As the barista continued to ask questions about what coffee I wanted, I could feel my cheeks begin to burn red. I stuttered. She gave me options, and I’d just continuously pick the first one she suggested. Her detailed descriptions were a blur. I just wanted my coffee…They never asked me this many questions at Shmarbucks. I could say confidently: tall, blonde roast, and my name is Dominic. Why was this so hard…What did she want from me?” – @Panda.dlights

A lot of us are coffee drinkers. For some of us it is a staple of our daily routine. But other than what café we like, what do we really know about our coffee? Why do certain cups of coffee taste better to us? That barista was actually a sweet heart. She tried desperately to inquire what this buffoon wanted from his coffee. Like a school boy with a crush, I just didn’t have the words to tell her. But I digress.

Let me try to help you avoid a similar fate. We went to Edmond from @movingcoffee and tried to learn a thing or two about coffee.

You don’t know beans!

Origin  Generally speaking, when we say the origin of the beans, we are referring to what country and/or roaster they are from. Sometimes coffee will be single origin, where all the beans used are from one country. Blends: Other times, there can be a mix of beans. This can be different types of coffee beans, or different origins.

Different origins, different feel  Certain countries are known for their coffee beans, and the type of characteristics those beans tend to have. For example, Ethiopian beans are generally known to produce coffee that is floral, sweet, with a tea like texture. Brazil on the other hand has a nutty flavour, and a thicker syrupy body. Central American countries like Guatemala and Costa Rica, they can have both fruity and chocolate-like flavoured coffees. Kenya has the brightest acidity with juicy flavours,  lighter body and perhaps black currant-like.

While this generalization of characteristics still hold true most of the time, many countries have begun to trade coffee seeds, so countries are beginning to expand their coffee bean repertoire. So the only way to know which beans you like is to Try! Try! Try!

What chu makin? How you do dat?

Everyone can make coffee. With a press of a button at home, even us muggles can produce coffee. However, baristas often perform their caffeinated wizardry with a much more varied approach.

Steeping coffee – is simply adding water and coffee grinds into a container, and allowing the coffee to infuse, and then removing the grinds.
Examples of the steeping method are the French press and the Turkish pot.

Drip coffee
– In most cases, large chain coffee brands will serve drip coffee. When you order a small coffee, or a double double (a coffee with two creams and two sugar), those are drip coffees. Generally, drip coffees are made with a machine that pours hot water through the coffee grinds and have it filtered via papers, and drain into a container.

Positives: Can produce many cups of coffee, quality of coffee is consistent, and it is quicker to produce each cup of coffee.
Negatives: The flavours may not necessarily be as complex as those as the pour over

Pour over
– Are general the same technique as the drip coffee but uses a manual pour, and produces only one cup.

Positive: A barista can produce multiple cups of coffee each with different coffees such as a Guatemalan and Kenyan at the same time. The pour over process may also produce more complex and delicate flavours.
Negatives: The consistency of quality may be difficult for a barista to maintain. A lot of patrons are not accustomed to the wait that comes with making a pour overs. The cleaning is a lot more time consuming

Vacuum coffee – as the name suggests during the kick-down draw process, a vacuum drains a lot of flavour and content from the grinds, producing a very strong and flavourful cup of coffee.

Positive: Vacuum coffees produce a flavourful coffee that has a strong flavour and aroma.
Negatives: Vacuum coffees are a double edged sword. If done right, it can produce a coffee with beautiful flavour and body, but can also produce a coffee that is rather hard to enjoy if made poorly. Vacuum coffee also requires the barista to work with glass, vacuum pressure, and fire, which comes with great difficulty. The cleaning process is also quite a hassle.

Espresso – Shots! Shots! Shots!

If you’ve had a Frappuccino from shmarbucks, or a latte from anywhere, then you’ve been acquainted with espresso drinks. Unlike the previous methods we’ve discussed, espresso is made using a metal filter baskets that has many little fine holes at the bottom. In addition, espresso is made with a high pressure system. As the hot water rushes down, it passes the grinds and the filter basket. This high pressure presses out a lot of content from the grinds, which results in the strong flavours found in espressos. Aside from just drinking the espresso as is, there are variety of different drinks that are espresso based:

Macchiato – an espresso marked by a spoonful of steamed milk foam.

Café latte – an espresso with milk

Cortado, Piccolo latte and Gibraltar – newer drinks in the coffee world that resemble the latte. They too are espresso with milk. They are often served in smaller sizes and vary in the glass wear they are served in.

Cappuccino – traditionally speaking, in Italy a cappuccino has more foam than its’ coffee counterparts. However in North America, the latte and cappuccino may look quite similar, and have marginal differences in foam and milk.

Flat white – though somewhat new to North American cities, it is not a new concept to the coffee industry. It is typically a 5-6 ounce drink, with two shots of espresso and milk,  no latte art, and a quick dash of foam on top. The plain Jane of the white coffee.

