The last stop on my coffee tour of New Orleans was Cafe Envie. I had higher hopes for the coffee here based on the reasonably good things my brother had told me about their operation. In full-disclosure, my brother, a new Orleans resident, is a former Envie barista, who left around the time the cafe reportedly changed ownership a few months back. I also, however, had the corroborating reports of another coffee blogger who had visited En Vie a bit more recently.
When I arrived, the cafe was bustling. Most of the tables were full, there was a short line forming and the open walls to the street gave the place an even livelier feel.
Ordinarily I like to take things as they come – a preference for a secret shopper approach to coffee tasting to find out the norm rather than a cafe’s full potential upon making special, coffee geeky requests. Sometimes, though, I just really want a cup of coffee made right. Therefore, as I placed my order, I asked whether they could freshly grind the coffee for my espresso. During my wait in line, the doser thwaked but no coffee had been ground.
I think this was the point when my experience turned sour. The cashier looked at me blankly for a second before responding “of course, that’s how you make espresso.” I mentioned how the grinder hadn’t run for a while and hoped that I had simply observed some anomalous grinding behavior.
As I stepped aside to wait for my espresso near the the F-19 stealth grinder and 2-group La Cimbali espresso machine, I thought back to my time in line when I had seen the staff prepare one of their 5 coffee choices from a tupperware tub of coffee ground sometime earlier that day. The number of choices was impressive, even if most of the options were not. Envie brewed up a chicory coffee, a flavored coffee, a medium and dark roasted coffee as well as a decaf. The coffee is from Coffee Roasters of New Orleans and is brewed on commercial brewers, stored in airpots. I eventually tried a medium roasted Colombian, Envie’s sole single origin of the bunch. It was fine enough – toasted almonds and relatively thin bodied – but not quite destination worthy. I’m not sure if freshly grinding this coffee would have made a difference, but their treatment of the drip coffee made me wonder if what the cashier said rung true.
Back at the bar, the barista, whom I’m pretty certain was also the owner, asked me what I had ordered. I reminded him of the espresso and that it was to stay (no paper cup, please). I also repeated my request about freshly grinding the beans. He said that his coffee is always freshly ground. I pointed out that the grinder hadn’t run since I’d been standing there waiting or my time in line. I suppose I should have been more clear – that he grind my coffee for this very cup. He replied he’d make me another if this one wasn’t good. His response didn’t directly address my concern, but it seemed like a suitable compromise.
I was too worked up at this point to get a good shot of the shot, but the crema was medium to light and somewhat thin. The resulting espresso was nutty and a little shorter, denser and yet a bit more harsh than many of the espressos I had elsewhere in the quarter. It was closer to what one might expect of an espresso but neither particularly good nor bad. Too worked up about continuing an exchange that wasn’t likely to yield any better product, I simply nodded at the barista and said that it was good. A whitish lie with some elements of truth. Sometimes, you’ve got to know when to walk away and make a freshly ground cup in your hotel room.