Espresso a Mano
Coming into this school year, I decided that it was time for me to find a coffee shop — a place where I can sit at my laptop and work, drinking several cups of coffee. There are a couple things that a good coffee shop must have. First, of course, it must have great coffee. This is above everything else. No matter how cute or well-decorated a place is, if the coffee is mediocre, it’s a flat no. Second, there must be space. Finding a table at a place with 10 tables is hard enough, but three? Near impossible. Third, a welcoming atmosphere is really important because if customers, including me, plan to spend several hours working in one spot, we want to be comfortable. It shouldn’t be too hard to find the right place, right?
Espresso a Mano (“espresso by hand”) is an espresso bar and coffee shop on Butler Street in Lawrenceville. The 54 bus will take you two short blocks from Butler, which is teeming with vintage boutiques, an urban plant shop, and several unique dining options. When I walked into Espresso a Mano, the smell of roasted coffee beans wasn’t as strong as I was expecting. It was a subtle scent that slowly grew on me.
The shop was busy and noisy, but not too bombastic. I could hear the clanking of ceramic cups hitting the wooden counters, the electric swoosh of the Americano machine, and the crinkling of wax paper around fresh-baked croissants. The walls were made of exposed brick, the rustic and industrial trend that befits many hipster coffee shops. There were many tables in the front of the shop, and a bar and some couches further into the room, but every single seat was taken. I knew at least that this place is popular.
The people mostly veer towards the younger side, some with friends, or others like me, enjoying their shot of espresso with a laptop in tow. But there were some families too, with young kids, and some elderly couples. I guess that’s what you’d expect at one of the most popular coffee shops in Pittsburgh’s poster-boy neighborhood for gentrification — it’s so hip that the hipsters don’t want to live here anymore.
The line was long, but it moved fast. First I ordered a café macchiato, hoping it would help wake me up on this early morning so I could get some work done. It was a small shot that hit me quickly. After loitering by the bar for a few minutes, I saw a man get up and prepare to leave, and I quickly claimed the table. There was a power socket behind me, and I connected to the Wi-Fi with no problems.
After finishing my café macchiato, I decided I needed more coffee. I ordered a chai latte, my favorite at any place. It was perfectly sweet, flavored with cinnamon, the foamed milk drawn in a charming heart shape. I usually don’t expect anything from the food at coffee shops, but I thought I’d give Espresso a Mano’s tomato-mozzarellapesto sandwich a try. It was really good and went well with my chai latte.
The next time I looked at the time, I couldn’t believe I had been working for two hours. I could see myself sitting there and working for the rest of the day. Espresso a Mano checked off all my boxes. The coffee (and food) was delicious, and the menu has everything a coffee lover would want, from staples like the Americano and cappuccino to specialty items like the matcha and turmeric lattes. There was a lot of space, especially for a one-room shop, as well as outdoor tables for nice days, but the tables go quickly. I was lucky to find a table soon after I made my order. The service was welcoming and fast, and the mix of customers sitting and chatting, and those like me alone with our laptops, made the atmosphere friendly and cozy. It’s a great place to sit and work, meet up with friends, or just grab a cup of joe to go on the way to class.