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Do you dare rate Pittsburgh's coffee bars?
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Worldman
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Worldman
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Posted Sat Feb 3, 2007, 1:50pm
Subject: Do you dare rate Pittsburgh's coffee bars?
 

I have lived in the "Burgh" since 1971 when I came here to go to school and was drinking espresso by the end of the 1970's. In those days there were NO espresso bars in the city. This all changed in the 1980's when Las Prima opened its doors. Today, there are lots of coffee bars and espresso is plentiful…probably it is the same story in most other cities throughout the USA. But now, just because there is espresso available all over the city, is it something you want to drink? Unfortunately, the answer is all too often a resounding ”NO!”

Of the coffee bars that are out there, many of them do try to offer a good product and have a knowledgeable and conscientious staff. Of the myriad of local coffee bars, the best IMHO are:
  1. La Prima – it is, after all, the original. With the retirement of Ellio, La Prima moved one of its best barista to the 22 St. location to carry on the tradition of excellence. The beans are their own Miscella Bar which are roasted just around the corner on Smallmen St. and are never burnt and this is perhaps the most “Italian” of coffee bars in the city. By this I mean that this bar is often frequented by native Italians and there is no seating (just like in Italy).
  2. Intermezzo – while I have yet to visit their new location in the Frick building (with its Synesso machine) the original Smallmen St. location in the strip has perhaps the most consistent offering of any coffee bar around. This is simply because the shots are always pulled by one of the 2 owners. Not having a staff means that they are limited in what they can do…but they do it so well. They use Intelly’s BC.
  3. Aldo’s on Washington Rd. in Mt. Lebanon in a real nice neighborhood coffee bar where they have the city’s only Swift grinder (AFAIK). Hubby & wife owners, Rich & Melanie care a lot. Unfortunately, some of the baristas are less then stellar in their performance but the same can be said for every coffee bar where there is a staff of non-owners.  They also use Intelly’s BC.
  4. Affagato on Lincoln Ave. in Bellvue is another great place. Its owner (a mere “kid” of 23) puts out a nice product and maintains a dedicated clientele. The nice feature here is the round bar which encourages inter-customer chat. La Prima MB is used here.
  5. The Vault on California Ave. near Ohio River Blvd. is another good place. Drew & Brad are conscientious and care a lot about what is served. They use Orinocco beans.

OK, I also “suspect” that Simpatico Espresso in the Alcoa Bldg on 6th Ave., downtown is probably real good – though I have never visited yet. EDIT:They use La Prima MB beans. as I do for Tazza d'Oro and a couple of other places could also be included based on recomendations from those "in the know" though I have yet to visit.

There are other shops which used to seem to be OK but are now just so so.

OK, you fellow Pittsburghers, any other places to suggest?

Len

 
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AldoCoffee
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Posted Sat Feb 3, 2007, 11:10pm
Subject: Re: Do you dare rate Pittsburgh's coffee bars?
 

Worldman Said:

I have lived in the "Burgh" since 1971 when I came here to go to school and was drinking espresso by the end of the 1970's. In those days there were NO espresso bars in the city. This all changed in the 1980's when Las Prima opened its doors. Today, there are lots of coffee bars and espresso is plentiful…probably it is the same story in most other cities throughout the USA. But now, just because there is espresso available all over the city, is it something you want to drink? Unfortunately, the answer is all too often a resounding ”NO!”

Of the coffee bars that are out there, many of them do try to offer a good product and have a knowledgeable and conscientious staff. Of the myriad of local coffee bars, the best IMHO are:
Aldo’s on Washington Rd. in Mt. Lebanon in a real nice neighborhood coffee bar where they have the city’s only Swift grinder (AFAIK). Hubby & wife owners, Rich & Melanie care a lot. Unfortunately, some of the baristas are less then stellar in their performance but the same can be said for every coffee bar where there is a staff of non-owners.  They also use Intelly’s BC.

OK, I also “suspect” that Simpatico Espresso in the Alcoa Bldg on 6th Ave., downtown is probably real good – though I have never visited yet. They use La Prima MB beans as I do for Tazza d'Oro and a couple of other places.

