A Month of Coffee Pt. II

Here we are, the second week in and whilst my barista skills are (very) slowly improving (more on that later…) it has come at a price.

My evening and morning routines that I worked so hard to build last month have been more or less wrecked by over-caffeinating myself with all the additional coffees I’m making.

In any case this week I though this week I’d go over the basics of making espresso based drinks, providing links and information that has helped me.

Last month I had the opportunity to attend training at Illy’s Centre of Excellence in London through my job. Annoyingly this was at the peak of last month’s ear infection so it was tough to hear everything being taught (lots of smiling and nodding). Fortunately the basics I already knew but there were a few new tricks and ways of thinking that I didn’t.

Before we begin, if you are a complete novice, perhaps check out the below link and get up to speed with any basic terms you might not know (I won’t judge don’t worry):


Creating Espresso

I could explain every step of how to make an espresso shot but perhaps just watch the video below:

25ml in 25 seconds — That’s the rough guideline for creating a perfect espresso. (Give or take depending on the coffee or various other factors which I’ll have no hope of understanding.)

How do we achieve this? Well the simple answer is by ‘dialing in’ the coffee grinder to the exact coarse/fineness and tamping with even pressure.

The best analogy I heard was when training in Australia. If the grind is too coarse it will be like water flowing through rocks very quickly therefore ‘under-extracting’ and if it’s too fine will be like going through sand very slowly ‘over-extracting’ (see https://baristahustle.com/coffee-extraction-and-how-to-taste-it/).

Steaming Milk

The next step is steaming the milk to add to the Espresso. This is quite tricky to begin with but once it clicks in your head, is actually very simple.

The first step… Don’t be afraid!

Hot steam and milk bubbling out of control can be quite intimidating but don’t let it! By getting the position of the steam wand right from the beginning it can help prevent terrible things from happening like being burned by overflowing milk.

Here’s how you do it:

Now you now how to do it (and not to), get your starting position right, stay calm and practice! The best way to practice without wasting a load of milk in the process, it to use water and a tiny bit of soap. It’s how we practiced in Australia and really does work!

Pouring Latte

You’re espresso is ready and your milk steamed all you need to do now is put them together. Easier said than done! This is the step that will require a lot of practice (just look at my failed attempts so far…), it may also take a few different tips and approaches for you to find a method that works for you.

Again to practice you can just use water:

This video give a few key pointers:

One analogy that the training at Illy used to help explain was to imagine a jug of ice water. If you want just water you tip slowly, if you want the ice you need to tip the front of the jug. The water is the milk and the ice is the foam.

Still confused? Yeah I was too, here another one that uses diving as an analogy: http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2012/04/latte-art-foam-designs-rosetta-on-your-coffee-like-a-barista-technique-slideshow.html

As you can see there are a few ways of teaching it, but to be honest only one way to really learn in my opinion… Having a go and experimenting to see what works well for you!

As you can see it’s working oh so well for me… I’ve got a long way to go…