of the specialty coffee industry is being driven by an emerging coffee culture - an international public that knows their coffee and recognizes, appreciates, and demands quality specialty coffee.
From 2000 to 2001 in the U.S., the percentage of ‘gourmet’ drinkers increased by 57%. In 2001, that strong attraction to specialty coffee exploded into a $6 billion industry - and there doesn’t seem to be a sign of it slowing down.
With over 13,500 coffee bars operating in the U.S. in 2001 alone, according to the SCAA, it is evident that there is an on-going need to train new baristas, and re-train those returning to the work force.
Our two-part “Barista Primer” series was designed to introduce the beginner or returning barista to the basics of espresso-based beverage preparation. “Barista Primer I” focused on the science of espresso, stressing the importance of specific methods. In this second part of the series, I will address the four main techniques of the shot, as well as defining step-by-step instructions for both milk steaming and the preparation of the most popular espresso-based drinks.
Making an Espresso Shot
There are four main techniques in making a shot of espresso:
The grind is where the real secrets lie. How fast or slow the shot of espresso extracts (hot pressurized water being forced through ground coffee) is a direct result of how the grind is set. Being skilled in adjusting the grind can be the difference between success and failure in this business.
Since the grinding burrs in your grinder finely cut and shave the coffee into similar size particles, that size directly determines how fast or slow the water will go through the particles. In turn, it will determine which flavor constituents you will pull out of the coffee. Controlling this extraction is the single most important factor in determining taste.
The larger the particle size, the faster the water will go through; and the smaller the particle size, the slower the water will go through. To get the coffee to extract at that perfect 18 - to 24 - second range you will need to pay close attention to the grind, and make adjustments when necessary.
When the grind needs to be changed, you should dial the adjustment collar only a small amount at a time. Moving it just this small amount can make a big difference. Once you have moved the collar to the desired point you will need to turn the grinder on briefly, then remove all the coffee still found in the dosing chamber. If you forget to do this, you will always be getting a false reading, requiring constant grind adjustment all day. After emptying the dosing chamber, grind a small amount - just enough to test and pull your shot. If necessary, make further adjustments.
The dose is the amount of ground coffee used to brew the espresso. The proper dose for a single shot of espresso should be between 7 to 9 grams and 14 to 18 grams for a double shot. These ranges may sound quite broad, but the range accommodates the large variety of commercial espresso equipment on the market today. When dosing the coffee, be sure to use only freshly ground coffee.
It does not matter how many times you pull the dosing lever. The dosing lever will not give you an accurate amount of coffee, especially if the dosing chamber of your grinder isn’t full. The important factor is how much coffee goes into your portafilter.
Since consistency is the true key to your success, it is extremely important to do whatever you can to control the dose. A shot extracted with 14 grams of coffee will taste drastically different than a shot extracted with 18 grams of coffee. So, you can see the importance of each barista in the shop using the same exact methods. I would suggest that you completely overfill the portafilter to where the ground coffee is heaping over the rim. Then draw your clean finger or utensil (it doesn’t matter which, as long as everyone does it the same way) across the lip, dragging the excess back into the dosing chamber. Make sure that all holes or crevices are filled in. When each of the employees practices this, it will just about guarantee the same number of grams for each shot you pull.
Tamping is applying pressure to compact or compress the coffee particles so that the surface is smooth, flat and level in order to allow uniformity of extraction. The term “uniformity of extraction” means allowing even extraction, where the water affects all parts of the coffee equally.
With the portafilter on a flat hard surface, place the tamper on the coffee, holding your arm horizontally so that the tamper is completely straight up and down. This will help to ensure the levelness of the coffee. Pay close attention. If the coffee is not completely level, the water will actually go to the lower side or side of least resistance, resulting in over - extraction of one side and under-extraction of the other.
I recommend tamping your coffee using 30 to 40 pounds of pressure. You may find it most convenient to practice with your bathroom scale to determine the amount of pressure needed to tamp 30 to 40 pounds. You will apply firm direct pressure, just short of cramming it down. Next, lightly tap the side of the portafilter using the back of the tamper. This allows for the loose ground coffee collected around the inner rim of the portafilter to drop down onto the surface. Using the back handle of the tamper will keep the tamping surface clear of dings or divots that may pull or tear the coffee instead of polishing it. Be careful not to tap the portafilter too harshly. This could result in breaking the seal between the coffee and the basket, creating a channel for water to go through, and damaging the extraction.
Next, with a lower amount of pressure, give the tamper a twist; this will create what’s called a polish. The polish helps to create that smooth even surface for the water to distribute across. Your last step is to inspect the surface and dust any excess coffee off of the portafilter rim and wings.
The pour is controlling the amount of water being forced through the coffee. The volume for each shot of espresso should be one ounce. You will find that it may look slightly higher in volume, depending on the thickness of your crema. Forcing too much water through a shot of espresso will pull undesirable elements out of the coffee, causing over-extraction. You will also find that forcing too little water through the coffee won’t pull out all of the desirable elements you need, causing under-extraction. Most espresso machines are automatic. This means that they allow you to pre-program the amount of water released, ensuring consistency every time. If you have a semi-automatic machine you will need to start and stop the machine manually, which means that you must pay close attention to every step.
A correctly extracted shot should tumble slowly into your shot glass resembling dripping honey. You should see a deep dark brown bottom graduating slowly toward the surface, where it should develop creamy tan or caramelly color. I am a big fan of baristas using glass shot glasses, rather than ceramic or metal cups. The glass gives the barista the opportunity to inspect the coffee during the extraction process.
