The Dirty Portafilter

My corner of the Internet, mostly espresso related but occasionally life will interfere.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Espresso In Pittsburgh, Aldo Coffee Co

I am in Pittsburgh on business this week, so my search for a good café starts anew. My last trip was to Newark NJ, it was a dismal, futile search (first post on my blog). I posted the same question to the eastern US forum on coffee geek requesting locations for Pittsburgh. I did get a couple of recommendations.

One of the suggested locations was relatively new, Aldo Coffee Co. I looked them up on the web. It looked like a nice place. They make panini and use Intelligentsia Black Cat espresso. Even more important, they are only about 6 miles from my hotel and the owner reads coffee geek. So after class I set off on the motorcycle looking forward to a good espresso and a fresh hot panini for dinner.

I had somewhat of a letdown. Apparently they only make the panini for lunch so all they had was a chicken salad sandwich and a salad, so much for dinner. So I ordered up a double espresso. It took her a couple of attempts to pull my shot. Now you may think, that is not a good sign, but I would argue the exact opposite. They are willing to toss a questionable shot and try again, that is a sign of quality. My only complaint, the body was a little weak and she pulled my double in an Intelligentsia cappa cup, not a demitasse. So I gulped down my espresso, pondered the experience and headed back up for a cappa.

I ordered a large cappa with three double shots, Ya Baby, Espresso Love. Once again it took her several attempts to pull my shots. She apologized for the wait and explained that she was having some trouble with the timing this evening. She made a small grind adjustment and tried again. She was timing each extraction.

Now I have to pause here and say how pleasurable it was to actually have a barista that is willing to tweak the grinder and time the extraction to give her customer a quality drink. I am more than happy to wait for a quality drink, good food is not fast and fast food is not good.

She finished pulling all of the shots and pulled out a pitcher to froth my milk. Now I am not a pro barista, but I have had enough drinks to know when someone is doing frothing correctly just based on the sound. So as I stood there watching her, I braced myself for the gurgling whoosh of someone creating dish soap bubbles. She starred intently at the pitcher; you could see the concentration in her face. Up to that point we had been having a very pleasant discussion about coffee and home (she was from Chicago). When I noticed the concentration in her face I stopped talking, I did not want to distract her.

Then I heard it, not the whoosh, bluble goosh of dry nasty foam, but the soft and delicate pssst, fssst of someone making microfoam. YES! I shout to myself, I love this woman, wonder if she is married. I ordered up a hunk of cheese cake to go with my massive mug of espresso and retired to a table to sip away. It was not perfect latte art quality foam, but very acceptable and better than anything I have had outside of Chicago or my home.

It was a pleasurable experience and I plan on returning at least once more this week. One last thing, they grind per shot, no dosers there, another big thumbs up.


  • At 8:48 AM, Anonymous Rich Westerfield said…

    Glad you could finally make it in. I imagine Melanie (the owner) will post as well, but as the resident panini maker, I just wanted to say thanks for stopping in and posting about us.

    Yes, we make each day's panini between 10-noon, similar to shops in Italy. If you're have one during the evening, a quick grilling freshens them up wonderfully. But if you like them cold, they are a little better in the early afternoon. Hopefully you'll have the chance to stop in earlier on your next trip. I also make the cannoli filling, so perhaps I can convince you to try one of those next time as well.

    I'll add that, Belle, who pulled your drinks and is one of our newest baristas, is engaged. Sorry to disappoint you in that regard! But I'm sure she'll appreciate the compliment.

  • At 10:08 AM, Anonymous Melanie said…

    Thank you for coming to Aldo Coffee and for bloging about your experience. It is always a pleasure to have a knowledgeable customer. Invariably, you help us far more than just the cash register. I appreciate your thoughtful review and will take your compliments and suggestions into account to make a few changes.

    It is also nice to be able to pass along your comments to our barista staff.

    As you know and wrote, sometimes it takes a few to dial in the grind. It is sometimes stressful for our baristas to explain to customers why we are taking more time so we can pull excellent shots. Some customers seem to not care: we try to tell them why they should care. I am most encouraged Belle talked to you about this.

    She is a good barista and new, so I am particularly happy. She is not new to coffee though, having trained in Europe. We are lucky to have her (as is her fiance!)

    Regarding the milk, barista Andi is our trainer, having trained with Intelligentsia and being dedicated to excellent espresso and perfect milk. We are trying to get her to attend regional barista competitions.

    As for the panini, read above, I constantly have to remind Rich we are not a deli so we can focus on the coffee.

    Thank you once again for your patronage and for advancing the world of excellent coffee.

  • At 5:30 PM, Blogger cannonfodder said…

    I will be stopping by Wednesday morning to sample you senior barista’s wares. My class starts at 9am, you open at 6:30 so if I hit the road around 6:20 I should be in good shape.

    My wife would probably take exception to asking if she was married. My wife does not drink coffee, although my 5 year old sun will occasionally sip a bit of my cappa.

    I was thinking of stopping by this evening but I have to re-read what we covered in my SQL server class today.


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