Tag Archives: Barista

Redefining the Barista: Back to the Future


I remember when I started getting really into espresso coffee and reading all the stuff about the importance of making good espresso as captured in the importance of the espresso blend, the espresso machine, the grinder and finally…. the BARISTA. Even if you got everything right and the barista failed to tamp with the right amount of pressure, prep the machine and maintain it during and after the day, the espresso would still come out bad. I still get people saying to me, “oh! don’t worry, we are using a really good coffee” and worringly they may add “I’m not really good at making coffee but the coffee is good” – like the most important thing is the coffee – it’s a lot more than that.


So, when I started visiting really good coffee shops way back when – over 10 years ago, I was not just excited to be ordering coffee, but I would always be excited to chat to the barista and ask them about their day, the coffee, what temperature they were brewing at, etc. The barista was the star of the coffee shop – the leading actor – everything started and ended with him/her serving you a great cup of coffee. Okay, I confess, these things still get me excited and may be I even go further like “if it’s fruity, can you increase the brew temperature so that it isn’t too bright” and “which coffee is best for milk, espresso or filter brew” which leads to me to the main reason why I’m writing this piece.


I found out lately that most baristi (plural for barista) I quiz tend to give me a slightly puzzled look. I’ve noticed too that even though the game has been upped in espresso, most people still go to a really good cafe and just order a latte and pour sugar into it. Great! good coffee is in vogue but I’m not so sure if the onus on taste has been successfully transferred to the masses.

Am I loosing you?

The barista is an expert – an expert at making good coffee and all experts should be familiar with their tool and provide a service in a professional manner.

I accept that not everyone that walks into a cafe will be like me or the others who have way more expertise than me, but I kind of expect that the barista should be able to answer some basic questions about the coffee and to advise me on what would be best.


Coffee is now big business, after all McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts wouldn’t have focused on coffee if it wasn’t and you wouldn’t have the likes of Starbucks offering flat whites (the drink of the espresso milk based connoisseur).

Just the other week Perfect Daily Grind conducted a poll on twitter about what we want to see in 2017 and I wrote…. “I’d like to see baristas more versed in coffee knowledge”.

I hope I don’t come across as a coffee snub as my wife jokingly describes me – well! I think she says it jokingly. It’s just that I want the service that I used to get when I started my coffee journey many moons ago, as usually things develop for the better. I recall a quote from Seth Godin;

“Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.”

My understanding of which is that some of your customers want more and you shouldn’t shun them but attend to them to. I wouldn’t go to the extreme like some cafes who snub you if you don’t know anything about coffee, order a cappuccino in the afternoon (in some cafes in Italy, they’ll say no) and scream at you if you put sugar in your coffee. In fact one cafe, doesn’t even have sugar.

Even though I’m in my 40s (no shame), I still want to learn and thats what got me excited about coffee – there was so much to learn and I’m sure there’s still more to learn, so teach me barista…. I’m not saying each barista should be like former US barista champion, Pete Licata, who visited the coffee farms to learn which coffee to choose for the WBC, which he finally won in 2013.

The situation is further exacerbated where attention to detail in making a great espresso has been compromised in favour of a milk based drink. Again, the basis for a good cappuccino, flat white of latte is a great espresso but that has been sidelined, so much so, that I rarely order espresso out of my home, but there are exceptions


So, what next?

Back to the future or the basics – teaching the barista to focus on the essential elements coupled with great customer service based on good knowledge of the coffee they are brewing and how to adjust the brew parameters during the course of the day. When I had a coffee shop, I used too ask the barista to check the espresso machine and time the shot about 4-5 times a day. We weren’t as busy as your typical London cafe, which I presume would need checking a lot more times during the day.

I think when you look at all those lovely bags of coffee and the way they describe the coffee; caramel, blackcurrant, grapefruit acidity, lemon curd, etc the main reason we don’t taste them is the barista – harsh, but I guess it’s also down to your palate too. 


I’d like to see the time when you enter a coffee shop and those taste profiles are displayed on a coffee menu, so that you are tempted to taste something different and escape with your taste buds to another world – ah! the drink of the escapist and the non-compromiser of taste.


