Before I go into the post proper, there are a couple of things I want to say about my latest holiday, sort out a few loose ends. First, barista technique and practice in Italy. This is something that really amazed me. In the UK I've always judged a good coffee bar on how full the dosing chamber on the grinder is, relative to how busy the bar is. If you've got a line twelve deep, a quarter full chamber is not a cardinal sin. A chamber which is packed to the hilt when no one is at the bar, that's unforgivable. In Italy, the rules seem to change. In every bar I went to (including the much hyped Rivoire) the chamber was about half full, even where it would be possible to grind totally to order. Now, for those of you who might not know, the crema on espresso is mostly made up of CO2. The CO2 gives a lot of the brightness and acidity to the coffee, and is vitally important in every avenue of coffee. When beans are ground to an espresso grind they lose 80% of their CO2 content within the first minute, losing that lovely, balanced flavour and giving you something dead and lifeless.
I can just see people thinking now that Italian coffee is not as good as people keep saying it is, but this just isn't true. Somehow, despite having left the coffee for over a minute in the dosing chamber, the coffee still tasted lively and deep, unaffected by the flatness that stale coffee is known for. Aside from this the barista technique (or what I saw of it) was largely similar. One thing I did notice was a lack of big-name equipment. Grinders seemed to be Mazzer and Compak copies, and the machines were largely unknown to me, aside from a couple of Rancilios.
On my way back through Terminal 5, waiting for a connecting flight to Newcastle we stopped by Giraffe for some dinner. I'll be totally honest, we only did because I started taking photos of the four group La Marzocco Linea (or GB-5, can't remember off the top of my head), and they used Union Hand Roasted coffee, which I'm sure you know I love by now. Tragically, though the food was terrific, the coffee was a let down. I got myself a small cappuccino (6oz in a glass) and found the milk to be too bubbly, and the foam was separated from the milk, so that it was difficult to drink the foam. The espresso base was the biggest let down though. It was bitter and tasteless, obviously over extracted, and the whole drink felt like it had been left out while they made my dad's drink. My dad's drink, on the other hand, was a lovely idea and not bad to boot. It was a shot of espresso with hazelnut syrup, served with a jug of steamed milk. The espresso smelt over extracted, but tasted nice and balanced with the syrup. The milk was frothed and steamed nicely, with not many larger bubbles.
Okay, this post has already run on for a fair while, so I'll try and keep this section as short as possible. Firstly, I'd like to take this moment to assess the state of the blog. We currently have 443 hits, and that flies up every time a new post goes up. However, I do get the feeling that if it carries on in the vein it's in it'll become stale quite quickly, hence the current poll. So, with sixteen hours to go it seems you want some bits about the life of a barista, as well as some cafe reviews, equipment reviews and some of you even want more coffee tastings! If anyone reading this hasn't voted, please do, as it'll help me plan out what I want to do in the next month or so.
So, in response to this, I've decided to change tack slightly. The blog at the moment is basically updated when I feel I have something to say, so posts can go up daily, or once a fortnight, depending on what I'm feeling like. To a certain extent I'm going to sort this out by planning out certain posts ahead of time. So, on the books for when I get back from Scotland is a comparison of the Motta jug beside the standard straight walled jug, a review of some of my favourite coffee websites, an in depth review of the Newcastle coffee scene (be prepared for a very long post, or possibly even a two or three parter), a review of a couple of press pots, and (in the not too distant future), a no-holds-barred review of Coffee Aroma, the playground of my good friend Chris Weaver and his boss. In between those I'll try and fit in some barista bits, assuming I can work out what "Life of a Barista bits" means.
Anyway, I hope you're all as excited about this as I am. As for coffee tastings, to date I've only tasted pre-ground french press at home. To remedy this I'm going to try to get a grinder and sort out some proper, freshly ground tastings, possibly some cupping. Also, I only usually taste Union, so I'm going to try and branch out. On this subject, if anybody has any suggestions for what I should taste (as well as where I can get it) email them to me, and I'll have a look. My contact details are on the side bar. Also, any roasters, feel free to send me samples! If you do wish to send any samples, drop me an email and we can sort something out. Drop me some cash and I'll make it more favourable :p lol
Quickly, a review of some news. I've been offered a guest host slot on the Common Grind podcast, and am looking forward to taking up Chris on his generous offer. Watch this space. In other news, Mark Prince has announced on the latest CoffeeGeek podcast that he has joined a Cup of Excellence sub committee designed to look at the possibility of a barista membership. I'll blog more about this in the future, but go check out the podcast, it's always a good listen.
So that's it. Two months in and the blog is stronger than I ever could have dreamed. With twenty three people now members of the Facebook group, including some fantastic baristi that I owe much of my passion to, nearly 45o hits on the blog itself, and some great feedback coming in I look to the future with both trepidation and excitement. I hope the blog continues to grow, and that I can keep up the quality of the posts, so please, keep that feedback coming.
Before I go there are a few people I should thank. Firstly, Chris Weaver and Glenn Watson, for keeping my passion for coffee networking and blogging alive. To Stephen Leighton, for not being offended when I basically forgot who he was (sorry mate), and for leaving some great comments on the blog. To all my regulars at work, for putting up with my experimentation and uncontrollable passion for everything Third Wave. To Dane McGreevy and Chris Walton, for forcing me to up my game all the damn time. And finally, to Ru and Lu, my employers, for taking a young, immature, jobless waster who hated coffee and moulding him into the professional barista and general coffee geek that I am today. A huge thanks to everyone, and to all of you reading this. Without you it's just me rambling to an uncaring void.
Cheers, and sorry about the length,