Here’s a demonstration of the variation in quality between cafés. Compare the two pictures below. In both cases, I ordered a double espresso.
As you can see, there is a significant difference in the size of the drink (the quarter in the picture gives you a sense of the how big each one was). The difference in quality was even greater.
The espresso in the red demitasse was pulled ristretto style, and was one of the better single-origin espressos I have tried in the last month. It was a single-origin Ethiopia Yirgacheffe that had good body and mild acidity. The taste was sweet, with rich chocolate and berry flavors.
The coffee in the white mug was quite different. As you know, espresso is supposed to be a concentrated form of coffee, with strong, rich flavors. Unfortunately, this was anything but strong or rich. Bitter and watery are more accurate descriptions. If I were grading this particular attempt—well, come to think of it, I am—I would give it an F. One sip was more than enough.
I doubt it was the coffee’s fault—I have drunk this particular brand of coffee many times and enjoy the Italian-style espresso. Perhaps the barista was new or just had not received enough training.
My point is not to criticize the café or the barista. Everybody has a bad day once in a while. It’s just disappointing when you go to a café expecting one thing and you get something else. In Portland, where cafés are ubiquitous, you have to make sure your quality is high or your customers are just going to walk down the street to the next place. That’s probably what I will do next time.