If you're looking for great espresso, you need to find yourself an independent coffeehouse and a knowledgable barista. A great test is to ask for aristretto
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I found a great independent coffee house in Cafe Inka (12225 Westheimer, 832-379-1717) and a barista extraordinaire in Justin Karnes. Not only did Karnes know that a ristretto was a super-concentrated espresso with a minimum of crema, he made me both a ristretto and an ultra-ristretto. While we watched the slow drip, drip, drip of the ultra, he described a process of layering and tamping several different grind consistencies in the portafilter when he wanted to maximize crema production.
"I think I'll make myself a latte" he said, as he put a teaspoon of sugar on some espresso grounds before tamping. "The sugar mellows out the acidity of espresso."
Shown above is Justin's special cafe latte that begins with the espresso and the sugar shot, then is topped with foamed milk and a swirl of chocolate syrup.
I know what I'm having next time I go to Inka. -- Jay Francis