Updated: Jan 22
It’s been a while since I last freestyled my way through a post, or even written a post at all. The sad truth is I have been so stressed out by my job that I just couldn’t find the energy to even lift up my laptop and put words on a screen.
Of course, that's all changed this year (quite literally). I'm no longer a shop girl! I'm now a café girl!
Ok, so there really isn’t much difference, considering I’m still facing customers and serving them, but at least I’m no longer on the high street, and I’m not constantly on guard about whether or not someone’s going to try to steal my products…trust me it was that bad when I was at the shop.
Anyway, today I’ll talk about some of the things I’ve learned as a coffee shop girl, or in professional terms, as a Barista. It takes a lot to make a really good cup of coffee and I’m not saying that to promote it. I really do mean it! It takes a lot of skill, a lot of people and a lot of beans! For now, however, let’s look at the origins of the bean, it’s a lot more complicated than you think!
Learn The Trade, Master the Skill
Ok, so you’ve been to your local cafés and your coffee shops, and you’ve seen how their baristas play around with the grinder, the espresso machines and the milk steamers, and you think that when you watch them, you could easily do their job. I mean, how hard is it to steam milk? How long do you really have to wait for your cup of coffee?
For those of you who just want that quick fix, a regular coffee machine will do you just fine! After all, it’s literally the coffee mix, the hot milk or the hot water, and some sugar, but for those of you who really need a cup of good tasting coffee, you’ll need to understand that the wait is worth it.
A really good cup of coffee requires the right time, the right temperature, the right volume of milk or water, the right amount of coffee grounds and the right roast of the coffee beans. From the bean to the cup, the process takes months, even years to get right, and even then, it’s ever evolving and changing.
For the drinkers, the trick of the trade is the steamed milk. If your barista can get the milk steamed perfectly you will end up with a beautiful latte or cappuccino. If they’re doing it wrong, it’ll end up dry or very watery.
For those of us in the field, everything needs to be taken into account. The roast of the bean will tell you how bitter the espresso is going to be. The temperature of the water and the milk can change the taste of the espresso. The amount of grounds you tamp, along with your tamping style can make your espresso either weaker or stronger. Finally, the time it takes for the water to extract the espresso makes all the difference.
If you get all of these right, you will get the perfect cup of coffee, and I don’t mean that lightly. When I first started out as a barista, I kept making so many mistakes and I knew the coffee I was handing out was much drier than they should be. I knew that despite doing everything else right, I was giving them coffee that was either too weak or too hot. Now, however, I can make a decent cup of coffee that people come back for, again and again. Can I say I’ve mastered the art of the cup? Not by a long shot, but I’ve taken my first steps to getting there.
The Cherry And The Bean
This part happens before it even reaches the café, so as a customer or barista, you don’t have to worry about it. It’s for those who choose the beans that end up in your café. You see, it takes the right kind of bean that determines the taste of the coffee.
Now, this part’s tricky, so I won’t go into too much detail, but it depends on the taste the café is going for, what kind of beans they get. So, say for example you want that tangy, citrus taste in your espresso, then I believe you’ll find those beans in either Kenya or Ethiopia. If you want more nutty flavours, then Ecuador or Colombia are the best places for them.
You see, each country that grows coffee beans has different environments, and with each environment, the coffee plant adapts. Of course, you’ve probably heard that your local coffee shop provides beans from Brazil or Colombia, or even Ecuador. That’s because these guys are the ones where the most coffee comes from. It’s because their soil is rich with the nutrients that coffee plans need.
Arabica Or Robusta
Wait! Don’t jump to conclusions just yet! Arabica coffee isn’t called Arabica because it was first made in Arabia! In fact, the first ever coffee beans to be consumed was actually in Ethiopia! So, you could say that Ethiopia is where coffee came from! The only reason Arabica coffee is called Arabica is because the first brew was in lower Arabia…so I guess you’re partially right in thinking coffee came from Arabia…
However, what is Robusta? Why is it called Robusta, and where does it grow? Well, you’ve probably heard of beans being grown in places like Vietnam, or the Philippines, or Thailand. While, yes, they do grow coffee beans, they aren’t the same as the Arabica coffee beans. The Robusta beans are actually smaller, have more caffeine and are much more bitter than the Arabica beans. Robusta is used in instant coffees, because it’s a lot easier to use than the traditional Arabica.
Now, if you think there really isn’t much difference between Arabica coffee, and Robusta coffee, then remember this. Arabica coffee is cleaner, you get the flavours you want from it, and it’s much lighter, in terms of the espresso taste. Robusta coffee can taste similar to burnt tire (not that I’ve had a burnt tire before, but it’s basically like the smell, you can almost taste the burnt rubber when you smell it). That’s why, whenever you have instant coffees, they tend to have a lot of sugar in them.
Of course, the difference isn’t just in the way it’s processed and how it tastes, you can see the difference too! The Arabica bean is much bigger than the Robusta one. This is because their environments differ drastically. Arabica beans are made in a drier area than the Robusta beans, so there are less pests for them to defend against, whereas the Robusta beans are made in an area where there’s a lot of competition for the soil, and for the space.
Have A Taste!
Ok, so that’s a lot of information, at least for now, and there’s so much more about coffee that a lot of people don’t know about. So, I think I’ll have a series on my hands now! Look forward to the next post, where I talk about the drying process and the roast of the coffee and how it affects the taste, because it does. Believe me, it does!
Well, that’s it for now, I’ll see you guys later, and don’t overdo the coffee orders! Those poor baristas can only do so much!