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Twelve Questions for a Master Barista

Alejandro Benes
Posted: September 28, 2010

(continued from page 1)

Q: What do they say about the espresso being made in the United States?
Well, that's not just one answer. There are some bad realities and some good realities. The good reality is that in a lot of places, the coffee is not bad. But also, it's very difficult to find out a place that makes a good espresso in the U.S. One way is to make it at home.

Q:  I understand you enjoy a cigar every now and then.
Honestly, I'm not that strong a smoker. I like the Montecristo. I'm not really an expert, but I love the Montecristo No. 1. It has notes of bread and toast that are very similar to what you find in a cup of espresso. That's why I like it.

Q: How well does a cigar go with espresso?
Amazing! Cigars and espresso both have strong tastes. I like to smoke a cigar after the espresso.

Q: What time of day do you like to smoke a cigar?
I prefer to smoke a cigar in the evening. It's a good combination with espresso. It's good to enjoy an espresso in the evening because it has a very low caffeine level. It is strong in taste, strong in aroma, but not in caffeine. [Reporter's note:  You often hear it said, "An espresso has less caffeine than a cup of coffee." And this is true, but a cup of coffee is usually eight ounces or more. A shot of espresso is about one ounce. So, while a shot of espresso has less caffeine (40 to 80 milligrams of caffeine) than a cup of drip coffee (between 102 and 200 milligrams) the science indicates that an ounce of espresso has considerably more caffeine in it than an ounce of drip coffee.]

Q: Have you had the opportunity to visit Starbucks, and what do you think?
Starbucks did a very good job at the beginning of the U.S. espresso history and it created an opportunity for us [illy] to tell our story in the United States and why we are different. Starbucks created espresso history in the United States.

Q: At what time of day can one properly drink a cappuccino?
[Laughs] This is a perfect question for an Italian. The best time is anytime because coffee is a pleasure. But Italians do not drink cappuccino after lunch.

For advice on how to buy a home espresso machine, read the Good Life Guide in the October Cigar Aficionado magazine, on newsstands now.

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