Europe or America – who makes the best espresso?

September 21, 2011

Europe or America – who makes the best espresso?


This is an interesting question.  The answer is that there is no correct answer and it depends on your perspective. 


I think there is no question that if you stumble into a random coffee bar in Italy the odds are your espresso will be better than the espresso you get out of a random coffee shop in the United States, for example.  On the other hand, the American Baristas tend to do better than the Italians in the World Barista Championships, including winning the WBC in 2010 and coming in second in 2011. 


I think there is a reason for each of these phenomena.  In Europe often barista is a career that people pursue for their whole lives, whereas in America many times it is a job held while working through school or while looking for a career.  People are certainly likely to devote more energy and accrue more wisdom in their career than in their job.


On the other hand in Europe the notion of what espresso is and what it should be has been set in stone for a long time.  Most shops do not challenge these assumptions.  (There are, of course, exceptions and probably my favorite shop in the world is in Europe and is an exception to that rule, but then again it is run by a WBC competitor).


This is a bit like going through the South tasting Barbecue.  In North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas the idea of what barbecue should be is totally different.  It is pretty hard to find great bbq from a region you are not in.  Similarly the idea of what espresso drinks should be are different in Italy from Austria, from France, (and within various regions within those countries), but most regions in the US have not picked a designated style. 


In America espresso is a newer phenomenon and we are not as steeped in tradition, meaning that we can look at what the Europeans do and then challenge it and tweak it and ask how it can be changed and improved.  As always with innovation these changes sometimes improve it and sometimes do not. 


Trends and tastes come and go, of course, so sometimes chocolate bombs will be very trendy and others fruit forward espresso will become very trendy. 


I certainly hope the high end espresso shops in the US spread farther and wider so that the average US city has a great shop of its own.


There are, of course, thriving espresso scenes outside these regions, too.

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