Getting a Good Cup of Coffee in Dubai: RAW Coffee Company

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When you think of Dubai, you may think of Toobuy and many moons ago, when I thought about opening up a speciality coffee shop somewhere in the World, I thought about Dubai. Well, why not – they had big shopping malls, flashy cars, the best paid expatriates with tons of perks, a growing coffee lifestyle market, the highest amount of 5 starts hotels with the highest occupancy rates in the World at that time and even now the tallest building in the World, BUT they didn’t have good coffee.

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Sure, all the major coffee chains from the UK and the US are there but still, not good coffee. So, I thought, let’s break the bean and start something special. In any case, as you know, I chose Cape Town to pursue my dream (I sold Escape Caffe in February this year) but I’m glad to report that someone else beat me to it a few years back, RAW Coffee – at this moment, the only speciality coffee operator in Dubai, focusing on sourcing fair trade and organic coffees and roasted locally in Dubai – located at Warehouse 10, Al Manara, al Quoz – in an industrial complex of the very busy Shaykh Zayed Road.

I like what they’ve done with the place to make it feel more authentic – first of all it’s in a converted warehouse – as you enter on the left, there’s the La Marzocco Strada machine to make espresso based coffee and other gadgets as well as a brew bar with an Uber boiler to help make pour-over coffee.

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On the right they have a “green” living wall and some chairs. Walking through to the back, on the left hand side of the warehouse/shop, there’s a glass enclave featuring not one, but three coffee roasters – so they import and roast all their coffees (When the proprietor, Kim started, she only had one Probat, now she’s expanded to another two, a giant 18kg Coffee Tool roaster and a smaller Dietrich sample roaster).

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I think the main reason for this is that they also supply some restaurants – a list of their customers is on their website. Dotted around on the ground floor to add more authenticity are heaps of green coffee sacks. Right at the back of the shop, there are some stairs to a small sitting and workshop area at the top, overlooking the rest of the shop. You can sit and drink coffee from a very authentic solid wood table or relax on some bean bags. In any case, if there’s more than 4 of you, I would recommended sitting upstairs and chilling out.

Now, to the coffee. Upon entry, I ordered a flat white as I usually do to test out their milk frothing and latte art skills. I noticed that another customer was very impressed with the latte art as he kept looking at it and I silently thought “Erm! I know this is new to you, but eventually you’re going to have to drink it”.

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Lots more people, mainly expatriates, shuffled in briefly to buy bags of coffee. For my second test – I usually order a pour over to test the roasters skill with the bean and have to confess, I thought the coffee a little too darkly roasted for me – it was good with milk but as a pour over, pure black, slightly bitter with no delicate notes picked up. I quizzed the barista present as to how he prepared my coffee and in conclusion the water was too hot (over 92C) and the dimensions (20g with 200ml water) way too high. He apologises profusely and my cousin, accompanying me for his first speciality latte (he is used to chain style coffee) bought two 500g bags of coffee for me to take back to Vienna, so that appeased the barista somewhat.

I would have loved to have met Kim but it was Friday afternoon and I guess her time off.

In any case, to the best of my knowledge, if you want a speciality coffee experience in glitzy and flashy glass skyscrapers Dubai, I recommend you escape into RAW coffee.

Visit them online at www.rawcoffeecompany.com to order coffee and get directions to where they are. They’re open 7 days a week; offer barista courses and sell all types of equipment for the very keen home barista.

 

 


South African National Barista Championships, And the Winner is..

Wow ! what a weekend. I’m really loving being here in Cape Town. Just last week, some new friends of mine invited me to the South African National Barista Championships, which incidentally were taking place in Cape Town from 26-28 March at the luxurious Table Bay Hotel on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. I’ve never been to one before and sadly I’ll be missing the World Barista Championships (WBC) this year, which will be taking place in London – typical eh ! just when I leave Europe, they finally have it on my doorstep. So how was the South African version ? It seemed a bit low key to me on the promo side, although I found out there were some important “coffee” VIPS in the room, but nevertheless the baristas and their fans/families were very committed, cheering the competitors all the ways, with loud screams of support everytime they extracted an espresso or poured some latte art. In summary, each barista has to make 4 espressos, 4 cappuccinos and 4 signature drinks for the 4 tasting judges and they are tested by another 2 judges for preparation, checking many things such as wastage in coffee preparation. I also managed to get a free 1kg bag of freshly roasted coffee from one of the speciality roasters attending the event.

