A cup of coffee – for most people a simple push of a button is enough and the brown gold runs into the cup. But not for true baristas. For them, preparing the perfect cup of coffee is an art and a science at the same time.
About flavors and the right storage
First and foremost, it is important to work cleanly. This makes each and every step in order to achieve the perfect cup a lot easier.
Each portion of coffee is ground freshly by the barista because within the first ten minutes after grinding it, 60% of the flavor is lost. That applies for the home brewed coffee as well: a fresh roast and grinding are essential. The beans should be used within two to three months because despite their country of origin, they like it dry and cool. In the fridge, however, they tend to absorb other flavors and change their taste, due to their hydrophilic nature. That’s why coffee is best stored in a dark and cool place in an airtight package.
The right pressure is needed when tamping.
About pressure, cleaning and brewing units
To make sure the 88-95°C hot water can extract the flavor of each and every grain of coffee, it is important to tamp the freshly ground coffee powder to one “coffee pie”. With a perfectly fitting tamper, the powder is pressed into the portafilter with a pressure of 14kg. Why? Water likes the way of least resistance. If you would not tamp the powder, there would be countless spaces for the water to run through and you would end up having a brackish, light brown liquid in your cup.
What a perfect “coffee pie” looks like.
Before putting the portafilter into the machine, you rinse the brewing unit. A barista calls this a flush. In high end machines, the rinsing serves to clean the brewing unit. In normal machines, flushing also cools the brewing unit. Because the oil that gives the coffee its distinct flavor is very heat sensitive and would burn on temperatures over 100°C.
The multitasking barista
Now, the fun really starts: After inserting the portafilter, the brewing starts immediately. Only then you put the pre-warmed cups under the brewing unit. No worries, it takes three to four seconds until the first drop of brown gold flows into the cup. The Espresso should be extracted within 22-30 seconds.
While it brews, the milk is frothed.
The art of frothing needs to be learned.
A barista’s true art: the perfect froth
If you believe the work is done and you can lay back, you’re mistaken. Now it’s time to tackle the supreme discipline: the milk frothing. Because the milk is frothed with vapor, the nozzle collects condensed water, which the barista lets out in a loud hiss through the nozzle. Only now can you begin with the frothing.
Dip the inclined steam wand into the pot
What sounds like a medieval fighting style is essential for the rotation of the milk. Because only if you hold the pot straight and the steam wand at an angle of 45°, about one centimeter below the surface of the milk, a swirl is created that froths the milk.
About pulling and rolling
The frothing of the milk is divided into two phases. The pulling phase (inclined dipping of the wand, 1cm below the surface), which serves to increase the volume of the milk and creates the iconic sucking sound, and the rolling phase. Here, the wand is dipped about two to three centimeters into the milk and rotates it, but without creating the sucking sound. This is what creates the micro froth, which is used by our baristas to craft their wonderful patterns.
Perfect shine for a perfect froth.
Knock, slew and shine
After frothing the milk, the pot is knocked on a hard surface one or two times to destroy the last of the bubbles. After that, the milk is slewed to achieve a silky touch. After the whole frothing process, the steam wand is cleaned by opening it and cleaning it with a fresh towel.
The perfect milk is divided into two pots so that each coffee gets exactly the same amount of froth.
Fast and precise: drawing with the milk pot
20 to 30 seconds after the frothing, it is already much harder to draw with the milk, so better be fast. Latte art depends both on the quality of the froth and on the speed of pouring it. If the tip of the pot is more than five centimeters from the surface, the milk is falling under the crema and creates a brown color. If it is only one centimeter over the surface, the milk pushes the crema aside and creates a white color – that of the froth itself.
Our tip for all hobby baristas
Congratulations, you have fought through our entire article on creating the perfect coffee! We are certain: now that you can craft your own latte art, you are only lacking the right machine. For the home barista, we recommend Espresso machines from Rocket, ECM or Bezerra, which range from 1.200 – 2.400 €. But: it is worth the money!
Last but not least: A huge thank you to Sebastian Huber from Kaffeekontor Bayern, who has taken a lot of time to conduct the interview with us and brewed countless delicious Cappuccinos for us. He also became the star of our How To Latte Art video.