Coffee is an intensely subjective topic. It should be a deeply personal experience, an opportunity for a critical eye to appraise and discern the skill and craft of the process, and for the drinker to be able to indulge in a cup that says ‘this is how I’m feeling today’. Starting with the preparation of the soil for the coffee plant to grow, from the farmers craft to the importers palate, from the roasters eye to the baristas skill, and finally to the server’s delivery and customers ownership of the moment, great coffee is about more than the taste in a cup. This process is an emotional experience, which involves a patina of technique and knowledge, requiring skill and orchestration.
The varying diversity of each stage of the coffee production, processing, and delivery, offers the Barista (bar tender) a huge opportunity to demonstrate their skill in delighting the customer with the very best of their spectrum of knowledge and judgements in the cup or vessel. There is a theory that ‘there is no such thing as bad coffee beans’, only a lack in the knowledge to bring out the best in each bean. The necessary wisdom and desire to create a beverage which is truly personal to both customer, and also barista, is a relationship of trust, and the true lost royal treasure amongst café culture in the UK right now.
Scientifically, brewed coffee is a solution of dissolved solid particles, in the form of micro ground roasted beans, in a suspension of water. Remove any preconceived ideas about black watery tar and think more of filtered coffee as a suspension of a ‘stoned fruit’ drink, which is enabled and allowed to release specific flavours and textures when brewed with care in mind.
Brewing a sweet and delicious suspension of coffee, which has the very best characteristics and balanced acidity developed within it, is all about reaching the potential optimums in four main variables. These variables consist of the size of grind, water temperature, the length of time the coffee is exposed to water, and the perfect ratio of ground beans to water correct for that coffee.
Rather than relying on a single generic formula, brewing each coffee according to its individual behaviour is essential. Every coffee that has ever been grown and roasted has a golden moment, a sweet spot which is like that particular coffees signature. Experimenting with doses, grind sizes, and exposure times, will help unlock those key delicate flavours.
Right now I am drinking a single origin Southern Columbian coffee from last November’s harvest. This coffee was brought into the UK as part of a direct partnership with the roaster and the farmer. This small pouch of coffee is unique to the roaster and his customers, and indeed me in Cornwall, its personal. It’s a micro lot or a small quantity that has been cared for in a small scale production area in this particular region of Columbia. Today I’ve experimented with brewed 18.5 grams of the dry coffee to 320 grams of water at 90 degrees Celsius, using a full emersion style of rinsed paper filter brewing, in a valve dripper, which allows total exposure of the coffee in water for three and a half minutes.
This coffee is elegant and sophisticated, like a young green Riesling from Alsace. I’m experiencing a sweet poached pear aroma, lingering through but unlocking candied orange and coconut flavours in the mouth, with a clean, balanced finish. It is evocative of moist home baked vanilla sponge cupcakes, made with drizzly orange water icing and candied peel, in one of those little frilly cases. With this in mind, this coffee would be the perfect end to a fastidiously prepared retro duck or game meal, with sweet roast beets and Moroccan pomegranate and cumquat couscous. A far cry from the bitter, watered down swill that springs to mind with the mention of the words ‘black’ and ‘coffee’.
Rupert Ellis ~ Espressini.