Tag Archives: espresso

Coffee: The rule is, there is no rule


I know that sounds like a paradox and I’m sure some of my followers are like “what is he talking about” For many years, Lameen, that’s my real name – has been saying adhere to the golden rules – measurement, temperature and volume, to name a few. BUT, the main reason I’m writing this, is that occasionally I’ve strutted into a place to dictate how my coffee should be made, and on more than one occasion this year, I’ve been pleasantly stunned by coffee served to me without the rules I hold dear.

Don’t teach an old dog new tricks with Espresso

That’s the pic at the top of the blog. So, after not having espresso for about 5 days, I strutted into the airport lounge and spotting an espresso machine, asked for one naturally. As soon as the barista started making the espresso, I said “la!” i.e. no in Arabic and asked if I could make it. So, I clean the very filthy group head, flush it and ask for the coffee. To my horror, it’s pre-ground espresso, stored in a drawer and although there’s air condition inside, it’s like 40C outside. For a coffee geek like me, my mind is “oh no the moisture, the crazy unstable temperature will affect the coffee, which has already been pre-ground and for how long has it been pre-ground”. Resigned, I’m like, okay, here’s how to tamp. I attempt to tamp with wait for it,  the bottom of the glass, because the tamper is not large enough to cover the porta filter “aargh!” – this means that although some of the coffee will be pressed, the coffee on the border will not. OK!, so I now attempt to make an espresso – flush the group head and place my porta filter inside the group head and brew – what a disaster – the coffee is all over the place and the coffee resembles…. I’d rather pass.

The barista and his colleagues detecting deep disappointment on my face, then resorts to pull an espresso for me – I watch him and the only thing he does differently, which makes me feel happy, is that he cleans and flushes the grouphead before he pulls the shot and guess what – it looked a lot better than my attempt. So, how did he break the rules;

  • he used pre-ground espresso, as opposed to grinding on the spot
  • he didn’t measure the coffee, as opposed to using about 18-22 g for a double
  • he didn’t really tamp, as opposed to the rule of 30 pounds of pressure
  • the espresso machine was really hot – I’d guess close to 100C, as opposed to about 93-94.5 C

And that’s what I could see. So how did it taste. Not bad and above my expectations given the rule breakers. So, to conclude, the rules were broken but a decent shot ensured.

 

Never buy pre-ground coffee

Okay, on this occasion, the coffee was bought for me. Whenever my colleagues travel and buy coffee, they bring it back for me to brew and serve them, which I try and do every Friday when I’m not busy – a rare scenario of late. If ever they ask me “whole beans or ground” I always answer, “whole beans”. On this occasion, a colleague brought me this bag from Kenya, apologising for having not brought back beans. I casually looked at the bag, Java House , Kenyan AA arabica, which looked well presented and was even more taken aback by the tasting notes of grapefruit, blackcurrant and lively. Again, sceptical I brewed it using my french press recipe of 60g to one litre of 95C water. Wow! guess what? There was a bloom on top of the coffee (a sign of fairly fresh coffee) and more importantly of all, I tasted a grapefruit acidity with a hint of blackcurrant. 


Okay, so that rule was broken.

 

Espresso is always brewed at 9 bar pressure for about 22-25 seconds

So, just this week, after Ramadan, I headed to my fave cafe in Vienna, Balthasar to check out their new espresso machine a Slayer Espresso machine. Otto, the owner, had been telling me for months that it was coming and he was so excited. In fact when I met him on Wednesday, I should have interviewed him as he relayed to me for about 4 minutes what the slayer could do. The gist was that you can brew at different bar pressures and for as long as you want, so I ordered a fruity espresso. In short to get a fruity espresso, it is brewed at 3, then 9 and then 3 bars of pressure over about a minute !!! what ? Usually, espresso is brewed at 9 bars of pressure for about 22-25 seconds with about 18-22 grammes of freshly ground coffee yielding about 25-30ml of espresso.

 So, what has changed ? The whole game with this type of espresso machine – the rule is, there is no rule, because you can now brew espresso how you like, like a recipe ordered to your preference “fruity, nutty, low acidity, high acidity….?” carry on.


