Today’s Toronto Star featured an article on the growth of Toronto area independent coffee shops (many of which call themselves “espresso bars”, per the article): TheStar.com – living – Toronto’s love affair with espresso bars heats up. Toronto now has a mixture of established independent espresso bars and a growing array of newer ones. (A little over a year ago, we wrote about a Toronto local who lamented the common over-extraction problem. Hopefully this new crop of indie espresso bars has helped.)

While some credit Starbucks with paving the way for consumer interest in these indie coffee shops, the co-owner of one of them notes, “They’ve [Starbucks] taken away the art of the barista with what I call their robo-espresso machines.” The article suggests that much of the success of these independent espresso bars comes from how they cater to a customer’s desire for “individual service and wanting to feel special”.

Me? I don’t need to feel special. I just want good espresso.

101 Ways to Make Your Coffee Unrecognizable

On that note, the rest of the article tours a number of Toronto espresso bars with Susan Zimmer, a Calgary-based author of a new book called I Love Coffee! Over 100 Easy and Delicious Coffee Drinks. Which leads me to another observation. Despite the specialty drink “ring” of the three-ring circus that is the barista championship, I have yet to meet a coffee expert with an opinion I respect who focuses their energies on the variety of coffee drinks rather than the quality of the coffee per se.

Sure, a single espresso every time might sound like a monotonous death sentence to some people. But who in their right mind needs over 100 coffee drinks? That smacks of Starbucks’ coffee-flavored milkshake approach, primarily aimed at people who really don’t like coffee but still want to play along as if they do.

And while I’m sure Ms. Zimmer knows her stuff — even if her other book has the red-flag title of Cappuccino Cocktails & Coffee Martinis — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been disappointed by coffee books that suddenly turn into pages and pages of recipes by the end. These books are no more about coffee than The Betty Crocker Ultimate Cake Mix Cookbook is a book about sugar.

Is it really so hard to understand? Coffee is not wine. It is not a martini either.