Good espresso at Sheetz?

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Tags: sheetz, espresso, coffee

A strange thing happened to me over the weekend. While traveling, I stopped at a Sheetz gas station / convenience store in Meadville, Pennsylvania. This store, I noticed, was serving espresso. Curious, I ordered a double, my usual test-out-the-new-place order.

When I received my double, I was prepared for the worst. I had learned the hard way that few coffee houses in the United States can make a decent espresso. And this Sheetz was not a coffee house. My grim expectation was only reinforced by what I had in my hand – a paper coffee cup, feeling ominously heavy. Based on the weight, I knew the espresso was going to be over-extracted – watery and probably sour, too.

After I paid and left the store with my Big Cup Of Espresso, I paused in the sunlight for a closer look. Something wasn’t right. The cup was one-third full, but the crema actually looked pretty good, unlike what I would have associated with insanely over-extracted espresso. When I took a taste, I was surprised again: the espresso was pretty good. While not what I would call a great shot, it was perfectly drinkable and better than what I expect from Starbucks.

It was then that I realized that something unusual was going on at Sheetz. If the espresso I was drinking didn’t look over-extracted, and if it didn’t taste over-extracted, and yet it did fill one third of a 12-oz. coffee cup, it couldn’t have been a double. It must have been a quad.

My curiosity piqued, I decided to call Sheetz and ask what was really in my cup. I ended up talking with John, their coffee specialist, and he (besides being a nice guy) confirmed that, at Sheetz, a single serving of espresso is about 2 ounces in volume and is made from 14 grams of coffee. My double serving, then, was made from two 14-gram pulls, for 28 grams of coffee in total. So I had, indeed, been drinking what at most coffee houses would have been four shots.

Mystery solved.

Based on my conversation with John, I expect that espresso at Sheetz is likely to be fairly consistent. I hope, then, that the sample I tried at the Meadville store is a good predictor of what I can get at other Sheetz locations. If so, I may have found a solution to the problem of finding decent espresso when on the road.

Have you tried straight espresso at Sheetz? If so, what did you think?

Update 2007-05-22: On Saturday, 19 May, I tried another sampling of Sheetz’s espresso, this time at the Grove City, Pennsylvania store. I ordered a “single” serving, equivalent to a double at most coffee houses. The preparer, to my disappointment, pulled the shot into a 12-oz. coffee cup and then, to my dismay, poured the shot from the 12-oz. cup into a 2-oz. cup, leaving much of the crema behind and resulting in a drink that looked damaged. The taste was damaged, too – slightly watery with a mild sour note.

Thus my second trial of Sheetz’s espresso was disappointing. I can only hope that my preparer’s two-cup technique was her own, unique variation on the standard practice at Sheetz. In any case, if you order a single at Sheetz, play it safe: ask that your shot be pulled directly into a 2-oz. cup.

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