Americano – Espresso with water. During World War II American troops were in Italy. When these troops wanted coffee, they were served with Italian espresso. As American’s were not accustomed to this, an Italian barista added water to espresso making it more palatable for the Americans.

Milk – Most of us think about coffee in terms of beans, roasts, and the procedure in which baristas make it. But our beloved lattes and cappuccinos are actually mostly milk and water! So let’s pay a little tribute shall we?

Regular milk has different percentages of fat, and the more fat there is the greater amount of milk flavour and sweetness we get in our coffee. However, too much milk or fat content can cover up the flavour of a coffee, but too little milk and we find that our lattes lacks that hint of sweetness. In addition, there are milk alternatives like almond milk and soy milk each with their distinct fat and protein content. The type of milk needs to be considered when making coffee, because when you steam milk you break down the fat content and release glucose. A barista needs to steam it long enough so that you create enough sweetness in the milk, without over steaming which causes the protein to denature and creating a bitter taste in the milk. SCIENCE!

Edmond Senpai – Cafes, Baristas, and Customers

North American Coffee Empire vs Little Traditional Café

Again, if you’ve been to shmarbucks or any larger corporate chain of coffee shops, you’ll notice that they serve their coffee vastly different from some of the smaller coffee shops. When large companies like shmarbucks first brought their version of Italian coffee and espresso into the North American market, they served it in a way that was attractive to the North American people. Patrons can choose the size, the roast, amount of sugar, what kind of milk, more espresso, less whip, or more milk. While this might create a lack of consistency in drink quality or flavour, it allowed customers to get a drink that they felt was tailored to them. These companies have even made a “pump” system that measures the amount of sugar/syrup with a pump rather than a measuring cup, which allows for baristas to produce cups of coffee quicker. Comparatively, smaller coffee shops who take on more traditional Italian feature will have fewer sizes to choose from. These coffee shops will have a much smaller menu, and will offer less customization openly available. In traditional Italian coffee shops, things are served in a much more simple and concise manner. This allows baristas to uphold a level of quality in their coffee.

But I want a coffee that’s right for me?!

This gets us back to my story. The customization of your coffee may be fewer at a traditional café but it doesn’t mean a coffee won’t be tailored to you. Quite evidently the barista was trying to inquire what I wanted so that she could tailor it to my liking, but I just didn’t know enough to answer. I find that as we visit these larger coffee chains, we obtain coffee without having to learn about coffee, and it seems to create an issue when we go to a more local specialty coffee spot.

Baristas are responsible for having the ability to produce coffee that is high in quality, and suitable for the customer. But customers should also be responsible for being able to express what they want to the barista. This principle seems to apply in all other retail experiences. We know what food we want to eat, and what clothes we want to buy. Yet when it comes to coffee shops we often go in ill informed. The situation is further complicated as each coffee shop may serve their drinks differently. A macchiato at shmarbucks is a full sized drink, while a macchiato at a more traditional Italian café is served in much smaller sizes, less foam and less milk.

I’ve come to understand that perhaps these labels for coffee drinks are less useful than they used to be. Perhaps a more dependable way for a customer to receive the cup of coffee they want is to just describe what they want?  For example: “I want a coffee that has a nutty flavour, two shots of espresso, milk and foam.” It’s simple and it’s really not that far off from the shmarbucks customizations that we are used to.

But how do I get to know coffee?

Baristas are a great source of information! There is value in teaching customers about why or why not coffee is served in certain ways, and the characteristics of coffee. This helps patrons appreciate the coffee more. Of course we could just learn about coffee on in an incredibly well articulated article written by a talented and handsome writer. Again I digress.

The role of a barista is beginning to evolve and take on new roles. Baristas no longer just make coffee, but their role has progressed to being a conversationalist and educator. As the process of making coffee becomes more automated, the baristas role as a conversationalist and educator will grow even further. Perhaps as this change occurs, people will be more educated about coffee. Learn from my mistake. When a barista inquires about what coffee you want, bravely say what you’ve liked so far! Perhaps you liked a nuttier coffee, or a fruitier coffee. Maybe you’ve liked a dark roast or beans from a certain origin from a café before. Espresso or Pour over? How much espresso? Milk or no milk? Think about your coffee. Ask questions about your coffee. Try coffee through trial and error. Soon enough you’ll land on that perfect cup of coffee that best suits you.

Moving Coffee

Edmond Keung, the owner of Moving Coffee, will be participating in the Canadian Barista Championship in Toronto on May 26-27! Moving Coffee is the only local coffee roaster from Vancouver participating in the Canadian Barista Championships! The winner of this competition will go on to the World Barista Championship, so best of luck to Edmond! If you want to check out Edmond’s amazing coffee (especially their “Morning Whiskey” cold brew, ask for it), and have a unique learning experience, Edmond occasionally serves “mystery coffee”, in which patrons taste test coffee, identify the coffee’s characteristics and attempt to name the bean!


Written by: Dominic Wong – @panda.delights
Photography: Nathan Dong – @bokehbites

Article Tags :
Related Posts