Last month — after publishing a few trip reports of nearby Cole Coffee, the Spasso Coffeehouse, and Peaberry’s Coffee & Tea — Luigi DiRuocco of Mr. Espresso asked if we tried the espresso at Oliveto.

We last updated our review of Oliveto a couple years prior, so the focus of our most recent Rockridge tour was to explore some cafés we hadn’t evaluated before. However, Luigi pointed out that, last year, the downstairs Oliveto Cafe was entirely remodeled and that Mr. Espresso installed a beautiful, original Faema E61. We last saw one of these machines in operation at Cafe Noir in Monterey, CA four years ago — which has since been swapped out now that it is now known as Café Lumiere. (Curiously enough, the E61 at Cafe Noir was also installed by Mr. Espresso, so it could be the same machine.)

Luigi also mentioned that they did a new round of trainings for the Oliveto staff — a continual need that plagues any coffee roaster that sells to independent retail locations. And, simultaneously, Christian of Man Seeking Coffee fame contacted us with the idea of another joint review. Thus, Christian and I decided to check them out again this past weekend.

Entrance to Oliveto Cafe & Restaurant Oliveto's Faema E61 with high-contrast window reflections

This restaurant has existed on this Rockridge corner since 1987, albeit in different forms. The latest generation is a higher end Italian restaurant upstairs with a popular trattoria/café downstairs. Downstairs there’s some rather limited outdoor seating, a number of wooden tables and chairs (which replaced the shared, long tables in their previous interior design), and meals that rely heavily on the simple organics. Upstairs it is white tablecloths and a more extensive menu — with the same espresso shots running about $0.50 more.

Using their older, two-group, Mr. Espresso-supplied Faema, they produced adequate results. While its replacement with an even older, more classic, three-group E61 Faema constitutes serious espresso machine eye candy, we were hoping some of the recent training would come through in the shots it produced.

Oliveto's Faema E-61 machine The Oliveto Cafe espresso

They still pull shots with a thinner layer of dark brown crema. It’s more substantial than the shots they pulled with their previous machine (which often had a thin ring of light or medium-to-light brown crema). However, there still seems to be plenty of room for improvement. The body of the shot is thinner — it’s a touch watery even — with a flavor more of pungent herbs than the previous mild spice and wood flavors here. The finish is subtly sharper, but it’s still not nearly as bright as you would expect of a well-made espresso.

Some readers here can make the (logical) conclusion that we’re huge fans of Mr. Espresso, given our ratings of places such as Coffee Bar. More accurately, given the inconsistency of preparation that so plagues roasters, we are much bigger fans of Luigi’s barista skills with Mr. Espresso beans than anything else. While it was a decent cup, we found Oliveto’s improvement over their previous shots to be marginal. (Rumor has it, however, that daytime shifts during weekdays may produce better results.)

Served in traditional brown, thick-walled Nuova Point cups with a modest pour size. Oliveto is also one of those few places that offer to top off your empty espresso cup with filter coffee at brunch, which we don’t particularly mind.

Read the updated review of Oliveto Cafe & Restaurant.