know what type of homemade ceramic mug you’ll get, which adds to the spot’s uniqueness. The Curb’s presentation is just as impressive as its low price. The small mug of espresso is served on a gorgeous wooden tray accompanied with artsy bamboo-like spoon and a glass of ice water to cleanse your palate. The aesthetic alone makes your mouth water as you carefully walk it to your seat.

The only area of presentation where The Curb lacks is its crema. You can test the integrity of an espresso’s crema by pouring sugar on top and seeing if it stays afloat. If it doesn’t, the crema is lacking.  Aloha Coffee in Waikiki has perfected its crema, despite being a small kiosk and serving its espressos in paper cups. My sugar was able to rest on top of the crema for a few minutes, long enough to take a picture. Disregarding the Curb’s crema, all in all its presentation takes the coffee cake.

Hawaii isn’t known for its espressos, but knowing where to get a decent espresso is a must, especially during  the sleepless nights of finals week.