It always amazes me how often we get served a terrible coffee. I drink espresso as my drink of choice, so can usually tell pretty quickly when something is not right, but of course a lot of bad coffee is disguised by a bucket full of milk in your cup.
I’m amazed principally because I know and have seen first hand what it takes to get those beans from the crop to the cup. I know how many great beans there are out there. And yet in these last 2 minutes, these last 2 most important minutes, the final fate of our little bean friends lies in the hands of only one person…the Barista. He or she can determine whether a coffee can achieve greatness, something that will be remembered…or if it will die a sad death sprinkled in sugar and falling down the throat of an ungrateful drinker.
A truly great espresso will ground a little finer but not too fine, will be compressed into a small basket and slotted into the underside of a coffee machine. Hot water (usually around 91C degrees but definitely not boiling) will be forced through the grains and the best oil from the saturated coffee will be dragged gently into a waiting cup. (Yes we drink coffee oil! Sshhhh…no one really knows this!)
It will pour smoothly for about 23 seconds and will form into a lovely caramel colour topped shot of heaven. And you will smile at the complexity of flavour as you at absorb that first coffee hit, appreciate its probably citrus or floral aroma and the final lingering sweetness. An aspiration of greatness has been realised and the Barista too can smile at their skill in making it happen.
Or, scenario B: the person making the coffee has not taken the time or the care to make that coffee as good as it should be. As it deserves to be. The grind setting is wrong, the temperature of the water is wrong, the pouring or ‘extraction’ time is too long and there is too much water in relation to the coffee in your cup. Those beans had only one purpose, to bring joy. But how many times have I scrunched my face up in disappointment and cursed under my breath? Too many times.
The Barista plays an important role in that last 2 minutes, so if you are not happy with your coffee drink, take it back and ask them to do it again. At least give the next bean the chance to make it to coffee heaven.
So remember as you clasp that cup of joy, there is more that just coffee in your hands – nature, science and love have come together in perfect harmony to make something beautiful.
Founder, Jones Brothers Coffee Company