Espresso - The Art of The Barista
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Espresso - The Art Of The Barista

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Every day millions of Coffee Drinkers around the world wake with one question crystal clear in their minds. How rewarding will today’s coffee be? Will it be smooth like silk, or rough as sand. Sweet as honey or bitter as burnt oil?

People look forward to their coffee like nothing else. Living up to such great  expectations by creating the perfect coffee every time is the responsibility of the Barista.

A top Barista is really an artist at heart. An artist who has found an outlet to share their passion for perfection in the form of the perfect coffee.

The title of “Barista” doesn’t come easy. First the apprentice must walk a long road of discovery. Learning as much as possible about the honey golden nectar that is Espresso. The apprentice cannot proceed until they understand in depth not only how to make Espresso perfectly every time, but also how and where the beans grow, how to create the perfect blend, and of course how to lovingly maintain the grinder and espresso machine. Only then can the apprentice truly become “The Barista”.

Here are some of the skills and tools that the Barista must master before they can hope to create such perfection in the cup. If you have intentions of becoming the official Barista in your own home the following section may be of particular interest to you.

The Perfect Espresso is a combination of the Machine, Grinder, Blend and of course the Barista. In the quest for the perfect cup it’s important not to focus on just one of these factors as they all contribute to the final product.

The Espresso Process

By forcing hot water through finely ground coffee under approximately 9 atmospheres of pressure, a coffee beverage with great aroma, taste and body is created. Extraction using the espresso method takes place using deionised water at 90-94 degrees Celsius. The contact time between water and coffee varies from 20-30seconds. Approximately 8 grams of finely ground, medium roasted coffee is used per cup. Each espresso shot contains approximately 40ml.

In making Espresso the Goal is to create Perfectly Even Resistance Against Pressurized Water. Water by nature is lazy and will always take the path of least resistance. If there is too much resistance the water will not be able to get  through the compacted coffee cake. On the other hand if there is not enough resistance the water will come through the coffee cake too quickly and the shot will taste thin and wishy, washy. This occurs as the pressurized water will not have had the opportunity to extract the delicious oils that make the essence of Espresso so special.

To stop water from being lazy and robbing you of your well-earned perfect cup you must create perfect resistance against the pressurized water. When resistance is perfect the shot will pour like buttermilk honey hanging from the spouts. Delicious.

Perfect Resistance is the result of:

  1. Perfect Tamp

  2. Perfect Dose

  3. Perfect Grind

a) Dose

The perfect dose of ground espresso coffee should nearly fill the top of your basket before you tamp. The correct dose for a standard single shot of coffee from a commercial machine is 8gm, however there are many different basket sizes available. The dose should always be kept consistent.

b) Grind

The main function of the coffee grinder is to crush the roasted bean into smaller particles. This process increases the surface contact of the coffee with the hot water enabling the soluble substances to dissolve. Finding the perfect grind is critical to producing the perfect cup of coffee, as the grinder is the first part of the production cycle. It is important to note that no matter how good the quality of your coffee is, and how perfectly your espresso machine is operating, if the grind is not set correctly your coffee will have no flavour, taste or aroma.

As a rule Espresso coffee needs to be ground extremely fine. However due to different machines, water pressure and climatic conditions there is no exact grind setting. Each individual operator needs to set the grind to match all the external factors.

Humidity

When humidity increases, the coffee absorbs water and packs down tighter, which increases its resistance to the pressurized water trying to pass through. To compensate for increased humidity make the grind a little coarser. If humidity decreases while you are making coffee, you need a slightly finer grind to maintain your 20-30 second extraction.

Grinder Blades

As grinder blades wear the grind setting will need to be adjusted finer, this will bring the blades closer together. Grinder blades should be checked for wear at least once every 6 months. Worn out blades heat up the coffee affecting its taste and flavour.

c) Tamping

Tamping refers to the amount of pressure that is used to pack the ground coffee
into the filter basket.

Too much pressure prevents water getting through. Too little pressure lets the water through too quickly, which results in the H20 taking the lazy path; often the sign of lazy H20 will be a whole in the coffee cake.

Tamping Technique

Bring the filter handle, which is filled with coffee, up to the tamping head. Press firmly to create a flat surface to meet the group shower on the coffee machine.

Once you have tamped the coffee, wipe off the top of the filter to remove any excess coffee grind. The perfect amount of pressure is approximately 6kg.

So how do you know when your tamp is right? The crema never lies. When you get the tamp right remember the pressure you used and repeat it every time. Take great care tamping, all other essential points may be correct such as the grind and dose but a poor tamp may destroy what would have been a beautiful coffee.

Problem Solving

Timing
 
When making espresso coffee like many things in life it’s paramount that the
timing is right.

In order to get perfect extraction one 40ml shot of espresso should pass through the ground coffee in approximately 20 to 30 seconds.

If your espresso is not gorgeous and you decide that it is necessary to adjust the grinder, follow the steps below in this order:

  1. Check that you are not over or under tamping

  2. Check the dose. Your coffee cake should be firm but not solid.

  3. Check the grind. If the extraction takes less than 20 seconds grind your coffee finer. If extraction takes more than 30 seconds grind your coffee coarser. Aim for 26 seconds.

Other Factors That Will Affect Your Coffee

  1. Water temperature during extraction should be between 85 – 95ºc.

  2. Freshness of coffee.

  3. Machine cleanliness- machines should be disassembled and washed in detergent at least once a week in order to break up the heavy coffee oils.

Steaming Milk

Dairy Cow
Moo!

 

The next stage on our journey in search of the perfect cup is learning how to steam milk correctly.

The bulk of white coffees are cappuccino, café latte or flat whites. It is important that the milk be frothed correctly.

The aim in steaming milk is to heat the milk to 68-70 degrees Celsius, creating creamy ultra fine foam with barely discernible bubbles.

When poured into the coffee the creamy thick milk will blend evenly.

Thermometer

When steaming milk at Miss Maud we always use a Norpro thermometer, which assists in giving a clear and accurate visual reading of the milk temperature and also warns when dangerous boiling temperature is approaching.

The most common crime in steaming milk is overheating (+75c), the result is burned and scorched milk.

Perfectly steamed milk will be heated to 68-70ºC and have no visible bubbles. When blended with coffee the ... the freshly steamed milk will blend evenly as it is poured. Ultra fine texture is the only foam consistency for espresso making, it compliments and enhances the coffee flavour, feel and appearance.

Steaming Technique

Pour fresh milk into a clean stainless steel milk jug. Place the tip of the steaming wand 2cm beneath the surface of the milk, then apply full steam. Keep the wand barely under the surface, lowering the jug to introduce more air.

You are listening for the slight hissing that indicates that some air is being drawn into the milk. The milk rises quickly, expanding with air. If it splutters all over then the wand tip is too high, so raise the jug a little, if you do not hear any hissing sounds, lower the jug a tiny bit.

Drawing air into the milk should only be done when the milk is cool to touch, below 38 degrees. Drawing the air into milk above 38 degrees will create larger bubbles in the foam.

Once the milk is heated to 68-70ºC, pour the heated milk onto the espresso using a gentle waving motion of the jug. If you have steamed the milk correctly the milk will pour forth thick and creamy.

Initially, steaming milk is quite a challenge, luckily it can be mastered reasonably fast.

 
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