 A really fruity cup with over medium acidity.

 

Just one more thing

Well! I’ve got to redeem myself somehow – we can’t just give up on the rules, ion not there’ll be anarchy.

So, as a prelude to my first experience, way back in January this year. I ordered a cappuccino at a top hotel in Zimbabwe (Meikles) because I spotted a La Marzocco GB5 machine, BUT. Watching the barista, I saw he used pre-ground espresso coffee, didn’t flush the group head, didn’t clean the group head, didn’t tamp with any real pressure, didn’t measure the coffee systematically, frothed a foam mountain and didn’t appreciate the kind of machine he was using. So, I stepped in and he was so willing to learn but on this occasion I didn’t touch the machine – I just guided him from across the counter. In the end, I got a good cup, with thick crema and although no latte art was present, it was along the lines.

 

To top it off, the barista was excited by what he had just learned, he was going to access youtube to learn more skills and watch latte art being poured. Yay! a job well done.

So, yes sometimes the rules can be broken and you may succeed but in general, adhere to and know the rules before you tamper (sic) with them.

 


Making Espresso @ Home: The Video

So, I’ve been asked many times “how do you make ….. coffee” and then when I start explaining and for the who know me, I get kind of all geeky. The next question is “do you have a video on how to make this ?”And of course, I’m like “erm! no!” – looking all embarrassed. So, here’s a time lapse video of how to make espresso, BUT, I’ve got to go over the geeky bits first. What is espresso ? For this I’m going to revise my definition of espresso, which is;

In general, nine grammes of freshly ground Arabica coffee, tamped with 30 pounds or pressure, ground to a precision and brewed around 93-94.5C between 8 and 10 bars of pressure on an espresso machine that allows about 45ml (1.5 US fl ounce) of coffee to drip through into a cup in about 23-25 seconds, resulting in dark coffee with crema on top.

SOUNDS COMPLICATED DOESN’T IT ? The most important thing however, concerns the preparation; such as the type of coffee, the grind and the machine – if any of the essential elements are missing then you won’t get espresso but some mutant of it, which unfortunately you will get in most coffee shops.

So for my video, I used JB’s Kaffee espresso blend, with about 18.5 grammes of coffee for a double espresso, brewed at 93C. Enough talking, watch the vid;


About Consistency: The Roaster


Square Mile Espresso

Square Mile Espresso

As a natural follow up to my previous post, I thought that I’d mention one of my favourite coffee roasters, Square Mile Coffee Roasters. If you’ve been following me for a while, on twitter or even instagram, then you’d know that I often purchase square mile coffee, but why?

Well, it’s all about consistency again.

Sometimes you get so involved in something and you forget why or you always buy a particular product that you forget what drove you to adopt a particular habit or to buy the same type of product over and over again. I come across this occasionally when for example in order to satisfy my coffee fix, I stop over at a cafe, even sizing the place out for equipment and checking out the baristas tamping skills, only and sadly, more often than not, to be disappointed. Then I think why did I do that ? So, I become a creature of habit – visiting the same cafes (i.e. Workshop Coffee in Marylebone) and ordering the same type of drinks (milk based espresso or filter if I have lots of time to spare) or in this case buying the same type of coffees. (term, square mile coffee roasters)  Why ? Well, in a nutshell, I don’t want to be disappointed – I’m not a cafe. If I order coffee, I can only spare 18g of wastage for espresso from a 350g bag. If I order online, I can’t take it back and say “what’s this rubbish eh?”. So, I prefer to stick to what I know. I confess that occasionally, my adventurous side takes hold of me and so I try new things (see previous posts on blacktop coffee) which pays off when it works to your delight.  But, of course, when my palate has become accustomed to a particular level of standard – a standard that feels betrayed when experimentation goes horribly wrong, then I think “why did I do that ?”.

But, there’s more.