Milk steaming is the last step, and also one of the most important. Proper steaming technique is essential in creating espresso-based drinks. This skill isn’t always realized, and the process is commonly done wrong. There is nothing worse than anxiously waiting for your favorite drink, just to watch it get ruined by having the milk handled incorrectly or steamed improperly.
First, let’s review a few common mistakes to avoid. Constantly re-steaming milk, using too much milk, breaking the surface too abruptly or too frequently, not rolling the milk, steaming to too high of temperature... I really could continue, but you get the picture. There is a huge list of mistakes you could make, but really just a small list of things you need to do correctly to produce perfectly steamed milk.
There are two stages of proper milk preparation: foaming and blending. Foaming is the process of injecting air into the milk. Blending mixes the foam with the milk to create a creamy dense texture with no visible bubbles. Injecting air should only be done up to 100°, and blending should only be done after 100°.
First off, try to use just enough milk to prepare the drink needed. Using too much milk will take longer to steam, and may not give you the room needed to maneuver. Make a game of it and practice until you learn to judge the amount needed so that you will have little or no milk left over after the drink is poured.
Clear your steam wand to expel any milk or standing water by quickly turning the wand quickly on and off. Lower the wand deep into the milk just short of hitting the bottom of the pitcher. Turn the steam wand on completely and raise the wand slowly to where it is barely breaking the surface of the milk. You want to hear only a light hissing, NOT a loud rumbling sound. If you hear this, you are too high above the surface of the milk and are introducing too much oxygen. This creates large bubbles, which you do not want. This step is called stretching; the oxygen introduced will add volume to the milk. Continue with this step until the milk reaches a temperature of 100°. At this point, lower the wand back into the milk and tilt the pitcher at a slight angle. This technique is called rolling. It will force the milk to circulate, mixing the oxygen into the rest of the body to create a creamy dense consistent body and texture.
You will continue steaming until the milk temperature reaches between 140° and 160°. Make sure that you turn off the steam wand while it remains within the milk body.
Place the steaming pitcher on the counter, and with one hand covering the top, give it a couple of hard flat taps on the counter This will help settle any remaining bubbles lingering at the surface. The surface should now contain no large bubbles, only thousands of tiny micro-bubbles, creating a smooth and velvety texture. This beautiful creamy dense texture is what is needed not only for the right flavor, but also to create the beautiful hearts and designs known as latte art.
The most popular espresso-based drinks you will need to be familiar with are the Americano, latte, mocha, and cappuccino. An important rule to keep in mind as we review these drinks is that the flavor always goes in a drink first, the espresso shot or shots second, and the milk last.
When flavoring your drinks, it is very important that you do not free pour, since it is too inconsistent. Your guess will always be different than the next barista’s guess. Flavored syrups are very concentrated, and just a little go a long way. What is even more important than the amount used is that every barista in the shop uses the same amount. It gets back to consistency in beverage preparation. Decide on the exact amount of syrup per size of drink, and stick to it. Remember to measure every shot. It doesn’t take as long as you might think, and the benefits are way too high to ignore.
Americano: Straight shots of espresso, diluted down with hot water. This is very similar to drip coffee, therefore, a great starter drink for a drip coffee drinker wanting to explore espresso beverages. The great thing about Americanos is their versatility. You get the opportunity to control the strength or concentration by deciding on the coffee-to-water ratio.
Latte: This will be your most popular drink, and the base for the majority of drinks that you will make. The latte consists of straight shots of espresso with steamed milk. A flavored latte would include flavored syrup, espresso shots and steamed milk.
Mocha: A mocha is basically the same as making a flavored latte, only substituting chocolate syrup for the flavor. First, you add your proper dose of chocolate into the cup, then pour your fresh hot shots of espresso over the top. Stir at this point; don’t wait until after you add the steamed milk. By stirring now you get the benefit of using the heat of the shots to help dilute and thoroughly break down the chocolate. Last, add freshly steamed milk.
Cappuccino: The cappuccino is usually defined within two basic categories: wet and dry. A wet cappuccino is usually split into three equal parts, the first being straight shots of espresso, the second steamed milk, and the last part being thick, rich and airy foam. The dry cappuccino is simply straight shots of espresso, with the remainder of the cup filled with thick foam.
The foaming technique for a cappuccino is slightly different than a latte in that you do want to keep a separation of the steamed milk and foam. Start steaming in the same way as you do to prepare a latte. However, you will continue stretching the milk by keeping the wand just barely breaking the surface to add as much volume as possible without scalding or scorching the milk. By omitting the blending you will have a definite separation.
For your wet cappuccino, you will tilt the pitcher while keeping a spoon at the pour spout. This holds back the foam as the hot steamed milk pours into the cup. Then you will use your spoon to pull the thick foam from the surface of the milk to complete filling the cup.
Customers now know what a carefully prepared espresso-based drink tastes like, and they demand it. If the barista at their favorite shop prepares it wrong, the customer will simply leave, taking their valuable business to a competitor. The barista has always been an important part of the success of the specialty coffee industry, and becomes even more valuable all the time.
Keith Hayward is sales and marketing manager for Dillanos Coffee Roasters in Sumner, Washington. He travels the country facilitating barista training seminars. Whether teaching a class at an industry convention, such as Coffee Fest Seattle, or for Dillanos clients, his attendees walk away with a much richer knowledge of the coffee industry. He can be contacted at: Tel: (1)(253) 826-1807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.