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There is a technique for EVERYTHING - Coffee

Adam Chef

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Being a Chef, Coffee is one of the most important elements of the day, it is generally the relaxed time at the beginning of the day where ideas are discussed and the time in the middle of the day when you need that boost get you to the end of the day. There are times when I have been so busy, stressed and exhausted that I have been known to consume up to 20 double shot coffees in a day! One of my most fond memories of living in Shanghai and generally of my career is arriving in the mornings and discussing Food, Chefs and life in general with Paul Pairet (who is still one of the most knowledgeable Chefs I have ever known (I would say Genius but I am sure it would go to his head)), during this time we would plan the days testing and production plus I would soak in his wealth of experience. We would be talking and drinking coffee until we realized how much time had passed then we would get back in the kitchen, but in this time we could drink many double espressos without a problem. I guess what I am trying to say is Coffee is an important part of any Chefs daily routine.

Now back to the topic of “The technique of Coffee”. Many years ago when I was living in London I was fortunate enough to recieve an invitation from the owner of the only Organic Coffee company in London to come and learn the art of coffee roasting. So we spent the day going through every process of history, growing, harvesting, shipping, roasting, grinding, and brewing. So basically everything! As a Chef it is interesting to know where it comes from etc. but for me the most interest was in the different types of beans and even the variance of flavor of the same bean which has been produced in a different climate. When it comes time for roasting there are many things to look or even listen for to see when the beans are ready. The roaster reminded me of a fancy cement mixer as it is a copper drum which is heated from the outside and is constantly spinning, when it is almost done the roaster will remove a few beans every 20 seconds to see if it is done, what they are looking for is a line of white to appear on the split in the bean, if you listen carefully you can actually hear them pop when the white appears.

The first reason I wanted to write about this is because Baristas seem to have a very strong passion for there product as do Chefs. There are a very few elements involved in making a coffee so bad technique cannot be hidden like a plate which has only a few ingredients. Starting from the grind of the coffee each step has its Critical control point, if the grind is too fine it will be too hard for the water to pass through therefore the coffee will be bitter and burnt. on the flip side if the grind is too coarse the water will pass through too fast and not allow enough time to extract the Crema (oil). Next we have how much coffee to put in the group head and how tight to pack it with the same results as point 1. The milk is a very interesting topic, I have been taught by many people in Australia (where I still claim you can get one of the best cups of coffee in the world from almost everywhere and it is purely down to how silky the milk froth is), on my last trip to Copenhagen I met with a man who was conducting a 6 month study all the aspects of milk foaming for coffee in the University of Copenhagen. The best kind of milk to use is Homogenized and it should be started from around 2-4 degrees, the smaller the bubbles in milk makes it appear silky on your tongue and ensure you coffee does not drop an inch like when you have big bubbles. To get the best bubble pattern you need a vertical rotation so the bubbles are constantly being split into smaller bubbles.

My last point is one I hope you share with others, you do not need to boil the milk for coffee. I cant tell you how many times I have burnt my mouth trying to drink a coffee, any good barista will tell you the milk should only reach a maximum of 65 - 70 degrees as it will hold the air better and it also blends with the coffee without disturbing the beautiful crema on top.

You may be asking (if you didnt give up reading before this point)why has he got so much to say about coffee? A bad coffee at the end of a meal can leave a bad taste in your mouth and over shadow the experience of your dinner. The most ironic point of this whole story is I am sitting here writing this drinking a camomile tea as I am on a 3 week detox diet (maybe thats why I am dreaming of coffee).

Edited by Adam Chef (log)

Adam Melonas - Chef



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  • 1 month later...

I assume you mean 65-70 degrees Celsius (about 150-160 Farenheit), yes?

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1


Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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I couldn't agree more, Adam Chef! I have found espresso to be a fascinating topic over the last year. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that chefs, even those in restaurants where they carefully choose ingredients and treat them with the utmost care, share your respect for the bean. Even here in Seattle, it is incredible how bad espresso is in restaurants. It probably compares well with a Starbucks shot, but that is the same as damning it with faint praise. My bar is the espresso I can make at home, and I've never had a shot in a restaurant that I could actually drink. There are plenty of 3rd wave cafes in Seattle (like Vivace, Zoka, Victrola, Stumptown, etc), so it isn't like Starbucks is the best game in town.

Now I am gun-shy about even thinking about an espresso to end a meal here...

My personal voyage of discovery really started about a year ago. My wife's single boiler pump machine broke down, and I started to look into replacing it for her. At the time, I wasn't a daily drinker, as I was not impressed with what came out of that machine or what was widely available in the area at the usual chains like Starbucks and Peets. My wife wanted convenience, so we went to a local store (where they had everything from levers to single-boilers to heat exchangers to double boilers -- all on and ready to pull shots) to demo super-autos.

After a walk around the store, we were offered a shot from some Jura machine. After being suitably impressed with the cleverness of the entire machine, and remarking how the shot was better than the broken machine's best efforts, I happened to ask about all the other machines. She led us over to a row of gleaming E61 HX machines and proceeded to pull shots from one of them. It was significantly better than the Jura -- sort of like 3 dimensional instead of the jura's very flat tasting shot. We left with the HX and a new grinder.

Over the next few months, I learned a lot. I found a local micro-roastery where I could get artisan fresh beans on my way to work (usually roasted that morning and needing a rest). This was the single biggest upgrade in the cup: use a very high quality product that hasn't been roasted to char. Next I learned a lot about grinders and the effect of the right bi-modal particle-size distribution in the puck during extraction (which resulted in a grinder upgrade). I learned the importance of brew temperature on the HX and how to control it reasonably well. During one of my stops at the roastery, I got to play with a La Marzocco GS3, a double boiler with excellent brew temp control due to the PID and saturated group, and decided that the machine did a far better job at a constant brew temp than I ever could. That resulted in another upgrade.

I'm still learning, and I think that there will be much more to learn. We've just started a renaissance in the last few years. For the last 60 or so years, companies have been building machines to deliver on Dr. Illy's research. The current crop of top tier manufacturers are starting to question some of those fundamentals and are experimenting. Companies like La Marzocco, Synesso, and Slayer are going to make things very exciting over the next few years.

And please don't believe than I'm bashing Starbucks. I do not like their products, but I do think they are directly responsible for the current espresso renaissance that we're in. You see, when they had the semi-auto La Marzocco Lineas in their stores, they were buying about 1 per day from the US distributor. Seeing the opportunity, the US distributor "bought the company" and established LM R&D here in Seattle. When Starbucks went with another vendor's super-auto, LM was severely affected and dropped a lot of their R&B. That directly lead to the establishment of Synesso and indirectly to Slayer. When those companies raised the bar, LM responded with the GB5, GS3, and now the Strada.

It is a great time to be into espresso. Sorry for the length of this email, but I'm excited about the future. Hopefully more chefs can see the similarities as you do, and significantly raise the bar on espresso in restaurants.

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