It’s not often that a lone double shot of espresso warrants a post here. But last month (hey — we got lazy) we had a rather rare espresso experience. We alluded to this espresso shot in a previous post, and it was among the best we’ve had in the Bay Area. (And we’re including the employee espresso bar at Mr. Espresso.)

It was a shot of single origin Ethiopian Sidamo brewed from the “new” Bosco machine at Blue Bottle Cafe. Actually, we couldn’t stop at one and ordered a second.

Single origin? Ewwwww…

Are we big fans of the single origin trend? Not exactly. But we do like experimenting with different kinds of coffee and learning about our tastes — and the components that make up the coffees, blends or otherwise, that we like. The likes of’s Mark Prince may understandably say, “I’ve never met a single origin espresso I’ve liked.” But there are moments where the individual parts of what goes into an espresso blend, when of high quality and exquisitely prepared, can hold their own.

Our most common complaint about single origin shots is that the flavor is typically one-dimensional. Second, the crema tends to run thin — lacking robusta or other varietals to punch it up. Third, their body tends to run a bit thin. Since single origin shots typically go for flavor over raw earthiness, there’s often little in the cup to carry it — such as a more darkly roasted Indonesian coffee.

However, this single origin Sidamo shot had a rather impressive dynamic range, a well-rounded flavor profile, a solid crema, and a full body. This when we were expecting a dry-processed, wild-tasting Ethiopian with some potential floral and citrus notes. James Freeman told us that barista works the Bosco machine to about nine bars of pressure to get the right impression on the coffee and bring out these broader effects. And a result is a tiger-striped crema of a relatively rich and very even consistency accompanied by a primarily pungent flavor with a honey-sweet edge.

Read the review of Blue Bottle Cafe’s single origin Ethiopian Sidamo made with their Bosco machine.

Dry-processed Ethiopian Sidamo single origin espresso heaven at Blue Bottle Cafe (take 2)

The Machine

Lately, rare espresso machines have become something of a differentiator among high-end SF espresso bars. Many know about Blue Bottle Cafe’s Japanese siphon bar. And Four Barrel Coffee‘s recent opening showcased their two Kees van der Westen-designed Mistrals.

Last month, Blue Bottle Cafe replaced the two-group La San Marco lever machine at their single origin bar with a Napoli-manufactured Bosco manual lever machine. (We say “Napoli” instead of “Naples” to distinguish it from the soulless, godforsaken town in Florida that’s better known for golf, bugs, strip malls, and $2 million condos.) It’s the only Bosco we know in the city besides the showpiece at Cafe Zoetrope, gifted to Mr. Coppola. Otherwise, you need to look to a five-group model over at Caffé Vita in Seattle.

If you know James Freeman, you know his m.o. would be more of the classical enthusiast — preferring Japanese siphon bars and Bosco machines to, say, the Mistral’s state-of-the-art, high-design hot rod that’s naturally more to Jeremy Tooker’s liking (of Four Barrel Coffee fame). When tablehopper first reported that Blue Bottle Cafe would open with “some very special machines”, we very briefly wondered if James would go for a Mistral. That lasted about a millisecond. Knowing his traditionalist appreciation, the Bosco is hardly a surprise.

Blue Bottle Cafe's two-group, manual espresso machine from Bosco of Napoli Blue Bottle Cafe barista prepares my shot with the Bosco machine

In other Blue Bottle news, last month we also got in a conversation with Richard Tarlov, co-owner of the Canyon Market. He mentioned that he had been trying to carry retail Blue Bottle beans in response to numerous customer requests (yes, they even have Blue Bottle zombies in Glen Park), but that Blue Bottle coffee production is currently tapped out. They are apparently fully maxed out on their distribution until they move into larger facilities for their roasting operations.

UPDATE: Dec. 24, 2008
We recently learned from Scott Brody, Lead Bartender at SF’s Epic Roasthouse, that Epic Roasthouse ultimately sold this Bosco machine to Blue Bottle Coffee (and that Epic purchased it earlier this year through Seattle’s famed Caffé Vita). Apparently Epic management found the Bosco too expensive, and as a two-group machine it was too large for a bar.

Still, Mr. Brody lamented that, “In over 15 years of working in restaurants with espresso, that was far and away the best machine I’ve come across. And the easiest to get a great shot. The first I ever pulled was the best I’d ever pulled to date. And as the machine broke in, and I got used to it, they just got better.”