Though Espresso A Mano, a new café on Butler Street in Lawrenceville, won’t open for another few weeks, owner Matt Gebis is already there every day, slowly checking the final elements of his to do list and getting used to the rhythms of the neighborhood.
Gebis, born in McKeesport and educated at the University of Pittsburgh, has wanted to own his own café for a long time. He started working at La Prima while an undergrad. While learning to pull shots of Italian-style espresso, he was also studying and eventually teaching Italian. But eventually he realized that he wanted to make a career in coffee. At La Prima, he’s gotten a well-rounded education. He's sold coffee, run the service center, worked in production and run the espresso bar.
Gebis has a reputation for excellence among local baristas, and he'll certainly be missed at La Prima. But he hasn't abandoned his old cafe. The house espresso is from La Prima, a special blend Gebis designed. It's a two-bean blend, one from South America and one from African. Gebis is using a grinder and espresso machine from Nuova Simonelli. The espresso Gebis served me had a full, creamy body. The taste was nutty, with notes of lemon oil and honey sweetness in the finish.
He’ll will also have beans from Counter Culture, a small roaster based in Durham, North Carolina. He plans to always have two espressos, his house blend and either a blend from counter culture or a single origin.
There’s an Italian influence in the store’s design as well. A curved counter in red and brown, the visual focal point, is one of very few standing espresso
bars in the Pittsburgh. The café is fairly large, with exposed brick walls, a high ceiling with exposed beams and a garage-style door open to the street.
The cafe space isn't quite complete. He doesn't even have a cash register yet. But the espresso machine is set up, he has a few dozen borrowed cups, and he's already serving customers . . . he's just not charging them. A sign on the door offering free samples of espresso and cappuccino brought in a half-dozen passers-by on a Wednesday mid-morning.
Though he’s eager to open for business, Gebis is patience personified. As he pulls shots of espresso, chatting agreeably with potential customers and skillfully finishing cappuccino with a leaf pattern etched into the surface, it’s seems that there is nowhere he’d rather be than behind the bar at his own shop.