When you get used to some type of standard and you let people enter that realm, then you also get awakened to how privileged you are. Like when I introduce colleagues and friends to drinking speciality coffee brewed especially using the Hario V60 – then they’re like “wow! I was very sceptical” “oh! this is the first coffee I’ve drank and I don’t need sugar” or like when I had a cafe in Cape Town “this is the best coffee I’ve ever had in my life” – but usually it all comes down to a very few variables – the coffee, the way it was sourced, roasted and brewed and to sum up, “consistently cared for”. Looking after the bean “from coffee with love”.

So, in summary you don’t know how privileged you are until you try something new and it tastes bad or you let people taste what you take for granted and they’re like, “wow!”.

Let’s focus on the bean, the way it was cared for.

I could give you a bio on square mile coffee roasters, the birth of a collaboration between 2 world barista champions (James Hoffmann in 2007 and Stephen Morrissey) and a top roaster, Anette Moldvaer, but read my first post on them here in 2009 for more info. Back then, only one cafe (Flat White on Berwick Street, used their coffee) and they sold most of their coffees on line, thank God, as I was living in Vienna, as I still do now.

  
 Since then they’ve expanded naturally, providing coffee to countless cafes in London and beyond and their online presence has grown. They have a large customer base because they are consistent – you know that if you get their espresso blend and other specialty single origin coffees for filter that you’re getting something good that you can rely on and I’m proud to say that I’m also a victim of their success and their consistency. Sure their taste profile has changed a bit, earlier it was buttery toffee (I must confess I miss that) and now it’s a bit more diverse but their passion for sourcing the best remains.

So, in a nutshell, when I want to order coffee online then I safely order Square Mile Coffee, because I know that I’m not going to be disappointed that if I set my espresso grinder to the point where I get an extraction of 25ml in 22-25 seconds, it’s going to taste nice, that if I brew it using a hario V60 or aeropress then I’m going to get a pleasant taste on my tongue.

   

Before I go, I should nevertheless mention another fave coffee roaster of mine, when  it comes to single origin filter type coffees and that’s Workshop Coffee, see here, which have now started shipping to Europe, so expect a post very soon God willing on them. Usually when I’m in London, even for a few hours, I stop over to buy coffee from their shop in Marylebone, by St Christopher’s Place, just off Oxford Street, near Selfridges and Bond Street Tube Station.

When you find something/someone good, hold on to them and don’t take it for granted – some coffee wisdom to sign off on, ciao.


My Fave Cafe in Vienna: Balthasar

Balthasar Espresso

Balthasar Espresso

It seems that all good things come to those who wait and sometimes they kind of creep up on you. So, one fine sunny day in Vienna, after a fine lunch, I was rushing again and what did I notice, a La Marzocco Strada to my right in a shop – of course I stopped, walked in, saw a friendly guy behind the brew bar and state of the art espresso machine and said “wow! is this a new place…. you’ve got a La Marzocco Strada machine… erm… I’ll be back” And sure I was in 10 minutes and ever since then, several times, taking colleagues, the wife, the daughter, the son and more.

Balthasar Entry

It also helps that Balthasar, is about 15 minutes walk from where I live and about 10 minutes on the underground (in Vienna it’s called the u-bahn) from where I work, so very easy access.

So, what else is there to know about Balthasar apart from the flashy machine.

Well, it’s run by Otto Bayer, a very friendly guy, whose family have been in the catering business for over a century, who gets his coffee from a specialist coffee roaster in Germany, who sources coffee “directly” and often visits the farmers themselves.

side view

 

On one occasion coffee from the long mile coffee project in Burundi was on offer. In any case, all the gadgets are here, two Mazzer grinders, cold brew system,

Cold Brew - great for a hot day

Cold Brew – great for a hot day

 

V60 brew bar and semi-retired La Marzocco G3 (Otto trained on it, but as he spends all his time in his cafe, it might as well be in the cafe.

On offer also are cakes, brownies and some savouries, as well as tea and Otto’s other speciality, wine – he loves the relationship between wine and coffee and of course the tasting experience of both.

brownies

His customers usually order a coffee and then a glass of wine afterwards. Balthasar has been opened for a few months and is decked out with new age furniture like Kartel and palettes, topped with magazines and low hanging light bulbs.

hanging out

You can also buy coffee and gadgets like V60, the filters, aeropress and other bits. The good thing is that it’s opened from 7:30am to 7pm everyday except Sundays, so visiting on Saturday are great even Otto though must be exhausted but he really loves his job and his cafe.

