Coffee Correspondent Colton Visits Estate Coffee Company

Editor’s note: This review was discussed on the greatest podcast you’ve never heard Deranged Pengwin 171: Coffee Correspondent

There are numerous and highly subjective criterion used to judge espresso. I’ll do my best to avoid roaming into that area and instead focus on a few broad categories: equipment, presentation, and taste.

Estate pulls shots on a single group head Slayer Espresso Machine. I admire that the shop went small with its machine. Far too many shops have triple group head machines that go to waste from too little use.

Cappuccino with almond milk Cappuccino with almond milk

It is worth noting that Estate is a “third wave” coffee shop. There is an apparent focus on bean origin, quality of roast (they roast in house), and quality/style of preparation. Whether third wave has died and if we have indeed entered a fourth wave is a “debate” in some circles, but not a convo probably worth having. At least not here? For a quick rundown on “waves”.

For those wondering “what is a group head?” – A group head is the portion of the machine where the portafilter (the handle that holds the coffee grind) is inserted. None but the highest volume of coffee shops need more than a single group head IMO. Think Local at the Pearl at noon on a Saturday if you are wondering what shop needs a triple group head machine.

So applause for Estate for being practical and going small.

A focus of third wave shops, beyond quality of brew, is presentation. Beyond the machine pulling the shot, a pretty easy way to tell if the shop give a “f” about your drink is how they serve it to you. In a paper cup? They don’t care. Without a palette cleanser? May as well of ordered a venti vanilla latte. Estate serves their espresso on a wooden plank (over played, but nice) with a shot of sparking water, decent ceramic ware, and the most adorable ceramic espresso spoon.

As was discussed at our visit, not all stir. I am a stir-er. However, as any google search will tell you, stirring is optional. Ritual is maybe a third of the experience, and missing the cleanser and spoon can tank a decent shot. Estate covers their bases and provides all the accessories needed to allow their espresso to stand out. At the most recent visit, the espresso was (judging by taste) something of Central American origin. The shot was pulled well. An easy way to judge if you are a regular coffee drinker: (1) stir, (2) sip – does it taste acidic? does your face cringe? does your tongue roll out of your mouth? If any of the above, it was a bad shot. Your barista maybe stopped it too early, let it run too long, or had some variation of temp, grind size, or amount of grind wrong. Too often I find people equate terrible taste with “strength.” Well pulled espresso holds just as wide a spectrum of flavors as hand brewed coffee. To that point: Estate has had, on previous visits, one of the best espressos I have ever tasted. Their Ethiopian is good enough to bear (or bexar) with a few minutes of spice talk.

Estate shares a space with a small scale spice hustler. Together they call a turn of the century building on SA’s eastside home. I’m a fan of the urban decay that surrounds the shop, and the large windows that cover the whole front of the building. In terms of decor – look at an anthropologie catalog and you’ll get the direction they went with.

_Colton with girlfriend, enjoying some coffee_

White Elephant Coffee Company

White Elephant's Roaster

White Elephant (WE) is small roaster and café in San Antonio’s Southtown at 1415 South Presa. Opened one year ago, WE was celebrating its anniversary over the July 4th weekend. Over the course of their first year, WE has solidified its position in the city’s coffee scene. 

WE roasts on a Probat – long the standard-bearer for craft roasters. In addition to special blends and single origin roast, WE can be found around SA as private label coffee for places like 5 Points Local, and Press Coffee. 

A Slayer espresso machine graces the coffee bar and a variety of coffees are available daily for slow pours.

The shop has a somewhat DIY vibe to it. Large spools double as tables, and a small bar abuts the the roasting area provides customers some insight into the roasting process.

Sitting on a shelf behind the cash register are two large stands that hold maybe the most exciting piece of equipment in the shop – a cold drip coffee maker. Considering summers in San Antonio are damn near unbearable, cold brew or iced coffee are clutch substitutes when you are craving caffeine but cannot possibly imagine imbibing a beverage brewed at 200 degrees in 100-degree weather. Enter cold brew. Or iced coffee. They are not the same thing. Let me explain: 

Iced Coffee

Iced coffee is simply that. At it worst it is brewed hot and thrown on ice. At best, it is brewed hot onto bed of awaiting ice cubes. Some swear by this method. Some try to exoticize it and call it “Japanese style iced coffee.”  They are full of crap. It is lazy. And quick. And sometimes it is all you can do and it just fine but if you want something worth your while, have a cold brew. 

Cold Brew Coffee

Cold brew coffee is typically made when coffee grinds are submerged in room temperature (yeah, not exactly cold) water for a prolonged period of time. The exact coffee grind to water ratio varies purveyor to purveyor, but the general method is the same. What is left is a thick coffee concentrate that may be diluted with water (usually a 1:1 ratio) or served “neat” (straight concentrate). An added benefit of cold brew – the process removes much of the acidity naturally present in coffee creating a nice, smooth drink. Also – and this may or may not be verified by science and may well likely be a lie told to me in some café – cold brew has a higher caffeine content than a typical cup of coffee. 

There are numerous home brew kits for making cold brew on your own. Toddy may be the most popular. A company out of Austin selling woven bags inside mason jars has found its way into Whole Foods, and my heart. Nothing special there, but a simple and effective way to make cold brew 

White Elephant does something slightly differently. Their cold drip coffee maker looks something like an hour glass. Water is held in the top chamber and escapes slowly downward, drip by drip, into a chamber housing the coffee grounds. Gravity slowly pulls this liquid into a third chamber that collects the cold brew. This process can take upwards of 24 hours and produces a quality cup of coffee. Visit and find out for yourself.

Rampaging Again

Scorpions are the new Iguanas. Sure it wasn’t quite the same situation, but I’m beginning to understand the disappointment of local hockey fans who were broken up about the Iguanas leaving and the Rampage replacing them.

At the time, I didn’t understand why hockey fans wouldn’t enjoy a better brand of the game here, backed by the local basketball ownership. Now I do. I understand the feeling but I still can’t intellectualize it other than to say the new team, logo, signings, marketing, and support feel forced and inorganic. 

I hate to be the hipster here, but I liked SA soccer when it was the underdog. I liked it when it wasn’t owned by SS&E, mostly because the capitalist in me likes to have some competition.