Portola Coffee Lab, the cutting-edge coffeehouse that Jeff Duggan and wife Christa opened last June in The OC Mart Mix, doesn’t give everything away on their menu, and that’s nothing new at specialty coffeehouses. A number of top espresso bars offer an off-menu Gibraltar as long as customers know to ask. However, since Portola doesn’t carry that particular 4.5-ounce rocks glass from Libbey, they developed a 5.5-ounce variation called the Gaspar, another nod to bygone governor Gaspar de Portola, who ruled California beginning in 1768.
On January 14, a barista named Demart poured me an artistic Gaspar ($3.50), made with Straus Barista Milk and a double shot of Portola’s “Show No Mercy” espresso blend. Afterwards, Jeff Duggan explained the reason for keeping the Gaspar hidden, saying, “I don’t want a cluttered menu with a bunch of specialty drinks. I want people to be able to come in and focus on basic, properly prepared espresso drinks, classic affogato, espresso, cappuccino. Off menu drinks are more for word of mouth. As you come in and talk, we may offer that if somebody asks, but it’s not something we just offer before we offer good, classic well-made drinks.”
Apparently, that one-ounce size difference between the Gibraltar and Gaspar makes a noticeable impact on the drink. “It’s a little smaller, so the espresso intensity is going to be a little higher, or a littler more pronounced,” said Duggan. “We steam the milk to 120 degrees, so it’s a little sweeter, a bit thinner in texture, but more naturally sweet. It’s not a short latte because temperature and texture are different. It’s not as intense as cappuccino. It’s sort of right in the middle.”
Portola also came up with a second off-menu drink called the Macchio, named for Ralph Macchio, star of “The Karate Kid” movies. Duggan explained, “It’s like a skimmed Italiano. We take a shot of espresso, skim the crema and add a splash of hot water.” It’s a 3 oz. drink and a “much more espresso intensive Americano.” Why skim the crema? They founded it tastes better. “Crema serves a purpose,” said Duggan. “It’s basically emulsified oil, but you don’t get that intense espresso flavor from it. It’s just kind of bland. When you mix it in, it makes it more airy and creamy, and helps as a cappuccino, it kind of retains the aromatics in the espresso.” Jeff Duggan said Ralph Macchio is welcome to try his namesake drink any time, so if you know where to find him, consider this an APB.