The coffee menu is not extensive but to the point like the top end cafes in London – cappuccino, flat white, espresso and cafe latte

Americano

and a new way of brewing an Americano – brewed for 45 seconds on 5 bar of pressure.

Balthasar Flat White

Balthasar Flat White

So, what else, just go visit and you won’t be disappointed.

Balthasar

Praterstrasse 38

Vienna 1020

http://www.balthasar.at

 


Breakfast, Lunch & Coffee in Cape Town

You’ve got a few hours to spend in the Mother City (so called, because being a seaside city, the pun is that it takes 9 months to get anything done here) and you want something good to eat and of course some coffee too, so here’s my tip, from my previous abode of 2.5 years.

For breakfast, you’ve got to try DEAR ME, situated on 165 Long Market Street, just off the main artery of the CBD, Long Street. They’ve got a cool decor, an award winning chef, a good and cheerful barista, home made condiments in a well stocked pantry and a commitment to sourcing top ingredients, as witnessed on their menu, so why not go. I was kind of spoilt for choice on looking through the menu – there was Turkish Eggs, Truffled Scramble Eggs, Eggs Benedict and more, so I just asked the chef, Vanessa Marx, and she recommended the Eggs Benedict with smoked trout…

delicious brekkie

delicious brekkie

 

and yes, it looks and tasted delicious – a great choice to warm up my tummy as it was a cloudy and cold day in CT (that’s what the locals call Cape Town). After having a chat with the cheerful barista, Nash, of course, I went for a Cortado – the signature drink of Espresso Lab, where they get their coffee from.

Cortado @ Dear Me

Cortado @ Dear Me

Dear Me Larder

Dear Me Larder

It may seem strange but although I’ve known about Dear Me for ages – they opened about a year after I opened Escape Caffe, I never had the luxury of time to eat there as they only open on Monday to Fridays from 8am to 3:30pm, but I kind of knew that on my 24 hour visit thus time around, I wasn’t going to miss out, so here.

 

No for lunch and keeping it simple with another eatery that stays true to classical well-sourced ingredients, I tried Birds Boutique Cafe and no! it has nothing to do with birds. The name has been kept by the new owner as the previous ones, hailing from nearby Namibia, have left and had a thing with birds, even serving you on crockery painted with birds, etc. anyway, again, I was looking for somewhere that wouldn’t disappoint and soaking up the very relaxed decor with wooden benches and an exposed and lively but not noisy kitchen, I went for the specials of the day – sweet potato soup and a cute feta and tomato quiche.

Quiche Delish

Quiche Delish

 

For a stop over, knowing that you will be flying for over 11 hours (journey time from CT to London) later in the evening, a light well prepared quiche does the job for me. You don’t want anything too heavy, but just right, using fresh ingredients served in a relaxed atmosphere, where you can catch up using their free wi-fi and relax. So, whether you’ve got days or hours to burn in CT, I recommend stopping over at Bird Boutique Cafe on 127 Bree Street for a quick, light and well prepared lunch.

 

Well, to finish off, and as you know, coffee has to play a role, so where better than the self-styled and hyped up, Truth Coffee, situated at their “HQ” on 36 Buitenkant Street. They proudly boast that they were called “the best coffee shop in the World” by a recent Condenast Traveller writer. OK! I have my reservations about this as I think being called the best depends on what drives you to drink coffee in the first place. That said, it may be one of the mosh unusual places to drink coffee anywhere in the World. Co-owned and the brainchild of David Donde, who, if you’ve been reading my blog since 2007, was behind the first artisan coffee roaster in Africa at Origins, also in CT. In any case the new “Truth Coffee” looks like no money was spared in turning this old warehouse into a steam punk haven for coffee, together with staff uniforms – expect waitresses to be dressed in shorts, leather waistcoats and natural afros and waiters to have top hats, with feathers protruding and all that fanfare.

