espresso 101

photo courtesy of wikipedia

I went to my first foodie training today.  It was pretty awesome.  I had the opportunity in the past to go to cooking demos and what not (thanks J.W. and D.Z) but this was my first hands on teaching experience.  It was pretty awesome, especially when it was related to a new drug and addiction that I may have to pursue.  Coffee.

Well, more specifically espresso.  Man, I’m just jonesing for some of that beautiful substance now.  I’ve never been into coffee.  It’s never really been my thing.  Although my parents and my brother drink it daily, I never found the enjoyment in it.  I never really understood the hype and excitement around it.  My parents always drank drip coffee and it was usually Folgers in a giant tin.  That’s all, nothing special.

I now understand what the hype is and why I didn’t like it then.  It wasn’t good.  The can was from Costco and had probably sat out for a couple of months.  The automated coffee maker was just pouring overly hot water over the pre ground, stale, commercial beans and then it just sat there over a hot plate for way too long.  See!  Even as an 8 year old I had the complex and refined palate of a 60-year-old Italian.  Just call me Andolini Corleone.  Go ahead, kiss my hand and respect me as a Godfather, I won’t let it go to my head.

So this training opportunity was 3 hour session on the basics of creating the perfect double shot of espresso.  Yes.  I spent three full hours in Brooklyn hanging out with a chain smoking coffee roaster from Australia and a young Filipina; the time flew.  The orientation was done with Kitten Coffee.  They don’t do the orientation/training for folks in the public, but through outside and personal things in my life, I was able to attend.   I learned about the intricacies of both the outside and inside of an espresso machine. I learned about the importance of heat, grind, water, and light when it comes to espresso.  I learned about the things to look for to visually tell if the espresso is good.  And I learned that espresso tastes good.  So, here I come with some tips and things to look out for the next time you go to your local coffee shop or Starbucks.  Hopefully the former.

Sound– There needs to be an Orchestral Symphony of grinding, clicking, hissing and banging.  If you don’t hear these sounds after you order your drink, then there is something missing.  If you don’t hear grinding then your beans may not be fresh (the flavor begins to turn rancid after 5-10 minutes of grinding).  If there isn’t a loud click or a lot of them, then there aren’t enough coffee grounds being used, which will lead to a bitter, watery mess.  The hissing noise is what you should hear to make sure your milk is being perfectly steamed.  No gurgle from it being super immersed until I hear some hissing first.  Also, the steaming process should be not too quick or too long.  I don’t need burnt milk in my coffee nor do I need just a layer of foam that refuses to mix when I stir and you don’t need that either.  And finally, bubbles should not exist on the top of my milk and the only way to get rid of them is loud banging on the counter.  If I don’t hear any loud banging, then my milk has bubbles and then it won’t mix well with the espresso.

Crema– So, I’m so used to drip coffee or chain/big box espresso that I never see or notice anything special with my drinks.  But, I’ve discovered that a real good shot of espresso has a layer of thick, foamy, light brown goodness from the oils in the beans.  If there isn’t one, and you will see it even if there is milk on top, then the espresso wasn’t made very well.  The temperature is off, the beans are bad, or the barista sucks.

There are other things that you can look for when making the espresso to know if it is good, but I wrote this for the intention of someone who is ordering it at a café.  I’m not sure how realistic it is to ask my readers to go behind the counter and see what the pressure gauge is on the water.   But now that you are more informed, what are your favorite espresso drinks and where do you like to get them?  My newfound addiction do this brown goodness may lead me there sometime soon.  Now I’m off to fix my newfound addiction.


2 Responses to “espresso 101”

  1. 1 Elena
    August 16, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Cafe Grumpy in Chelsea!! YUM!! GO THERE!

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