This is one of those posts that I think was inevitable. My day work is as a barista and has been with some exceptions like janitorial and university for some time. Behind the counter is much like playing music. You certainly don’t know it the first day and their isn’t any official training. The more you’re standing behind the portafilters, steam wands and coffee sprinkled counters the more you pick up.
The challenge with coffee is the three factors, namely the product, the water and the equipment. I like to think that the real drink of a barista would either be a light roast taken black or a single shot of well pulled espresso. These drinks give you the inherent flavors of the source at its fullest and the wine like subtleties that are otherwise masked. It’s sounds all fancy but it’s like anything else. The more you drink the more you notice how bright or not, bitter or not, ect. The coffee menus are actually simpler than they seem as well. It is simply “how do you want your milk prepared?” I won’t get into all of them but with a Latte it’s simply steamed milk over espresso. A cappuccino is steamed milk and milk foam over espresso (with its name derived from the brown and white outfits of the Cappucine Monks). Americano….just hot water…you add the milk. Africano…half hot water and half steamed milk. Then the other variables come in and yeah…you get those drinks that a barista needs to take a deep breath before announcing. I can understand the fun of fine tuning like that. The first coffee I had was at the age of 12, helping in the kitchen at church so I could get out of…well… church. I remember taking lots of sugar and cream while I helped get ready. There wasn’t actually much to do in that big square room of counter tops and fridges attached to the hall. It was mostly about being outta the church sipping coffee.
Naturally your water source should be clean and filtered. Your best bean choice is from a cafe or local roastery. Supermarkets rarely throw out old beans and they do go stale eventually. With the machine you want it to be as clean as you can possibly make it and one trick is to run a pot of water through first to heat the machine (like pot scalding with tea) and to improve the machines ability to extract flavor. It is also common for people to use to much coffee in the ratio of coffee to water. One teaspoon of beans per cup of water is perfect. Your lighter roasts also have more caffeine as the roasting process extracts the caffeine and also gives it that shiny coffee oil look. Lighter roasts also go better with savory and dark with pastries (sweet). Chocolate is a great pairing, famously with the mocha which got its name from the port of Moka which traded beans around the world from places like the original source of coffee in the hills of Ethiopia.
There’s a bunch to consider. Coffee’s almost done.
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