Espresso’s Reigning Couple
I’ve learned to treat espresso with respect. It doesn’t take much to get me buzzed! My cup of choice, when I drink coffee (which isn’t every day), tends to be an Americano. But I love espresso ‘neat’—especially when it’s done right, every step of the way.
Recently I had a fascinating (and tasty) hour or so with Brian and Linda Turko of Milano Coffee Roasters at their welcoming, gently hip but homey Gastown Espresso Bar (36 Powell St., 604-558-0999).
And, yes, it was seriously caffeine-fueled.
A hot espresso lineup
I quickly discovered that you don’t just “chat” with Brian Turko. You engage, listen, learn and digest. And, ideally, you stand around the business end of Milano’s espresso counter, where the action is non-stop.
Turko (an accomplished musician) laces his espresso discourse with musical and guitar analogies.
Aside from tasting and deconstructing a flight of three superb espressos, we also had a wide-ranging chat on the genesis of Vancouver’s contemporary coffee culture. Suffice to say, Turko was there long before coffee became fashionable, before it was de rigeuer to sip lattés outside in your shorts in January—apparently for some a Vancouver rite of passage.
Brian caught the coffee bug big time in 1993, when he met the man who would become his mentor, Italian world master Torrefazioni, Francesco Curatolo, at Francesco’s Café and roasting facility on West 8th—now owned by Milano.
The Turkos were the first folks of non-Italian descent to open an independent café on Commercial Drive. in 1996.
Espresso(s) du jour
Brian has a killer palate. He tastes literally hundreds of blends a year—and some of them have become world beaters, winning serious awards in Italy and elsewhere.
Even though I loved the award-winning la Futura and the Calabreze, I was absolutely seduced by the richness and complexity of the Conca d’Oro. Later in the week, I returned with my good friends Ross & Brian (the most serious espresso geeks I know). We did a series of flights. One flight is three for $6). Interestingly, this time the Conca didn’t stand out as much. And we worked our way through the entire daily list “on tap.” Different day? Different (still very obliging) barista? Maybe. Even a shift in the barometer can make a difference, as he explained it.
Sipping in spacious comfort
It’s also a great space: a high-ceilinged heritage room with great lines and a modern personality. its previous incarnation was a de-luxe running shoe store. Brian and Linda worked with a designer friend to retain and re-appropriate as much of what was there as possible. As a result it feels new—but also comfortably worn.
Luckily for me, maybe, it takes a certain amount of time and effort to hop down to Gastown for a decent shot. But from now on, when the craving hits, Milano will be foremost in my mind.
Besides, much in the way that my beer tastes have changed over the years (I now focus more on taste than volume), so has my appreciation of coffee.
The Gastown lounge is one of four locations—and I will eventually get to them all.
Brian also builds guitars so, no surprise, there’s a wicked sound system : “120 watts either side, four sets of Totem speakers and two “killer” sub-woofers.”
But coffee, and specifically espresso, is front of mind.
“I’ve got a bug for it. I can’t stop. It’s my thing. We have eight ‘on tap’ at any given time,” says Brian—who, we suspect, would like to offer 80 if it were feasible!
Espresso made easy at home
I asked him for some tips about making good espresso at home. Here’s what he said:
• Use the right grind.
• Keep your equipment clean.
• And get it hot.
Brian suggests it’s well worth the extra effort to run some hot water through the system first to get everything warm. A couple of times, if you can.
Plus, he says, “Take out your basket and wash out all the carbon and deposits that have built up in the spouts…”
As to the right grind, they’ll even give you a sample so ou can take it home to see how your own compares. And (if you have an adjustable mill) set your own accordingly. Now that’s service!
Espresso? Gelato? Affogato? Here’s the kicker …
As I was about to leave, I was thinking the whole thing had a very artisanal feel to it. I asked Brian if he knew James Coleridge at Bella Gelateria. Here’s what he had to say … It’s well worth checking out!