Today I headed back to one of my old favourite haunts for coffee. But rather than doing the drinking, I was doing the making.
I have a few friends here who work in coffee, and it’s like a different language. It’s easy (and ignorant) to think these baristas just switch on a machine and chuck it in a cup, but it’s both a science and an art.
Tonight I went to Think Coffee on Bleecker Street, where Dylan taught me how to make espresso – and we started with expanding my vocabulary. First of all, I discovered that you put coffee in a ‘brew basket’ in the ‘portafilter’ (the thing with the handle), and then you place this into the ‘grouphead’ to let the water run through.
But before we got to that, Dylan tried to teach me what ‘dialing in’ on the grinder meant. I think it’s getting the coffee beans to the right coarseness so that when you pour the water through, it travels at exactly the right speed to gather the flavour – but not too much. If the grinds are too coarse, the water rushes right through, if they’re too fine, there’s gloops of liquid instead of a steady stream. Luckily, the machine had been set already, so I didn’t have to figure this part out.
I simply put the portafilter beneath the grinder and pressed for a double shot of espresso. Then I levelled the grinds and ‘tamped’ it – i.e. pressed down on the coffee with a hand-held leveller. Dylan said you should put around 30 lbs of pressure, but a good test was turning the portafilter over afterwards and making sure the coffee didn’t fall out. Thankfully mine was okay.
After running the water through the machine for a few seconds to clear it out, I put the portafilter in the grouphead, steamed the coffee for five seconds and then let the water run through for around 20 seconds, or until I started to see a bit of a milkier colour running through the liquid. And then it was done! Bitter deliciousness.
(If I’d run the water for too long, it would’ve tasted more burnt.)
I did the process twice; once to make an espresso and again to make an iced latte. The first time was near perfect, according to Dylan (even though he doubted I would manage it), but the second time I didn’t tamp the coffee down enough and the water moved through too quickly, so we had to stop before it hit the 20 second mark.
Hmm… this an exact science. And I was far from getting it, but I can see how with a bit of practice, it could be done. But for now, maybe I should just stick to drinking the stuff.
Thanks for having me, Think! And thanks for the lesson Dylan!