As much as I dabble in tea I’m self-confessed coffee addict. Recently after a teeth whitening treatment the dentist advised me to stay off coffee for a week. I lasted 24 hours. More recently I attended an espresso course to learn more about the art of coffee making.I most likely inherited my addiction from my mother, who has for many years habitually enjoyed as many as 10 cups of instant coffee daily. She’ll have 3 cups on waking, a few throughout the day and then more after dinner. Now I’m not this extreme – 2 or 3 coffees daily keep me happy.
So you get the picture – I love coffee. And, living in Sydney, a city known for its coffee culture, I’m especially interested in what makes a good cup versus a bad one (we’ve all been there). This curiosity led me to enrol on a barista course at Jetblack Espresso in Cremorne.
Jetblack Espresso specialises in domestic coffee machines for the growing number of Australians upgrading from Nespresso coffee pods. You can view their product range online at jetblackespresso.com.au
Whether you have (or are thinking about buying) a home espresso machine or you’re simply keen to learn more about coffee I hope this post teaches you something new. I’m not spilling the (coffee) beans on the entire course here. Trust me you’d tire quickly. Instead I’m sharing my highlights and top tips.
Highlight – Learning the rule of fives
This 3 part rule has taken my respect for coffee beans to a whole new level:
1. Beans are truly ‘fresh’ for only 5 weeks after roasting (after which the oils start to go rancid). So, next time you drink coffee made with beans imported from Italy chances are the beans were roasted more than 5 weeks ago. The team at Jetblack Espresso considers using ‘old’ beans the single biggest mistake home baristas make.
2. There’s a 5 day window after a packet of beans is opened within which the whole packet should be used. Exposure to oxygen is the enemy of coffee beans. So, unless you’re running a cafe or have a family the size of a football team, don’t buy 1kg bags. Stick to 250g and you’ll have a chance of getting though the bag in a week.
3. There’s a 5 minute window after beans are ground when they’re at their best. In a matter of minutes ground coffee becomes stale – so the sooner the espresso is extracted the better. A good barista moves quickly. And a true coffee aficionado wouldn’t buy pre-ground beans for this reason.
Before my course I underestimated the skill and experienced needed to be a great barista. I was even foolish enough to think that after 3 hours of ‘training’ I could master the basics. But 3 hours and 250g of coffee beans later you could say I remain a complete novice. I now appreciate how it takes months and years of practice to be a truly professional barista. I really have a new level of respect for everyone who spends their day behind a grounder and espresso machine.
1. Follow the rule of fives. Only buy whole bean coffee that’s been roasted less than 5 weeks ago, once opened use the beans within 5 days and extract the espresso immediately after grinding. Any good beans have a roast date. Check this date if you’re buying beans or ask your barista when their beans were roasted.
2. Store beans correctly. Oxygen, light, moisture and heat all speed up the staling of coffee so store your beans in an airtight bag in a cupboard. Don’t store beans in the fridge or freezer, as this causes condensation to form on the beans when they’re brought to room temperature (which speeds up the staling process).
3. Be in control of the flow of coffee. The job of the barista is essentially to control the flow of coffee from the espresso machine. Assuming the beans are fresh and the espresso machine and grinder are good quality there’s no reason why a skilled barista can’t produce a fantastic and consistent coffee.
4. Heat the required amount of milk. When heating milk the stainless steel jug used should be the right size for the amount of milk needed. Milk should never be re-heated so excess milk in the jug should be avoided. If you see a barista re-heating milk then be warned your coffee may not taste as good as it should.
- Smell the coffee – the aroma should be like fresh coffee beans.
- Look at the espresso – as I found out on my course the crema should make up around 20% of the espresso about a minute or so after the espresso has been extracted (see the photo above).
- Taste the coffee – the flavour will depend on the blend but can include chocolate, nuts, berries, caramel. If it tastes sour or acidic or even bitter or burnt then the barista hasn’t correctly controlled the flow of water through the ground coffee.
Here’s my best attempt at a latte – the ‘apple’ shaped coffee art was totally unintended!
And here’s how a flat white made by a professional turns out…..
The barista’s job (whether a professional or you at home) is essentially to control the flow of coffee. And they ideally should be working with fresh beans and good equipment. Good equipment means not only a high quality machine but also one that’s well maintained. So you can imagine a little TLC was needed on my machine after I managed to make the mess below……
- $159 for a 3 hour course covering espresso preparation, milk texturing, machine care & maintenance – max of 6 students with 1 teacher (or $259 for 2 hour private course covering the same items).
- I choose Jetblack Espresso because of their reputation for training baristas and the small group size.
- They have a range of machines, largely imported from Italy, on display in their Cremorne showroom. It’s these machines that you practice on during the course.