Matt Gebis turns luxury into everyday favorites at Espresso a Mano
March 5, 2015 12:00 AM
Matt Gebis, the owner of Espresso a Mano in Lawrenceville.
Owner Matt Gebis with employees Emily Hurley of Highland Park, center, and Alexis Canoy of Lawrenceville.
An espresso being made.
By Melissa McCart / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Lawrenceville has changed since 2009, the year Matt Gebis opened Espresso a Mano. Then he was among a wave of businesses that were revitalizing Butler Street. He was also fueling the growth of the city's coffee culture. Today, he's a go-to for regulars and a destination for weekend visitors.
Of all the coffee drinks on his menu, Mr. Gebis drinks espresso. Along with Chemex-brews and pour-overs, cappuccino and cortado (with a little bit of milk), espresso is moving from a luxury drink to an everyday beverage.
"In Italy, espresso is what people drink several times a day," he says. "It's their version of drip coffee in the U.S."
Mr. Gebis prefers the full-bodied, concentrated flavor of a rich, dark espresso, but not what's called ristretto, an espresso brewed with less water.
A reference to "fast" (express) and "just for you" (expressly), espresso was introduced in Italy in the 1880s and grew in popularity through the early 20th century, with a boost after the invention of the steamless espresso machine by the Gaggia company in the late 1940s. In the United States, espresso was initially associated with Italian immigrants and then cafes, along with the counter culture-types who hung out in them.
Several factors ensure a perfect espresso beyond a skilled barista. Sourcing has always been important. Some coffee people swear by blends over single-origin beans, while others look to the seasons to dictate what they're drinking.
The roast is also key. Lately, this has become more of a focus as newer styles roast minimally so as to enhance the range of flavors in the beans. Another factor is freshness. Beans need to be fresh-ground, not too fine and not too coarse, preferably uniformly.
Espresso a Mano uses beans from Verve in Santa Cruz, Calif., Counter Culture in North Carolina, Forty Weight in Colorado and Coava in Portland, Ore.
Then there's the brewing -- temperature, time, volume and pressure, each of which can lead to an inside baseball discussion among passionate coffee drinkers. And of course, there's the gear. At the shop, baristas make coffee with a La Marzocco, which some consider the BMW of espresso machines.
Mr. Gebis' obsession with coffee started at La Prima in the Strip District when he was a senior studying Italian at the University of Pittsburgh. He learned the shop's style of roasts from owner Sam Patti, who opened more than 25 years ago. La Prima remains a leader in the city's coffee culture, brewing an espresso blend from Brazil. Today, the shop remains one of the few cafes with no wi-fi. Conversation is encouraged, in Italian if possible.
Many longtime patrons of La Prima also pay visits to Espresso a Mano. They're joined by a burgeoning crop of Lawrenceville residents.
"As the city grows younger," Mr. Gebis says, "A coffee culture grows with it."
Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart
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