Recently, I had the pleasure of taking a Premium Barista Course, courtesy of Red Balloon.
It was an introductory course called “Espresso Foundations, Level 1”, where I was going to learn about the science and art of espresso making.
Now, I have to say this – I am NOT a coffee snob, and I have NO interest in being a coffee snob.
I mean, I drink instant coffee! With soy or almond milk! And I always get teased whenever I’m with my connoisseur coffee friends.
However, I was interested to why some cafe coffees that I drink are soooooooo good and others are soooooooo hideously bad. I have had so many awful coffees that were burnt, sour, thin, or in some other way disgusting… and I wanted to know WHY.
JUST HOW HARD IS IT TO MAKE A GOOD COFFEE???
I stepped into the little workshop with 2 other barista-wannabees, and I immediately perked up just from the SMELL of coffee.
Our instructor, and lets call him Mr Barista, was very passionate about coffee. He told us a bit about the coffee bean history, roasting, grinding and coffee basics.
Mr Barista let us hold some raw, dried coffee beans… and I popped one into my mouth (like a sneaky child in a lolly shop). It tasted terrible! BLERGH! They were like raw, hard, dried up, wood chips! There was NO nice aroma and NO bitter flavour whatsoever.
He then showed us how to grind the coffee beans, and then how to make an espresso.
Then I had a go. Yup, I pulled my first espresso and it was really easy, hooray!
Mr Barista poured some frothed milk into my espresso… and HOLY COW it was the most amazing coffee I had ever tasted! So smooth, so clean, so creamy. It was heavenly.
But Mr Barista said that it was so easy, because of the way he had set up the machine and the grinder – apparently it’s really difficult to set it up right.
He adjusted the coffee grinder (just by moving the grinding dial a few notches) to create slightly large coffee grains. He put it through the espresso machine, I tasted it and… it was horrible! Then he purposely ground the coffee slightly too fine… again it was disgusting.
Our task was to adjust the grinder to make that perfect espresso.
Mr Barista then paused dramatically, and told us that… coffee is sensitive.
(I rolled my eyes dramatically at the thought of the little emo coffee beans getting upset by disrespectful treatment. )
Apparently, the sensitive coffee beans absorb moisture from the air and their texture and consistency are affected by the current temperature, the humidity, the age of the bean, the kind of roast, the blend… so the barista has to compensate for the combined effect of ALL of these variables by changing the settings of the grinder to produce a coarser or finer coffee. So, a lot like being married with kids, right?
And there were other factors, like how well you compacted the coffee once it was ground, how much coffee you put into the basket, how much water you put through the coffee, and probably the relative position of the planet Jupiter to the constellation of Alpha Centuri.
Not to mention, we had to heat and froth the milk correctly. Omg it was so haaard!
Each time we made a coffee, we could see that the oil that stuck to the basket was the wrong oiliness, or the sponginess of the ground coffee was too spongy, or the flow was too flowy, or the colour was the wrong kind of coffee colour, and each time it took a little bit of tweaking here and there… it took us like 8 TO 9 TIMES and we still couldn’t get it right.
I was shocked (and annoyed) to discover that he was right – coffee is so damn sensitive!
On my 10th go, I finally did it – I made a delicious, smooth, creamy flat white.
I was so proud of myself.
I now really appreciated the fine art of coffee making and the skills of a barista.
The end result was so freaking good.
And here is the bad news. I’ve tasted the good stuff and I can’t go back.
Now, whenever I am in a cafe, I derail the conversation I am having, just to complain about how the coffee is not as good as it could be.
I think I’ve turned into one of those annoying coffee snobs haha!
I absolutely recommend this course for anyone who likes to drink coffee. It was was a very enjoyable and valuable experience.
The team at Red Balloon are offering my readers a special promotion!
Receive $20 off when you spend $79 or more on any RedBalloon experience!
Visit Red Balloon and enter the code REDBLOG14 at the checkout to receive your discount.
Code can only be used once per person. Expires: 31/12/2014. All purchases are subject to RedBalloon T&Cs, for full details read here.