Time was when coffee in Dublin meant a mug of milky white coffee at Bewley’s, with nothing either grande or latte about it. Even so, it seemed like a big step up from drinking tea, if only because that’s what you did at home, morning, noon and night.
Then we got all fancy with our imported coffee culture: American styles, Italian names, and the spawning of a whole generation of grande skinny decaf drinkers. (And before I go any further, I should point out that I count myself in this – I have spent years with a takeaway latte cup welded to my hand).
Yes, we fancied, in our Celtic Tiger way, that we now knew about coffee. Who among us was willing to admit that, more often than not, we were drinking what amounted to the emperor’s new decaf?
Still, when my daily commute intersected with a Coffee Angel van, that was generally a good coffee day. Coffee Angel founder Karl Purdy will tell you bluntly that, in coffee terms, “we’re still drinking Blue Nun“, the wine we drank in the 80’s when we didn’t know any better. However, both himself and his former operations manager, Colin Harmon, who recently opened 3rd Floor Espresso on Abbey St. in Dublin, aim to change our coffee-drinking ways.
For my part, my own understanding and appreciation of all things coffee took a giant leap forward last week thanks to a tasting session and tutorial with Karl at the Coffee Angel Training Lab.
It’s somewhat of an understatement to say that I was buzzing after almost 3 hours, during which we tasted 4 different beans each brewed in 3 different ways. I came away with the knowledge that (a) I should really leave espresso to the experts and (b) there is no reason why I shouldn’t just concentrate on getting a good home brew with simpler methods.
These are just a few of the things I learned which may help me on my path to better coffee:
Where and when a bean is grown can have a profound affect on its character – the idea of terroir is as applicable to coffee as to wine, it seems – but I really hadn’t appreciated just how wildly different coffee beans could be. To me, the Tekangu smelled somewhat of fresh broad beans, while the Indonesian Sidikalang, a naturally processed bean, was pungent and almost meaty in aroma – it challenged all my notions of what a coffee should be.
Karl would like to see more coffee being sold with harvesting and roasting dates marked, and with notes on what to expect from the beans, taste-wise. All too often beans are roasted to the point where the intrinsic flavours are overwhelmed by the flavour of roasting, and if your beans have been sitting around for a long time, that won’t do them any favours, either. Coffee Angel won’t use beans that are more than 4 weeks past their roasting date – Karl reckons that around 1 week to 10 days after roasting is ideal.
If you’re going to invest money, Karl suggests that you invest, not in a fancy espresso machine, but in a grinder. Freshly ground beans from a good grinder plus a cafetière or filter drip is an easier path to successful home brewing than any kind of espresso machinery. Oh, and a good grinder does not equal a bladed coffee grinder, which won’t necessarily give you an even grind.
It pays to be precise. A ratio of 60g of coffee to 1 litre of water for cafetière or filter is recommended plus, for cafetière, a 4 minute brewing time.
Warm your cafetière before use and don’t let the coffee to sit too long in the pot even after plunging, as it will continue to brew. It will yield more body than a filter brew and can be a little muddier.
(6) Filter Drip
The filter drip makes for a cleaner brew and for more opening up of aromas – I was amazed at how different the same coffees were when brewed this way as compared to the cafetière. I will be digging out long-neglected filter wherewithal and giving this a whirl at home.
Temperature will make a difference to how your coffee tastes – I could clearly taste more flavours in some of the coffees as they cooled. However, the notion that tepid is the best temperature at which to taste coffee will be a hard one for me to adjust to.
Espresso is the hardest thing to get right – its concentrated nature means that even slight changes in brewing are amplified in the end result. So when I persist in using my well-worn little espresso machine at home, I will at least be under no illusions as to what to expect.