For many, coffee is simply a drink to wash down the morning toast with, perhaps a little pick me up in the afternoon. For others, though, for the worshipers of the roasted bean, coffee is more like a religion. Beans must be carefully selected, the perfect grind achieved and the ritual of making the sacred drink carefully observed.
For those devotees the following tips will ensure the attainment of bliss in your daily observances.
Espresso coffee is a thick, dark drink of about 30 ml in volume. It should be crowned with crème – a very dense, pale-brown creamy foam. To create this wondrous beverage an espresso machine is necessary and attention must be paid to certain critical factors.
It all starts here. The roast and the freshness of the beans you use will determine the flavour and quality of your coffee.
The longer a bean is roasted, the more oil, acid and caffeine it loses. Despite the reduction of these components, longer roasting times produce a darker, stronger tasting drink. Espresso coffees, with their characteristic punch, are the result of longer roastings.
At home, you can use pre-ground coffee and still get a decent cup, but if you really want the best, you need to do two things:
1/ Because beans begin to lose their quality and flavour as soon as they are roasted, you should ensure you buy your beans as close to the day they were roasted as possible. If you are serious about your coffee you won’t touch beans that were roasted more than a week ago.
2/ Grind your own beans. As with roasting, grinding, too, begins the destruction of flavour. Even under the best storage conditions, ground coffee will lose its maximum flavour in a week. Coffee that has been sitting on the supermarket shelf for a month is just not going to deliver the coffee experience you’re after.
Grind is all about surface area. The finer the grind, the greater the surface area around all those coffee particles. And the greater the surface area, the shorter the time the coffee needs to be in contact with water to generate a particular strength of brew.
Espresso coffee is ground finely and needs contact with water for only around 25 seconds.
Fineness is not the only consideration when grinding coffee, however. Evenness of grind is also important. If your ground coffee is uneven in texture the larger particles will not fully release their flavour and your cup of coffee will be less perfect than it might have been.
A note on grinders: blade grinders will produce a grind that is satisfactory for home use but are not the ultimate where evenness is concerned. For the absolute best grinding results use a burr grinder or a coffee mill.
Coffee freaks will only grind what they need for the cup of coffee they are about to drink. If you haven’t travelled quite so far in the coffee universe, though, or you simply don’t have the time, ground coffee, as well as whole beans, should be stored in a light-proof, airtight container in the fridge. Though popular wisdom sometimes recommends storage in the freezer, reject this advice at all costs – sub-zero storage will damage coffee’s delicate oils.
The quality of the water you use for your coffee will affect its taste, sometimes significantly. Run a glass of tap water and take a swig. Taste the chlorine? Do you really want that in your coffee? Use filtered or bottled water instead.
The Coffee Making Process
An espresso machine uses pressure to force hot (but not boiling) water through finely ground, tightly packed coffee. To achieve the best cup possible:
- Empty your machine’s water reservoir and refill with fresh, filtered water. Don’t use the water you left in there yesterday, even if it was filtered.
- Turn your machine on and allow it to warm up.
- Once the water is at the correct temperature, flush the machine by running the water for several seconds.
- Place ground coffee in the filter and tamp lightly.
- Brush away any coffee from the edge of the filter and its housing and tamp again firmly. Rotate the tamper a half turn as you do this.
- Lock the filter into the machine and place a warmed cup beneath it.
- Force water through the coffee for between 20 – 30 seconds.
Bingo! A perfect cup of espresso coffee. Sit down, take a minute to inhale it’s aroma and gaze upon its beauty then… enjoy.
To learn more about making coffee check out this video.