Funky Cafe = Truth CT

Funky Cafe = Truth CT

The back of the cafe is like a warehouse dominated by a massive coffee roaster – perhaps a 60kg version with coffee bags strewn all over, whilst the front of the cafe has baroque style dark leather couches and two or was it three espresso machines.

Big bad roaster

Big bad roaster

IMG_2786

It definitely has a buzz and was unusually packed for a Friday afternoon – trust me, eateries are not packed anywhere in CT on a Friday afternoon, whether its winter (too cold to go out) or summer (hey dude, where’s the beach?). Now, to the coffee – as it was after lunch and I had literally 20 minutes before my ride to the airport – naturally went for an espresso to test the barista skills.

Pricey Espresso

Pricey Espresso

 

an espresso well-prepared with fruity notes underlying your tongue but and I have to say this, that relatively speaking (yes, I’m an economist) at R25 this is probably the most expensive espresso I’ve paid for in a cafe – you expect this at a restaurant but not at a cafe. Would I recommend another visit ? Yes, in that you’ve got to see it to believe it, but brace yourself for an expensive coffee experience, but nevertheless an experience… well done David Donde for adding another uniqueness to Cape Town.


A Flat White, An Espresso and An Espresso Macchiato in London

As some of you know, my real job, working for one of the United Nations (UN) Agencies, gives me the opportunity to visit different parts of the World a few times a year, and usually I’m lucky enough to connect through London, which means a day visiting cafes and shopping. So, just last week (21 April 2014), I was in London again and decided to try a couple of different cafes that I had never been before, so here goes a summary of my experience.

A Flat White

A Flat White

A Flat White

Nominated for the 2013 European Coffee Shop of the year, I had to visit New Row Coffee, located on 24 New Row, London, WC2N 4LA, in the Covent Garden neighbourhood. It was a bit of a trek from nearby Leicester Square underground station, as I was dragging my hand luggage, but it was worth the wait. I was early enough to avoid any queues, gape at the array of delicious cakes on show, but sadly I had just stuffed myself with food at the BA arrival lounge and can’t wait to visit again to taste some of these treats.

 

Treats @ New Row Coffee

Treats @ New Row Coffee

Anyway, back to the coffee. Their espresso blend hails from Union Roasted and unlike most of the reputable coffee shops in London, have a darker roast. I ordered a flat white as I hadn’t had an espresso milk based drink for a week.

It had hints of caramel, which turned out to be more pronounced for at least 30 minutes after I left the shop, developing into dark cocoa and toffee syrup, YUM! especially on a brisk Friday morning manouevring through the theatre land of London. So, if you visit London and happen to be in the theatre district and need a great coffee fix before your show and prior to eating out, where most probably they won’t serve great coffee, then check our New Row Coffee.

An Espresso

When you’ve only got a few hours in London to drink coffee and shop (my new past time, but one of my previous career dream was to be a fashion designer for men’s clothes), then you know that you may be pushed for time to sit down and divulge your taste buds in London’s exciting and very diverse culinary delights. So, when I entered Foxcroft and Ginger at 3 Berwick Street, Soho, London W1F 0DR, off Oxford Street in the West End, I initially wanted to have a quick lunch, but looking at my time, just after 2pm, knowing I had to be at Heathrow Airport at 5pm, I decided a delectable lemon syrup cake and of course a double espresso.

An Espresso

An Espresso

It took longer than I expected, almost 10 minutes before my cake and coffee, so I didn’t waste time “being Italian” gulping my cake down (sugar rush to help speed around the shops) and an espresso (because I like coffee). Now back to that “Italian” thing. An espresso – this was probably the best “Italian” style espresso I’ve had, like how they should make espresso in Italian restaurants and why do I say this ? Because, it looked like a typical Italian espresso, using darkly roasted beans but on this occasion, the espresso had the right consistency of crema and had a sumptuous nutty syrup taste, which lasted long after I had left the shop – not bitter at all and a right digestive and pick me up for the afternoon, well done Foxcroft and Ginger. On the location, don’t get intimidated as the shop is located on a busy vegetable and fruit market part of Berwick Street, not far from a few famous restaurants like Polpette (an up and coming Italian restaurant) and famous restauranteur, Alan Yau’s Yauatcha. The good thing is that they are opened until 10pm every night, except Sunday and Monday, so again if you have a great meal in the area and want to finish with a great espresso, visit Foxcroft and Ginger.

