Two Lesser-Known Espresso Coffees

And why we love them


There's Not Just One Kind of Espresso

The mind-boggling truth about coffee is that one fruit produces infinite expressions in the cup. Take espresso. Like pour over or French press, it’s a brew method, and a complicated one to be sure. While many of us often equate a darker roasted profile with espresso, there is, in fact, no limit to the spectrum of flavors an espresso coffee can have.  

That’s why we want to share two of our lesser-known espresso coffees that we offer regionally and online. Tasted together, they demonstrate just how different one espresso can be from another. Separately, each is utterly delicious for entirely different reasons. The bold 17ft Ceiling shows off the roaster's skill in creating a sumptuous blend, while the bright Opascope highlights the one coffee of which it is composed—a single-fruited coffee from East Africa.

The greater the ambiguity, the greater the pleasure.
— Milan Kundera

17ft Ceiling: An Ode to Tradition

Blue Bottle Coffee 17ft Espresso

In all of our cafes, from Oakland to Miami to Kyoto, Hayes Valley is the house espresso served on bar, except, that is, at one: our second-ever brick-and-mortar location, the Mint Plaza cafe.

The cafe, which sits behind San Francisco’s original Mint (where actual money was once made), so strongly evokes the classic architecture of Rome that upon the cafe’s opening in 2008, we created a house espresso especially for it, modelled on the traditional Italian espresso blend. 

Espresso wasn’t always Italy’s national method. But in the early twentieth century, when wartime scarcity and a scourge of coffee leaf rust forced roasters to make the best of the limited coffees available to them, the high-pressure espresso machine had the power to transform blends of mediocre coffee, which included Robusta, into a dense, rich (and tiny) cup. 

Like the best espresso in Rome, 17ft Ceiling is unabashedly straightforward, yet it also has a refinement that comes from using such high-quality component coffees. Robusta claims its rightful place in this re-make of the Italian standard. And we like to think that one sip of 17ft Ceiling, with or without milk, will convince you that Arabica’s less popular cousin has a sure-footed place in this blend. 

Head Roaster Juliet Han describes 17ft Ceiling as “rounded with a syrupy body and a touch of jammy fruit.” The effect of the four components blended post-roast should be like a pointillist image seen from afar: Any individual trait seamlessly blends together to make a rich, radiant espresso that offers the best from tradition. 

Blue Bottle Coffee Opascope Espresso

Opascope: The Other End of the Spectrum

Not everyone who wants espresso wants to stick to convention. Opascope Espresso, usually consisting of an East Africa coffee, is, as the name suggests, shining and bright. The exquisitely imagined tool for which it’s named projects printed images onto a surface through an intricate series of prisms and mirrors. Think of it as the projector's predecessor.   

In its own way, Opascope the coffee provides an enlarged view of what espresso can be. Pulled as a longer shot than either Hayes Valley or 17Ft Ceiling, it’s literally more voluminous and could be described as more prismatic, too. We’re after a consistent florality and juiciness, and this year, the washed coffee from Kirezi Coffee Washing Station in Rwanda has been hitting the mark. 

Juliet loves this coffee so much that she recommends it even to those who are not using it as espresso. Redolent with apricot, Opascope’s juiciness is, to us, a modernist classic and a fitting counterpoint to 17Ft Ceiling.

We recommend trying them both, for as Juliet says, “You don’t know anything until you start comparing.”