There are other shops which used seem to be OK but are now just so so.

OK, you fellow Pittsburghers, any other places to suggest?

Len

Posted February 3, 2007 link

Len,
Thanks for the inclusion.  Since I've obviously got a conflict of interest, I'm going to try to resist commenting on anything here other than to correct two inaccuracies and  offer one opinion:
1) Intermezzo has staff pulling shots other than the owners at the Smallman St. location.  Luke is also training someone at the Frick kiosk, although it'll probably be awhile before they pull shots.
2) Enrico's Tazza d'Oro uses Batdorf & Bronson, not LaPrima.  I'm not exactly sure what you meant by that sentence.
3) Our best baristas are not the owners at this time.   Of the 10 folks who work bar here, six could compete this year in the MidAtlantics and have reasonable expectations of making it through the prelims.  Two others are very close.   That said, IMO, even our "least stellar" performer outperforms most baristas at the local, regional and national chains.  There's a reason I only talk about perhaps a half dozen cafes here and on our blog out of perhaps 100 or more in town, most of which are on your list.   It's pretty rare to find someone you can hire around town for barista wages who actually gives a crap about coffee/espresso AND service.   We're trying to be a magnet for the few who do.

All the same, I'm going to show this post to the couple of people to whom you're referring just to let them know everyone has to be in top form all the time.
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Worldman
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Posted Mon Feb 5, 2007, 3:58am
Subject: Re: Do you dare rate Pittsburgh's coffee bars?
 

Rich,

Tazza d'Oro
Thanks for setting me straight on Tazza d'Oro. Actually, I got kind of sloppy on my post as I didn't intent to say they used LP beans...only that I suspect them to be good and have never visited.

Intermezzo
Every time I go to Intermezzo's Strip location, it is ALWAYS Luke or his partner who are pulling the shots and, in fact, other than his partner, he is the only person I have ever seen behind the counter there. I will try to remember to ask him the next time I go to LP from my week's pound of espresso beans.

Aldo's et al
It is true that your best barista is a non-owner (Bell) and the same was always true for La Prima where the recently retired Ellio was the star. Now that I re-read my post, I am sorry that I included the "less than stellar" comment under "Aldo's" as the same comment can be used for (practically) EVERY coffee bar and I firmly believe that you guys, amongst all coffee bars in the city, sincerely try to address such issues.

Len

 
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mayhew
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Posted Mon Feb 5, 2007, 11:48am
Subject: Re: Do you dare rate Pittsburgh's coffee bars?
 

1) La Prima has really gone downhill. I used to be a loyal follower. I haven't gotten a good drink in a year. Heartbreaking.

2) Honestly I think Aldo's has the best consistency of anywhere I've been. There's no one I won't take a drink from, or even worry about.

Tazza d'Oro was really really good. I haven't worked that way in a couple of years so I'm not there much any more. Their Batdord and Bronson Blue espresso blend (not Dancing Goat) is super duper outstanding.

There's not much else to talk about. 61c is entirely overrated. Coffee Tree Roasters does a great job with roasting but the baristas are varied.

Blue Horse Coffee has been consistently very good to me. I think Counter Culture is my all time favorite decaf.

I haven't made it north yet. Although, if you lived a block from Aldo's you might not either :)
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Worldman
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Worldman
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Posted Tue Feb 6, 2007, 10:24am
Subject: Re: Do you dare rate Pittsburgh's coffee bars?
 

Chris,

Hello! I used to be a fellow Lebo-nite...back when my wife and I were first married (1975) and for the first 5 years of our marriage. (We then bought a house in Bethel and now live in So. Fayette - so the South Hills is pretty much my "stomping grounds".)

I very much like Aldo's but I think Blue Horse is too inconsistent EXCEPT that I was served by its owner on my last visit a couple of weeks ago and the lady definitely  knew what she was doing and produced a pretty good shot. I never tried CC decaf...but very much like their regular espresso (or, at least, the one offered at Blue Horse).

