The Science of Coffee.pdf

Australians take their coffee seriously. And with a double.
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  The Science of Coffee Laura Noonan Double shot soy decaf latte, extra hot, no foam. Half strength cappuccino, extra chocolate. Piccolo. Everyone has their coffee, their particular sized cup, some even have their preferred barista. What actually goes into a cup of coffee? One would hope mostly tender loving care, but there’s more to it than  just love. There are over 700 independently owned cafes in Brisbane. One of these owners is Dale Frampton, manager of Mambo Coffee in Caboolture. Having only opened in April, Dale has been busy serving the customers of the north Brisbane region and gaining notoriety as being one of the best baristas in town. Starting his career as an assistant barista at Colin James Fine Foods in Maleny, the intricacies and amount of detail a cup of coffee requires meant a passionate relationship with making coffee had begun. “I love that there’s no perfect cup. Every cup you make could have been done a tiny bit differently. There’s no perfecting, which is why as a perfectionist I find it quite addictive”, he says. In fact, ask any of the baristas at this year’s World Barista Championships, held in Melbourne for the first time. Making a perfect cup of coffee is a science, and is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. The 55 baristas that competed last week had 15 minutes to prepare four cappuccinos and four coffees of their own design. Australian Matthew Perger came second, showing how talented our home grown crop is. Josh Russell, owner of ‘Cup’ coffee in West End, attended the Championships, keen to support local talent and meet the farmers that provide his coffee in Brisbane. “It was great being down there, and seeing how well we are doing. Melbourne has such a strong coffee scene, it’s definitely a stage I want to see Brisbane at one day”, he says. So what makes for a world championship level coffee? It’s a very complex process. Firstly, the beans have to be precision picked. Not too early, when the bean is still young and will taste sour once it has been through the harvesting process. However, picking the bean too late will result in a bitter cup of coffee. Once the bean is harvested and bagged, the caffeine drug is distributed between its dealers. From there, the power of excellent coffee is passed on to the barista. The first step sounds relatively simple; putting the coffee into the coffee basket. But the complex process has only just begun. There can’t be too much coffee put into the basket, or the hot water forced through it at incredibly force will burn the ground up beans. Not enough  though, and the coffee will have little flavor, with the water not having the chance to strip the coffee grounds of flavourful oils. There will also be a far lesser amount of actual caffeine, with the majority of the caffeine coming through at the end of the shot.  After wiping away excess coffee grounds and making an even surface on top of the basket, the barista will apply an even amount of pressure to the basket using a metal tamper, forcing it into a puck-like shape. The universal tamping pressure might be 13.5 kilograms, but a keen eyed barista will notice when they need to tamp lighter or heavier. This will depending on how fine or course the coffee has been ground. Now for the fun part. 95 degree water is forced through the coffee grounds at an extraordinary pressure- 900 kilopascals. That’s the equivalent of about 250 kilograms forced into something the size of an ice hockey puck. Such intense pressure on such a small size means any discrepancies or mistakes will be amplified and noticeable to even the most inexperienced palate. The barista must have an eye for perfection, and be relentless in the pursuit of the perfect cup. Josh Russell will go through many a cup to make sure the coffee he makes is of a high enough quality. “I’ll make four or five a day, many more if we have a new bean in.” My baristas won’t send out a coffee they aren’t happy with. They are incredibly proud of their product”, he says. While the hopefully silky smooth shot is pouring, a good barista will begin steaming the milk for the coffee. The level of air put into the milk will depend on the order. A flat white calls for a tiny amount of air steamed through the milk, whereas a cappuccino will have a far larger amount resulting in frothy, light-as-air milk. Lattes demand a one-centimeter layer of foam in the glass, where customers can tell with ease whether they have received a latte or a poor version of a different drink. No matter what the order, there’s one quality all steamed milk must have- it’s gotta be smooth, and it’s gotta be silky. Tick those two boxes and the milk should taste heavenly. Josh picked his milk supplier through a blind milk taste test. “That’s all it comes down to, is the taste”, he says. Now the proper temperature of the milk is controversial. Not between baristas, but often between baristas and customers. Dale describes the agony of over steaming milk.  “We often get requests for extra hot coffees, and honestly I can’t stand it. Steam the milk too much and too much air gets through it, meaning it just isn’t going to have that beautiful silkiness. Not that coffee should be cold, but you should be able to drink it straight away”, he says. The perfect temperature? “65 degrees. 70 if you want to go hotter”, says Dale. Now that the milk is steamed and the coffee shot finished pouring, a barista will combine the two. Whether or not patterns are important in coffee is hotly debated amongst the professionals. While many see it is a requirement, some see is it merely showing off, as pouring the pattern takes up time and energy that could be put towards making the next coffee. Dale is firmly pro-coffee art. “You want your coffee’s to look as good as they taste. If the milk is steamed correctly, a pattern shouldn’t be hard. It’s nice to see people’s faces when you give them a beautiful looking coffee”, he says. No matter what a barista’s stance is on coffee art, there’s no doubt there is demand for perfection. The hundreds of cafes in Brisbane each aim for one thing- to serve the perfect brew. With that much competition, coffee simply can’t be sub-standard. Dale offers some telltale signs of uncaring baristas. “If they don’t wipe down the steam wand between steaming each jug of milk, that’s a problem.” That means old milk is tainting each new jug of milk. And burnt milk doesn’t taste good, I can tell you that. Also, if a whole stack of ground coffee is just sitting there not used, it’s going stale. They should grind as they go, to make sure each coffee is fresh,” he says. For as complex as the coffee making business is, Dale believes the real sign of a talented barista is incredibly simple. “They should be able to make any drink taste great. Whether that is soy, decaf, whatever you have. It’s your coffee, so have high expectations. That being said, if the barista offers a suggestions to improve your coffee, it might be worth taking it”, he says. While going straight to a double espresso (two shots of coffee without milk or water) might be overkill, Dale thinks laying off the sugar is a good start for most customers.  “It covers up the great coffee flavour we’ve worked so hard to achieve, and let’s be honest- it’s not the healthiest drink once you add sugar and syrups. Just keep it simple”, he says. For all this preparation and estimation, one would have to ask- is it worth it? Josh certainly believes so. “The taste of espresso just isn’t comparable. The depth and variety of flavours you can get is so interesting. We try beans from Guatemala, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and it’s great to try them all out and see how much the flavour varies”, he says. Next time you reach for the kettle to prepare an instant coffee instead of hitting the kerbside and checking out the local café, consider the latter. You could be missing out on years of training, science, hard work and dedication poured into a cup (lovingly, of course).
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