 

An Espresso Macchiato

I was rushing to the airport and thought, I’ve got to make a stop at my favourite coffee shop in West End London, Workshop Coffee, located at 75 Wigmore Street, around the corner from the World famous Selfridges Department Store. I thought, would I prefer to get to the airport 2 hours before departure, as opposed to visiting Workshop, drinking coffee and buying a bag of expertly roasted coffee too – hmm ! well, you guessed – of course coffee won. I was truly rewarded with probably the best espresso macchiato I’ve ever had, wow.

An Espresso Macchiato

An Espresso Macchiato

a little heart that packs a punch – silky, syrupy, buttery sweet caramel, toffee macchiato – the milk was just little enough to lift the other elements front he espresso. An of course I got a bag of coffee too.

That was me done for the day. Three great coffees at 3 must-visit coffee shops in London.


Essenti: A Marriage of Good Food and Coffee in Vienna

IMG_2295

Essenti, located on one of the famous streets to eat in Vienna, is a London style designed coffee shop, reminiscence of Otto Lenghi with freshly made food served in huge platters and offering  frozen yoghurt with fresh fruit toppings and of course coffee. It opened during the latter half of 2013 but already has a regular customer base. Whilst I’ll say they make a decent espresso, it’s probably the ideal place to get a good lunch to compliment an above average espresso. The owner, Marko, is very hospitable and warm and has a keen eye for detail. His shop is small, cosy but homely and welcoming with food prepared like home. There’s a lot of choice for a small place, with about 6 offerings of exotic salads, a daily quiche offering, two main dish specials and sometimes 3, small good-looking cakes and a huge array of nuts and condiments to top your frozen yoghurt, plus a whole list of drinks too.

It’s not often that I eat food that feels like you didn’t eat anything – confused ? Yes! you should be. What I mean is that so often you go out to eat and after you’ve eaten you feel full, a slight indigestion perhaps, bloated and worse, heavy. BUT, when was the last time you ate out and you actually felt nourished – like the food contribute to your well-being ? Think about it – for me, it was the last time I ate at Essenti and for me the first time I felt like that was at Zaika, located at the very prestigious London address of 1 Kensignton High Street, London SW1 – a Michelin Indian/European Fusion Restaurant. But, back to Essenti.

I was treated to a larger than life bowl of beetroot and mint soup, followed by a plate of joyful colours, see below:

All freshly prepared with carrots, rocket (rucola), roasted sweet potato (my favourite), bulgur, decorated with raspberries, pine nuts, pomegranates and more. I finished off with an espresso naturally.

But, if you don’t know me by now – followers of my baking blog www.atastyblog.wordpress.com do, I also love dessert. I didn’t have time for it, but I took it back to my office and shared a bit with my daughter who happened to be passing by – ricotta and quice pastry tart – yummy! with a berry coulis.

OK! now that I got you drooling. You’ve got to check Essenti out – the food is great and for my standards, that’s a lot as I don’t usually use that adjective, ask my colleagues or the wife. I can’t wait to check out the frozen yoghurt when it gets warmer.

Before I go, I’ve got to talk about the coffee. Using a La Marzocco 2 group Linea, with support from Mazzer grinders and coffee from probably the best coffee roaster in Austria, Vienna School of Coffee (I’ve written about them on my blog – plus see my last post) and trained by Jo (of the Vienna School of Coffee), the standard of the preparation is above what you get in Vienna. Marko has two blends – one for pure espresso and one for milk-based espresso drinks. Essenti is getting so popular that MArko now has to double his staff from 2 to 4 and I hope he keeps up the standard with the coffee too, so that it compliments the great food on offer. 

Location: Servitengasse 5, 9th district

Open Mondays to Fridays only – so extended lunch breaks are your best option.

Website: www.essenti.at

 

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