I find that La Prima's consistency is much improved and now that Matt is on duty at the 22nd St. location, it is even more better. Give them another try.

The 61C is over-rated and Coffee Tree Roasters are only good at the Walnut St. location and only at certain times. Uptown is a joke.

If there is good espresso to be had on the South Side, I have not found it. I recently had lunch at the Beehive and was appalled to see their "corn cob" steaming wands and the big, non-spouted, aluminum frothing pitcher and to hear the disgusting whine of the steaming action therein. YUCK!

Do you know many (or any) other local Coffee Geeks?

Len

Here is a recently pulled triple of La Prima's MB...mmmmmm

Worldman: CIMG1954 - web.jpg
(Click for larger image)

 
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mayhew
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Joined: 31 Aug 2005
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Location: Pittsburgh
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Espresso: La Pavoni Europiccola
Grinder: Baratza Maestro +
Posted Tue Feb 6, 2007, 10:44am
Subject: Re: Do you dare rate Pittsburgh's coffee bars?
 

I've had great luck with Blue Horse. That said, I get machiato's, which are a bit more forgiving. That said, they've turned out the same thing I had at Murky's in DC every time I've been there.

I assume you mean 21st St for La Prima. I'll give it another try. Saturday's have been abysmal.

Uptown is a joke. That place kills me, since I know they get good beans from LP. I used to work *next door* and refused to go once Aldo's opened.

I do not know of any CG'ers. Honestly, I've tried to stay out of this level of coffee. Aldo's feeds me a bit of info every time I stopp by and that's a good growth rate for me.
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Worldman
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Worldman
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Posted Tue Feb 6, 2007, 11:24am
Subject: Re: Do you dare rate Pittsburgh's coffee bars?
 

ahhh...Saturdays at La Prima may not be their best, though I don't know for certain. I only stop by on weekdays when thet are serving the Strip's working Italians.

I thought Uptown used Presto George's beans?

Len

 
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mayhew
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Location: Pittsburgh
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Espresso: La Pavoni Europiccola
Grinder: Baratza Maestro +
Posted Tue Feb 6, 2007, 11:56am
Subject: Re: Do you dare rate Pittsburgh's coffee bars?
 

I almost only go to LP on Saturdays. Used to be really good. It starting going downhill about the time red-heads starting working behind the bar.  I think a few years ago everyone was one generation removed from "off the boat"?

Nope, Uptown uses LP. I've asked and seen the bags. They might advertise it, too. Buy me an espresso and I'll deign to set foot in there ;)
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Worldman
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Worldman
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Posted Tue Feb 6, 2007, 3:06pm
Subject: Re: Do you dare rate Pittsburgh's coffee bars?
 

mayhew Said:

I almost only go to LP on Saturdays. Used to be really good. It starting going downhill about the time red-heads starting working behind the bar.  I think a few years ago everyone was one generation removed from "off the boat"?

Posted February 6, 2007 link

LOL!!! I can't imagine who "red-heads" might be but I like the non-pc of your comment! Give the Strip a try..especially if Matt is on duty.  

mayhew Said:

Nope, Uptown uses LP. I've asked and seen the bags. They might advertise it, too. Buy me an espresso and I'll deign to set foot in there ;)

Posted February 6, 2007 link

More reasons why a roaster should closer supervise those who offer their wares. As far as "buy(ing you)...an espresso" - not at Uptown! The place puts forth a dismall cuppa' joe. I will send to you a private e'mail and perhaps we can arrange to meet at Aldo's.

Len

 
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mayhew
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Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 202
Location: Pittsburgh
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: La Pavoni Europiccola
Grinder: Baratza Maestro +
Posted Wed Feb 7, 2007, 6:54am
Subject: Re: Do you dare rate Pittsburgh's coffee bars?
 

BTW, before someone mis-interprets my "red head" comment, what I meant was that for a long time everyone associated with La Prima was *clearly* Italian; spoke it fluently and looked like it. Their Saturday morning quality starting going downhill as more people starting showing up behind the bar who at least did not look Italian.
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