Smithsonian Magazine recently published a great article about the history of the espresso machine that’s definitely worth reading. While it doesn’t cover every minute detail, it mentions the key points that led to the creation of a commercial espresso industry and highlights the most important elements of quality espresso.
There is an art to the espresso as well. The talent of the barista is as important as the quality of the beans and the efficiency of the machine. Indeed, it is said that a good espresso depends on the four M’s: Macchina, the espresso machine; Macinazione, the proper grinding of a beans –a uniform grind between fine and powdery– which is ideally done moments brewing the drink; Miscela, the coffee blend and the roast, and Mano is the skilled hand of the barista, because even with the finest beans and the most advanced equipment, the shot depends on the touch and style of the barista. When combined properly, these four Ms yield a drink that is at once bold and elegant, with a light, sweet foam crema floating over the coffee. A complex drink with a complex history. -Jimmy Stamp
Just over 6 months ago, I wrote about a website called the Colombian Coffee Hub that launched a new space for coffee lovers to share and learn about coffee, specifically about coffee in Colombia. They began by following Tim Wendelboe on a journey to origin as he learned about different processing methods and varieties being grown in Colombia.
When the Hub launched they announced the opportunity for active Hubbers to win a trip to Colombia for a chance to experience origin and share their journey. I’m more than honored to have won the first trip and stoked to share my journey with Hubbers & DCILY readers. I’ll be learning about the process from plant to seaport and meeting some of the growers and researchers continually working to produce better coffee.
There will be videos of my trip posted along the way on CCH, just sign up to follow along—as well as more opportunities to win a trip of your own. See you on the Hub.
Michael Phillips, the 2010 World Barista Champion and 1/3 of Handsome Roasters, recently gave a Super Talk about coffee at a TED-like event in Korea called Super Series.
The talk, named “Cultural Coffee & Artistic Barista” begins with a brief definition of Specialty Coffee before Mike goes on to share his passions for coffee and being a barista. As the talk progresses, he discusses important changes taking place in the world of coffee guided by cultural interest in the process and origin of the things we consume and a desire for authenticity in our every-day experiences.
After briefly explaining barista competitions, Mike elaborates on why they are good for baristas and the positive innovations they have led to in the industry, which results in better coffee for the consumer and inspired new ways to look at coffee.
Things like this have caused coffee to be reborn, re-examined, and challenged in entirely new ways.
This video is an approachable explanation of the changes people have begun seeing in their local coffee shops, read about online and heard about from their friends. There’s a lot of great information delivered without pretension and a handsome face.
There are a few things a person needs to help them brew better coffee at home and the tool most often overlooked by beginners is a digital scale. Weighing coffee and water, rather than using scoops and cups, allow consistency when measuring your ingredients.
Different coffees have different densities depending on how they are roasted or the size of the bean, so one tablespoon isn’t equal for all coffee. You’ll also notice that many of the better coffee brewing tutorials found on the internet use grams as the common unit of measure. Since 1mL of cold water weighs 1 gram, it’s simple math to calculate your dose ratio and learn to measure and brew coffee this way. Most coffee shops concerned with quality use scales, if not for brewing, at least for weighing the proper dose.
When I make coffee for friends, the first reaction to my scale is usually, “whoa, you’re really serious about this, huh?” Well, yes, but the scale shouldn’t be an indication of that. The digital scale is a valuable tool that every kitchen should have (even the New York Times agrees) and cost between $10-$50. When it takes less than a gram of coffee or a milliliter of water to alter the balance of a good cup of coffee, the scale shouldn’t be reserved only for “coffee nerds,” but should be embraced for the consistency it adds to the brewing process and the quality it creates in the cup.
The NYTimes article, though specifically about cooking, shares this coffee revelation:
The scale also ensures repeatability. I once calibrated exactly the amount of beans that I need to make coffee the way I like. Now, every morning, I place my can of beans on the scale, and then scoop out 28 grams — allowing me to repeat the same pot every day.
You don’t need to buy a scale that’s super fancy, just something with accurate gram measurements and a tare function will do fine. After fresh-roasted coffee beans and a good grinder, a scale will help improve your coffee brewing the most. Understanding your dose and being able to consistently repeat it, will contribute to better coffee on a regular basis without much added effort.