As long as it does the job, most human beings are not that bothered about their daily coffee. Instant vs ground; full-fat vs skinny; turmeric vs pumpkin spice — these are not regular concerns of the average coffee consumer. In fact, the less fancy the better.
For coffee snobs, getting it right is a big-deal. In this new series, ‘Coffee 101’, we will take you through the steps of how to craft coffee perfection. You are about to climb the mountain, meet the master coffee-sensei, and descend a semi-professional barista. Let’s start with the basics: the americano.
First Things First: The Perfect Espresso
An espresso just looks like a thimble of dark water to the untrained eye. Surprisingly though, a lot of science and technique lies behind the humble single shot, the most basic form of coffee and the building block of drinks like americanos, cappuccinos, flat whites, lattes and mochas etc. Below are some key things to consider when making espresso. Let’s break them down.
- Grind — the consistency of ground coffee alters the strength and flavour of your espresso. The finer the grind the stronger the coffee is the rule of thumb and preference varies.
- Strength of bean (or roast) — the strength and darkness of the coffee you choose will influence the result. It’s best to stick to the strongest beans or grinds when buying with espresso in mind. Really, you should be looking for versions which specifically state ‘espresso’ grade on the pack. Keep lower grades and grinds which are for cafetiers or other coffee makers out of your trolly if you’re making espresso.
- Ground vs bean — true coffee snobs shudder at the sight or mere suggestion of pre-ground coffee. This is because manually grinding beans means more control over strength, greater freshness and bolder taste. Buying pre-ground is not a cardinal-sin, just make sure you preserve ground coffee in airtight containers (not the fridge) for no longer than a few days.
- Hob top / espresso machine — both of these can be used to create espresso. A quality espresso machine gives you the opportunity to tune the pressure and temperature of the hot water carefully, but these can cost an arm and a leg.
- Water and water temperature — Most espresso machines have in-built filters for purity. Buying water bottled can get the best results however. Temperature is also crucial. You want the water you use to be around high 80s and low 90s (celcius). An easy way to get this right everytimes is to wait 45 seconds after boiling the kettle.
Making Your Americano Using an Espresso Machine
- If you have bought pre-ground coffee then skip this section. If not, you want to grind your beans finely. Consider buying an electric coffee grinder as these often have adjustable settings to help. Beware of over-grinding; this causes coffee to become a near water-proof seal in the basket, wasting your time and resulting in a sloppy, burnt mess and barely any espresso.
- Add your ground coffee to the basket. Most espresso machines come with equipment — such as razors and compressors — that enable you to add correct amounts. Be careful to not overload the basket, as again, this may prevent hot water from brewing and pouring properly.
- Fasten the basket securely and start the machine. You can adjust settings to pour specific volumes of water (a normal espresso is around 30–40ml). Alternatively, you can go rogue and pour by sight or time to meet your personal taste. Either way, you have now made an espresso.
- Ideally, you will have boiled the kettle whilst the espresso is pouring. Allow the kettle to boil and wait 45 seconds. Add hot-water and milk to taste. If you mix the hot water before 45 seconds, you run the risk of burning all your hard work.
Finesse and Finishing Touches
I like to pre-heat the empty cup or mug I’m using with boiling water as this keeps the final cuppa hotter for longer. I prefer my americanos dark but not black, so I only add a smidge of cold milk (you can use hot) and I never add sugar. I would suggest brown or demerara sugar if you want to sweeten yours. If, like me, you want a strong cup of Joe, use a small to medium size mug so that the espresso is not diluted as much. Serve with biscotti for a mid-morning / afternoon snack and drink after 30 minutes of getting out of bed in the morning (otherwise the caffeine messes with the body’s natural way of waking up).
Written by Joe Gibbon: https://www.instagram.com/joegibbon94/