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September 14, 2006

Èspesso

Dominic Armato
This afternoon, while perusing Slashfood, I came across an item about a funky new coffee drink offered by LavAzza which is currently being test marketed in Chicago. Blehblehbleh, the world needs another Frappamochamegaccino. But here's the thing:

It was developed by Ferran Adriá.

I know, I know. Celebrity chef plus mass marketed product usually just equals annoyance. But the reality of the situation is that El Bulli received over 300,000 reservation requests for roughly 8,000 seats in 2004, and by all accounts that number has only grown since. In all probability, despite my obsession, I will not be making the pilgrimage to Roses anytime soon, if ever, unless it's to chain myself to the restaurant dumpster until the kitchen staff takes pity on me and throws some table scraps in my general direction. So if a mass-marketed coffee product is as close as I'm going to get to the godfather of molecular gastronomy, I'll snap up that opportunity and approach it with an open mind, thank you very much.

Dominic Armato
In any case, said product is called èspesso, and while it isn't exactly revolutionary, it's a fun idea. And it isn't a typo. Though my knowledge of Italian is fairly rudimentary, the name is a pun on espresso that I believe roughly translates to "it's thick". They take espresso, milk, sugar and Adriá's mystery thickening agent, throw them together in a pressurized canister, let the mixture chill overnight, and then squirt the resulting mousse-like substance into a cup, to be eaten with a spoon. The marketing revolves around an image of an upside-down cup of èspesso which, as you can see, in no way exaggerates the product's... tenacity. There are three types available. First, the plain espresso and sugar without any dairy which is pictured at the top of the post. Next is their macchiato, inverted on the left, which consists of the espresso side-by-side in the same cup with some milk that's received the same treatment. Last is the cappuccino, which is composed of the espresso and milk mixed together with a light dusting of cocoa, seen below. Èspesso has been available in Europe for a few years, but was just introduced to the States two days ago and is currently being sold only at the three LavAzza locations in Chicago. In a bit of happy timing, I had an appointment near one of the locations this afternoon, so I popped in to give it a try.

Dominic Armato
Funky idea aside, is the stuff any good? Well, I sampled all three varieties. I started with the cappuccino, which could easily have been mistaken for a traditional coffee-flavored mousse. The difference is that an abundance of dairy wasn't needed to achieve the texture, so the flavor was unusually intense. It was moist, light, a little sweeter than I'd like, but tasty and fun. Then, I moved on to the espresso which, conversely, was in no danger whatsoever of being mistaken for any traditional foodstuff. Though the process was exactly the same, the absence of milk made for a significant mental disconnect between flavor and texture. It felt like a wet yet light and firm mousse, but the flavor was full-on unadulterated espresso. And it was potent. We're talking pure, intense coffee flavor in cold, fluffy form. I dug it. My only complaint was that I thought it far too sweet, but as mentioned they've only been serving it for a couple of days, and I get the impression they're still working the kinks out. My favorite, however, was the macchiato. It might have been that I liked having the milk to cut the sweetness of the espresso somewhat, or it might simply have been that milk mousse was even weirder than espresso mousse, but it was both a unique sensation and rather tasty. And it looked cool.

Bottom line, I'm sure there are plenty of coffee purists who will be absolutely horrified. But if it's taken for what it is, just a fun and unusual coffee dessert, I think it's a rather enjoyable treat that I'd definitely go back for. Of course, to really get the full effect, I might need to sample it on the Spanish coast... say, as the final touch to a spectacular meal. If you're reading, Ferran, my E-mail address is on the right. And my schedule is flexible.

Comments

great site. ill be checking back often. check out mine!

Sounds delicious.

I'm fascinated by it. I'd love to try it, but like chai, they always add sugar or sweeteners to it and I really don't like sweetened espresso or coffee. I'm guessing they need the sugar in there as part of the thickening process.

You know, I used to feel that way about espresso. Then I tried sugaring it a little, and loved it. For years I felt guilty about it, as though I were somehow desecrating the coffee. But on a trip to Italy about 5-6 years ago, I made a concerted effort to watch the Italians' sugar usage with espresso, and discovered that the majority of those I observed not only used sugar, but a lot more than I did. For me, there's a perfect amount of sugar that's just right for a shot of espresso, and when I hit it, it's magical. Too little and the coffee and sugar fight. Too much and it becomes cloyingly sweet and sticky tasting very, very quickly. It's a narrow window... a quarter teaspoon in either direction of the ideal can make the difference... but when I hit it, the whole cup just magically mellows out, and the coffee and sugar somehow meld into a more perfect whole.

That said, yesterdays espesso was way too sweet.

Here's a recipe for the home cook, by somebody who (I think) staged/worked at El Bulli.

http://www.movable-feast.com/

Its pretty simple, actually. I'm wondering how it would be if you foamed it into a mold and froze it?

Thanks for the post, it inspired me to make my own (with the help of mikelbarnz's website). The first time I made it, it was pretty grainy but that was because I was being an impatient jerk and foamed it immediately. It's delicious, even a Kansas boy can have a little bit of Adria's creations.

Whoamygosh - that looks GREAT!

Excellent photos! I wish I had a LavazzA near me!!

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