Monday, 13 May 2013

Don't be so Bitter

Next time you drink a cup of coffee I'd like you to consider its flavour.  Rather than slurping it down, take a second or two to allow the coffee sit on your tongue and in your mouth and see what flavours you can pick out before you swallow it.  Even after swallowing keep searching.  At a typical barista training class we will taste and assess anywhere between 50 and 100 coffees.  We look for flavour and mouthfeel.   More often than not when you drink a poor coffee you get a taste - not flavour.  Usually that taste is bitterness, it is at the back of your mouths or in our throat and is often confused with strength.   The more bitter, the stronger it is perceived to be.  Wrong. 

Coffee has an abundance of flavour. When you taste coffee, the flavours should sit in the middle of your tongue and they should wrap around your mouth.  Caramels, dark fruits and chocolate are just an example of flavours that you might be able to identify.   The mouthfeel is also known as body.  A properly made coffee will be balanced. When you taste it, it will be present in the middle of your mouth, it will be rich in mouthfeel and the flavours should be noticeable on your tongue. Acidity to the front, fruits and sweetness to the middle. It should not be bitter.  Think flavour not taste. 

t. @coffeeculture

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Rich Sweet Milk

There are three main properties that affect how the milk tastes in a cappuccino and latte.  
Fat content is high on the agenda - and the reason is that the fat carries the flavour. Think french food - loads of butter and cream.  This is the richness.  
The higher the fat content the richer the texture in the mouth.

The sweetness comes from the lactose (disacharides).. this natural sweetness in milk is accentuated with heat, as the milk is heated the natural sugars are more obvious to the senses. Now heat is another discussion.. and something we touched on last autumn.  Suffice to say that if you over heat the milk, you'll ruin the texture of the milk.  There is a key temperature for this.  Its 65 degrees celsius.  Anything above this makes the milk split into a dry foam and boiled milk.  

The last factor is protein. Protein comes in simple terms as grass, and specifically grass feeding.  Cows fed on a high grass diet will produce higher protein milk.  This is essential for the milk texture.  As you heat the milk you release the proteins. Again too hot and the milk splits and loses its texture. 

For really great milk try different varieties.  Avonmore sell milk that has consistently high values in protein and lactose.  Other suppliers like Adare farm foods sell organic whole milk - loads of natural proteins, happy cows, rich and creamy.

The most important thing is to find what you like.  The sensory taste and texture is really important when making coffee.  If you can deliver this texture and mouthfeel regardless of latte art and all that fancy stuff, you will have great tasting coffee.

Great coffee is not enough

Every week I visit different cafes.  From Dublin to Cork and Waterford to Westport. Last week I was in Ardkeen Quality Foodstore in Waterford.  We train their barista's to deliver the best coffee they can.  One thing struck me while I was there.  It was the sense of community within the shop.  The barista knew everyone by name.  There was no rush, no pressure, it was a really nice environment to arrive into and to be a part of.  Its what a cafe should be.

Mind you, I don't have to travel to Waterford to experience that.  I can experience that here in Limerick too, be it Michelle in Arabica on Shannon street or Laoise out in Delish Cafe Castletroy.  I'm sure you all have your favourite local place.  For many It used to be the pub.  Now, more than ever cafe's are more important in our lives.  As author Ray Oldenberg suggests, they are our third place.  First : home, second : work and then that third place where we go to have a social coffee, a work chat or to fix the world. 

Great coffee is not enough.  What makes a great cafe is the chat, engagement, being able to nod your head at the barista and they know you're having your regular cuppa.  The barista job, and that customer interaction is often overlooked by many cafes.  It is what separates the average from the great.