02 May “What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?”
If I learnt one thing from my days as a Barista at the Flying Coffee Bean many years ago, it’s that the perfect cup of coffee is anything but simple- it’s a work of art. You might think that it’s just a case of grinding some beans, adding some heat and warming some milk, but every single step has an exacting science behind it to make sure that it’s just right.
The Flying Coffee Bean specifically cover travel centres, events and hospitality functions, including the Eastbourne Tennis championships and Brighton Coffee festival. They’re an independent coffee group based around the South East, and they have plans to now open a coffee shop in London Bridge. When I started working for them, I remember being really impressed at how much they cared about their coffee and how much love they brought to it. A lot of train station coffee is, at best, average, but FCB uses specially roast beans, the best equipment, and train every single barista to a high standard before you can even go near a grinder- I’m not joking, we had a full day of learning everything from how the beans are roasted to the grinding level to make the right coffee, weighing the portafilter, timing the pour through and checking the milk temperature. So, if you’re trying to recreate the perfect cup of joe at home- well, sorry to say you can’t really- but here’s my top tips to get as close to perfection as you can:
Choose your weapon
If you’ve got a full barista-style coffee machine at home, then great! But don’t think that just because you’ve got all the gear you’ve got all the idea. The biggest mistake people make is not cleaning their coffee machines properly; make sure you use proper coffee machinery descaler (I recommend Puly Caff Hey- you can get it on Ebay for about £9) and you’re cleaning your machine every night. In the morning, make sure you run hot water through the portafilters, so you don’t end up with a soapy tasting brew first thing. If you’ve got a Mokka pot, just make sure you’re not putting too much coffee into the main compartment, and if you’ve got a cafetière then the trick is to make sure you’re loading it up- don’t be shy, there’s nothing worse than a weak cafetière coffee. If you’re using a filter machine, then personally I think you’ve lost the fight on this one already and we’ll all move on.
Ground vs whole does make a huge difference to the taste; I’m way too lazy to grind my own at home, but if you truly are searching for caffeine nirvana then you really do need to get on board with this. Grinding at home releases a fresher aroma as well as the oils stored in the coffee means, which doesn’t mean you’ll get a stronger cup of coffee, but it does mean you’ll get a more aromatic cup. If you’ve got a fancy grinder, make sure the setting is right; if the grains are too big your final cup will be too weak (the water will get through too quickly); but too fine and the water won’t be able to penetrate at all. You want a nice, sandy consistency. If you really are a proper coffee buff then go to a small batch roaster for your coffee beans; they’ll take extra care that the flavour and the roasting process aren’t too harsh, unlike some of the larger manufacturers where the techniques they use mean that a lot of the flavour can be burnt out of the beans. A favourite local roaster to me is Small Batch in Brighton; you can grab one of their fine bags here.
Believe it or not, timing is everything when it comes to a good cup. If you’ve got a coffee machine, you want the coffee to pour through the portafilter at a rate of about 32 seconds; less will make a weak cup, more will make the coffee too strong and give it a burnt taste. If you can’t figure out why your machine is pouring too fast/slow, it’s probably either the consistency of your coffee grind or you’ve put too much coffee in the portafilter itself; you want it just full without having to tamp it down too hard. If you’ve got a Mokka pot, you’ve got to be very patient and wait for the beautiful bubbly sound; again, though, don’t take your eye off the ball as leaving it too long will give you a really bitter taste. With a cafetière, personally my advice is leave it as long as you possibly can for a nice full flavour.
I’m a black coffee girl, but to get the perfect milky coffee then you need to warm that milk! Again, with a coffee machine don’t be complacent- if the milk frother is making a screaming noise then the nozzle is too close to the jug and it won’t get the right consistency, if it’s making a low bubbling sound then you’ve burnt the milk and the coffee will be horrid! If you’re making coffee for one, a really nifty little trick is to warm the milk, then half fill a jar and just shake away! Give the jar a couple of taps at the end to disperse the bubbles properly and get rid of any big bubbles.
Know the difference
Unfortunately, if you’ve read up until now then you’re a coffee snob like me; accept it, know that life will never be the same, and that most takeaway coffee is now totally ruined for you. With that in mind, know your coffee! A cappuccino should be a double espresso with lots of foamy milk- NOT hot milk, NOT extra water. Just a ton of lovely foam. A latte is velvety milk, with no or very little foam on the top. If you get a latte with a load of foam, it’s a cappuccino. If you get a cappuccino with a load of hot milk in it, it’s a latte. And a flat white is very, very velvety milk in a smaller cup- ok I have to get something off my chest here, a flat white is ALWAYS a small coffee. YOU CANNOT GET A MEDIUM OR A LARGE FLAT WHITE. IT’S NOT A THING. Ah, that feels better.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed my journey through the wonderful world of coffee. The next time, in the future, you are in a station, do look out for an FCB stand- I promise you won’t be disappointed. And, as Anthony Trollope said, “What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?”.