Articles From Whole Latte Love

Confessions of an Espresso Novice: Give Me A Cup Cake Prison.

Posted: 01/24/05

Few things in life can make a person truly happy, and for every individual, the thing that really pushes their buttons is different. For some, it’s a rewarding career. For others, it’s a dedicated family life. For Martha Stewart, it’s tying frou-frou ribbons around cinnamon sticks and calling it a centerpiece. Like I said, everyone’s different. But there are a few things that Martha and I have in common, and one of them is a love for entertaining, so it was only natural that my next espresso adventure would involve a large gathering.

It all started with a phone call from my mother. Apparently, my cousin Angela couldn’t host our family’s annual pre-holiday party due to some remodeling on her home, and I was nominated to take over. I didn’t have any problem with this, but then she said it - "I already told everyone about how you make those cappycheena things and they can’t wait!" Now, although I have become confident in my abilities as a barista, putting them on display was not something I was looking forward to. In fact, I believe the thought had crossed my mind at one point, but I’d suppressed the memory out of fear that it might actually happen. So I tried making excuses. But as I’m sure you know, trying to get out of something that your mother wants you to do so that she can show you off is espresso noviceimpossible. Impossible, I tell you.

I had no choice but to practice. I ground, tamped, brewed, steamed, and frothed over and over and over again. And it seemed that the more I practiced, the worse I got. My tamp pressure was inconsistent and my milk was more macrofroth than anything - I was all over the place. I had stage fright, and the worst part was, I was only in dress rehearsals. Trying to avoid the stress, I focused on the meal I needed to prepare and the overall presentation of my table until the big day.

And then the big day came. 27 of my closest family members walked through the door one by one, each expressing their excitement over the coffee they were going to receive. This was about the same time that I realized I had broken one of Martha’s (and the Boy Scouts’) cardinal rules: always be prepared. Although Silvia has proven to be a friend in need, there was no way she would make it through 28 after-dinner drinks unless we spaced this out over a number of hours. Salvation! I started to explain my deep, deep regret to my family when my roommate walked in, toting a large box that said "Expobar" on the side.

"I thought you might need this," she said. I mumbled out a "thank you" and followed her into the kitchen to set up.

I was terrified all through dinner. Not only was I worried about my performance to begin with, I was now faced with using a brand new machine that I had never even seen before, let alone had time to use. But in the back of my mind, I heard Martha say "Chin up. Your guests will never know there’s a problem if you handle it with grace."

My roommate and I cleared the dinner plates from the table and went to the kitchen. "I’ll take care of serving dessert," she said. "Pull a few shots on the Expobar and let me know what you think."

I walked over to the Expobar, began the ritual, and discovered a whole new world.

I was flying through the steps, grinding, tamping, and brewing with a renewed fervor and relentless speed that the Expobar seemed to consider a slow pace. I ran out to the dining room and began taking orders. I created latte after cappuccino after macchiato with expertise, and with a little nod to Martha, sent each cup out with a cinnamon stick tied in a frou-frou ribbon on the saucer.

Wherever she is, I think Martha paused for a moment, knowing deep down that she’d helped create another success.

Read All Installments - Confessions of an Espresso Novice
A. Part I: In the Beginning
B. Part II: Finding the Grind
C. Part III: Striking Gold
D. Part IV: Emily Post & Inspector Gadget 
E. Part V: Work it! The milk, that is.
F. Part VI: The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill.
G. Part VII: Give Me A Cup Cake Prison. (You are here.)
H. Part VIII: To The Espresso Machine I Loved Before.