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I am a coffee snob.  Inwardly, I sneer when people at work refer to the brownish Folger-water in the conference room as “coffee,” and they all know it.  I like to brew some of my own stuff  without telling them, and then watch their faces convulse when they drink it.  I’ve got a decent espresso maker at home, and a really good grinder, which I acquired for a steal on eBay.  Using them well is part art, part science, and I still have much to learn, so I frequent coffeegeek.com to learn from other coffee geeks.

Lately, I’ve been asking people there for recommendations for the best shot in Houston, and by all accounts, the place to go is Catalina Coffee.  Counting today, I’ve been there twice now, and so far, they’re living up to the hype.  My wife and I walked in today and I asked for a double espresso (they were brewing Espresso 1.0), and my wife ordered a coffee (Gunslinger).  I watched as they pulled my shot on a big, shiny, Synesso Cyncra (I think) using a bottomless portafilter.  They handed it to me along with a glass of water, and then we sat down.

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I’m not well versed in straight up espresso yet, but I really liked what I was drinking.  I tasted my wife’s coffee, which was full-flavored, not even a little bit bitter, and somehow reminiscent of blueberry.  After I finished my shot, I got up to look at the bags of coffee on display, and got into a conversation with Ben, one of the managers.  The coffee had already given me a great impression of Catalina, but on both of my visits, it was talking with the staff that really put Catalina many notches above other coffee houses I’ve been to.

The people there know about coffee, and they care about coffee.  They understand that a lot goes into brewing a great cup, from what kinds of beans you use, to how they’re roasted, to knowing when the roasted beans will be at their best (and it’s not always right after roasting), down to the grinding, dosing, tamping, and brewing.  When Ben pulled my shot, he kept a close eye on the bottom of the portafilter, knowing that you can’t time every shot exactly the same, and that the color of the coffee will tell you when the shot is finished.

Not only do they care about coffee, they care about their customers.  After my conversation with Ben, I was sitting down, talking with my wife, when Ben arrived at my table with a latte, and told me that it was on the house, since we had come such a long distance to be there.  The latte was easily the best I’ve ever had (the only latte I’ve had in Houston that was presented with actual latte art), with a great, roasted, almost chocolate-y flavor, and a perfect amount of milky sweetness.

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It’s rare to find a place where people actually care about what they’re doing, and want to do it well.  Few people are proud of what they do, and it’s refreshing when you meet someone who is, and who believes that when you see (or taste) what they’ve done, you’ll be proud of it too.  That alone is enough to make me want to go back to Catalina many times.

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