This years winner was Ishan Natalie, who also won the competition last year. Ishan works for Woolworths – which should not be confused with the same name shops in UK or USA. Woolworths is an upmarket supermarket store so committed to coffee that they purchased La Marzocco GB5s for their standard espresso machines. They’re supposed to have a really good coffee roaster called Tribeca, which supplies them with coffee, sourced primarily from Africa but also from Brazil and other places. So here are some pics of the event; First up, the winner pouring some latte art

And second the winning drink, a signature coffee drink made primarily with espresso, cream and whipped eggs – almost like an eggnog latte without the alcohol – cups were pretty cool and the presentation tops, especially as Ishan didn’t compromise on effects by mixing some concoction to create a smoking ice glass placed underneath the winning signature drinks.

So, Ishan will be representing South Africa at the WBC in London, scheduled to take place in the latter half of June 2010. I think it may be held during the Caffe Culture event, but I’ll try and keep you posted.


A Barista in Khartoum

A Barista in Khartoum ? OK ! For those who skipped geography classes, Khartoum is the capital city of Sudan – the largest country by surface area in Africa and the city where the longest river in the World, the River Nile flows through as one. enough about geography and back to coffee, which I am assuming you enjoy. I recently had the opportunity with work to visit Khartoum for a few days and of course, I did some previous research before hand to find out if it was possible to get some coffee from any reputable cafes, et voila ! (French for Eureka ! or Hey ! what do you know) the famous Indian coffee chain, Barista, opened their first shop in Africa in Khartoum, Sudan in 2008. Barista are naturally big in India but are also making a name for themselves in Dubai (see my post of 5 September 2008), so despite a very busy schedule, I manage to stop over for a late lunch at the Barista Cafe in the posh part of Khartoum, called Riyad, not far from the airport. The shop is housed in a large villa and is quite spacious with air condition of course. There’s also an upstairs and an outside garden, which I assume would be ideal in the evening if you are drinking ice cold coffee drinks, because the average temperature for winter is around 26C (around 80F). They also have satellite TV is available on large flat screens dotted around the shop. It’s a popular place for foreigners and the rich Sudanese to hang out, with an espresso costing about $4.

 

As it was the first time I was having anything that resemabled coffee on my trip, I first ordered an Espresso Macchiato to get that espresso fix with a dash of frothed milk. As someone who takes their coffee seriously or as a bit of a coffee snub, as my wife calls me, I ignored the barista’s advice to sit down and wait for my coffee, insisting rather that I would like to watch. Well ! what do you know, after watching the barista tamp my freshly ground coffee weakly, I called out and said something like ” Hey ! you need to tamp with a bit more pressure than that please, etc….”. The lead barista, who I later found out is based in Dubai and from Nepal, saw that this was a bit of a serious customer and decided to take over. The good thing about Barisat with regards to variety is that they try and source and serve beans from all over the planet and so during my visit, they were serving arabica beans from Cuba. Now how’s that for a line “I’m drinking Italian espresso macchiato made with Cuban arabica coffee in Khartoum, Sudan” – now didn’t I say coffee was the drink of the escapist. Anyway the coffee was abit bold in that it had a full taste and the frothed milk just complimented it.

But ! as this was probably going to be my only chance of getting coffee within my 4 day stay, I thought ” I would like some more coffee” after all an espresso macchiato is like an appetiser for those of us who drink doppios (double espressos) all the time. So I decided to order just straight coffee to accompany my chocolate doughnut.

This time, I was able to sample the real taste of the Cuban coffee, which was strong and so I defintley got my caffeine fix. I planned again to visit in the morning to try and get a take-away cappuccino but wasn’t successful in my endeavours. In any case, if you do happen to go to Khartoum or know someone who is going (more likely as they have many United Nations staff there), then recommend the Barista Cafe for that little bit of escapism.