The perfect cup of coffee
My husband can drink a double espresso at the end of dinner and is asleep as soon as his head touches the pillow. My teenage daughter is now following in his footsteps. However, this isn’t because they have some genetic immunity to the stimulating effects of caffeine as espresso-based coffee is only actually in touch with the coffee for 20-25 seconds. This means less caffeine is extracted than methods like filter coffee; and accounts for why Italians are able to down little cups of seemingly strong ristretto throughout the day without their pupils being the size of saucers and hopping around like the Energiser bunny.
I was in the International Institute of Coffee & Barista Training at Knowledge Village, Dubai on a morning’s course to learn how to make the perfect cup of coffee at home. The course was taken by Radi who knows a phenomenal amount about coffee and coffee-making. This was serious stuff and the facts and figures came fast and furious:
500 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every year.
This will continue to grow, for instance Starbucks is opening 1,100 new shops in China
Coffee drinking outstrips tea in the United Arab Emirates with 7156 tonnes of coffee sold in 2011 (up 11%)
A goat-herd in Kaffa, Ethiopia noticed that his animals became rather frisky after eating certain fruit and he found similar stimulating effects when he ate them himself. Traders from Yemen took the cherries back to their lands and started cultivating them; a brew was used by sufi monks to help them stay awake during prayer. Gradually, trade in the beans started to reach wider and wider throughout the Middle East but the Yemeni’s protected their monopoly for two centuries by never selling the raw berries or plants. The port city of Mocha in Yemen was the major trading hub and beans were exported as far as Turkey where they were first roasted.
Coffee houses started to spring up around Europe and its first reputation as ‘the drink of the devil’ was overturned when the Pope blessed it. Eventually a sea-captain smuggled some plants across to the new colonies and planted them in Martinique. Coffee was declared the national drink of the colonized United States by the Continental Congress, in protest against the high taxes levied by the British government on tea. The first espresso machine was made in France in 1822 but the Italians adopted and perfected it; there are over 200,000 espresso bars in Italy today. Apparently lots of people think that coffee actually grows in Italy rather than a narrow sub-tropical band around the earth.
Now I always thought there were lots of different kinds of beans but there are only two: Coffea Arabica and Coffea Robusta and although the former is thought best, culture and taste often determines the blend. Like grapes for wine-making, the location, soil, altitude, climate and weather effects how the beans taste and single origin coffees often have a unique flavour. We all had a good laugh about Kopi Lowak, the most expensive coffee in the world as the coffee cherries go through the digestive tract of a civet before being collected. There is a trial to replicate this method with goats (goffee?!).
We smelled some unroasted beans, they had little aroma as it is by heating the beans that the colour changes, the sugar caramelises and oils are released to give the scents and flavours we love. A darker roast gives a stronger flavour, less caffeine and more bitterness (and can mask poor quality beans). Again, the degree of roasting can depend on national tastes; in Spain they love a burnt taste, French and Italians favour medium roast and the Scandinavian’s prefer theirs lighter.
More wine tasting analogies when it comes to assessing quality: colour, aroma, flavour and body. Getting a particular flavour and taste is difficult from a single estate which is where the art of blending comes in.
Radi went on to explain how cleanliness of equipment, the freshness of roasting, the timing and techniques of grinding, storage and packaging, water and brewing time all has an impact on the final taste. She demonstrated how to make Turkish coffee and how to use a French press, a moka pot and filter coffee.
Radi also showed us how to make coffee using the espresso machine and she explained exactly how to achieve the perfect ‘crema’ which is the hazelnut coloured layer on top of the espresso which is a concentration of the essences from the coffee. Any white disturbing this shows that unwanted elements have started to be extracted. The precision and intricacy involved made me appreciate how difficult it is to get a good cup of coffee and how much depends on the skill of the barista.
Five essentials for good crema:
- Use a clean machine
- Use freshly ground beans
- Correct grind size for the coffee-making method
- The ‘thump’ to compress the coffee in the holder must be just the right pressure.
- Calculate exactly the right time for the water and the amount of coffee to get the perfect crema.
Believe me you can taste the difference.
My morning at the IICBT was one of the most informative and enjoyable learning experiences I’ve had for a long time. I’ve recounted only a small amount of what was covered and feel I now have an understanding of coffee that I’d never had before. Cafés of Dubai watch out; there’s a new discerning customer on the loose! The IICBT does a range of courses, some aimed at professionals in cafés and restaurants, but others for enthusiasts like ourselves (all food bloggers). The cost is reasonable too, a day’s course is 550 AED including lunch.
There was a quick competition to rearrange some words into a sentence – my favourite kind of pastime. I won lunch for two at the restaurant at their Italian restaurant Tichino’s in Silicon Oasis. I’ll let you know what the food is like, but one thing’s for sure, I’m sure they’ll serve a good cup of coffee.
Read more about coffee
There are many blogs dedicated to coffee – here’s 42 of them. Is the rise and rise of coffee shops good for urban development? This blogger thinks so. Coffee prices are at a 30 year high due to increased demand (Brazil and China) and speculative investments leading t0 an impact on Fairtrade agreements – BBC R4 Food programme investigates. Raw Coffee Company roast and supply Dubai’s only premium 100% organic 100% fair trade fresh Arabica coffee. What makes coffee exceptional? Colonna Dashwood might have an answer.
Disclosure: I was a guest of IICBT
Are you a coffee aficionado? Or does a jar of instant lurk in your cupboard (like it did in mine until this course!)?