A cafe within a bar behind steel bars, Iron and Steam services Polk Street clientele during daylight hours with its ancient chromed Gaggia. The back to basics menu features the core curriculum of espresso drinks. The chalk board lists an espresso then three espresso and milk mixtures; the 2 oz Pingo, 4 oz Galao, and the 6 oz Cappuccino. Why mix languages and items? The barista told me that they were trying to get back to the Italian roots of espresso in a world where macchiato has lost its original meaning. I understand and agree with the intention but the terminology makes me wonder, should we insist on an Scalian originalist construction of espresso drinks or embrace attempts like this one to carve out new territory?
While that argument gets ignited the fact of Iron and Steam’s devotion to quality is beyond dispute. The espresso expresses medium acidity, good foam, and a flavor that I can’t put my finger on. I hope to pinpoint it on future reviews. In the interim that’s an argument for visiting. The coffee itself comes from Chromatic which is based in San Jose where the, apparently, now defunct Barefoot Roasters was located on Stevens Creek Boulevard just off 280. This may be their only San Francisco account, I’ll have to drop by on my way south sometime soon.
If you need another reason to visit head off menu by asking for a Shakerato which is espresso, ice, milk, and sugar shaken in a cocktail shaker, poured over ice. It’s feels like the inspiration for all the overly frothed coffee drinks drowning in sugary syrupy artificial flavors that now dominate coffee chains. But Iron and Steam understands that some people drink coffee to taste coffee. Their mixture is a glimpse at what might have been with a light touch of milk and sugar, they complement the coffee while combining in a true coffee cocktail. There’s nothing better for the sunny days we’ve been experiencing lately. I wager that it works just fine on a foggy day as well.