Sunday, May 22, 2011

More coffee musings on a cold Sunday morning

One cold Sunday morning, I had the opportunity to try some of the things I'd learnt from my favourite baristas - Emmanuel from Ristretto, Kyle from Tartine and Aaron from St Ali.

The planets were all aligned - I had nowhere to rush to, was convalescing at home due to the flu I had picked up from that bug incubator called an airplane, and had two bags of quality beans that I had acquired from St Ali at different times of this month:

  • Colombian 2010 Cup of Excellence #9 from the family-owned La Pradera farm - roasted 3 May 2011. Nearly 3 weeks post-roasting
  • A Rwandan single origin whose name I've regretfully I've forgotten  - roasted 12 May 2011. Only a week and a half after roasting
Here was my chance to test the various theories out there.

I selected the same fine grind setting of 6 with my Sunbeam grinder (yeah it's a Sunbeam, but it does a great job, and doesn't come with the $500 price-tag that a Rancilio or Mazzer demands - or the bench-space either, for that matter), filled a 14g double-basket and lightly tamped it, then extracted for 40 seconds.

The results were really interesting:

  • The older roast starting extracting barely 4-5 seconds after pushing the button, and was coming out in a fine but continuous stream.  The espresso cup was more than two-thirds full at 40 seconds.
  • The fresher roast also started extracting at around 5 seconds, but came out in a steady, but unhurried, series of drips.  After 40 seconds, I would have had around 10 mls of liquor in the cup.

This was consistent with what Emmanuel had told me - that the fresher the roast, the slower the extraction, because the ground coffee contains more oils which impedes the water flow - it's not how hard you tamp it, it's how fine you grind it and how fresh the roast is, that dictates the rate of extraction.

The flavours were also markedly different, owing in part to the different beans and regions, but more so than that:

  • The Colombian had my favourite underlying citrus backbone, but was overlaid with a rich, creamy choc-nutty flavour, which I could sip and savour, because there was enough liquid in the cup.
  • The Rwandan, on the other hand, was just a green-appley flavour bomb that was taken in one sip.  But wow - intense crisp in-your-face green apple, and only the slightest hints of cocoa.

The thing though, is that both coffees were enjoyable to drink.  Which brings me to my conclusion - all these experts may have different approaches, but they are at the end of the day different facets of coffee perfection - it all depends on your individual tastes and preferences.

I'm sorry I've got no photos - I drank both coffees before I remembered to take any (maybe I'll try the experiment again later today, when my hands finally stop shaking from the coffee rush ...)

By the way, have you checked out my latte art?