This post was originally on the AussieHomeschool forum (yes, it’s amazing what we discuss!) so I thought I’d post it here. I don’t know all that much about coffee but I am learning all the time. Feel free to disagree with me and point me to sources of correct information.
Firstly, if you want to read my previous post on the best domestic machine you can do so here.
However, it doesn’t matter how great a machine you get if you use cheap coffee. The richness, the sweetness, the strength is all in The Bean!If you get a cheap bean it will be bitter- no matter who makes it on what machine! So, getting a good bean is essential.
Next, a good grinder is also very important because the grounds will determine how good the extraction is- this determines whether or not the extraction is bitter or sour. I use my daughters $600 commercial grinder which is ridiculous for home use! However, I bought a Breville BarAroma Grinder which is pretty good for home use and would do a good job for many years.
I could talk for hours and hours about this…as it used to be a little passion of mine but over the last few years it has become an obsession. I have learned all about the history off beans, growing, harvesting, roasting and grinding methods of beans…machines, extraction, milk texturing and more! Yet, I still know nothing compared to my daughter…who also has a lot to learn still.
I have had some cruddy beans and some beautiful beans and they are what makes the difference.
A not-so-good barista can make a super cuppa from a great bean but a great barista will only make an average cuppa with a cruddy, stale bean. You generally get what you pay for but not always.
The Adelaide market sells heaps of beans- apparent coffee houses…but if you have a good look at the bean it is not fresh! This is awful. Shouldn’t be allowed. Should be a crime!
Anyway, Arabica beans are often the typical bean used. Robusta is another variety but isn’t as nice, IMO. It is higher in caffeine but also more bitter. However, it’s also a little cheaper so some flakey companies will use it. Some even use it as a *filler* so always check that you’re using 100% Arabica. (It’s personal taste but good until you have refined your espresso palette).
You can get single origin beans or a blend and blends are usually the best. The blends complement each providing depth and richness whereas a single origin can be slightly more bitter and quite acidic. It’s fun experimenting to find the blend you like most. My dd makes her own blends but you’ll probably just want to buy your own blend (I advise this as it can be costly to play around, finding your own perfect blend ) Some blends are designed more for straight espresso shots where others are more designed to be used with milk. Some blends are rich and fruity whereas others are more chocolatey. What I do not recommend is those awful cheap and nasty beans that have been artificially flavoured. You know the ones like you can buy in a pack at Gloria jeans and they are caramel flavoured? Ugh, not good. I would never allow those beans near my machine!
Freshness: the most crucial part of it all. We never buy from the supermarket. It can be anywhere from 3 months (if you’re lucky) to over one year old!
The freshness of the bean is not determined by the time that the fruit/bean was picked! It is actually determined since the time of roasting! A bean can keep well for years (in the right conditions) if left unroasted but the roasting brings out the natural oils which can quickly become rancid, as oils do. Roasting beans produces some gasses. Most gas is released in the first few days and stops after about one week. This is then stale coffee!
Oxygen and moisture are two no-no’s for your beans. Some roasters use water to cool the beans after roasting. No! Not good. Air should be used to cool the beans, not water.
Beans should be stored or packed in those bags that are fitted with a one way valve. This allows for the oils/gasses from the bean to escape (and oxygen is removed before sealing the bag) without letting oxygen in.
Do not keep your beans in the fridge or freezer! Ack! I don’t know where this came from but it’s not true. Some older generation Italian families do this but they really have no idea how to bring the best out of a bean- they murder the bean anyway.
But how do you know if the beans are fresh? Yeah it’s not easy unless you know what you’re looking for…and truth be told I still struggle when buying coffee- which is why my dd is in charge of all that. However, a few guidelines are what I try to stick to:
Minimal Surface Oil- The amount of oil on the surface of freshly roasted beans depends on the degree of the roast. Some will look matte and you won’t see much oil whereas others will appear to have more oil. If they are too shiny and wet/oily looking then then they could, in fact, be too old and stale. Best test is to breathe and smell it. If it smells like as ash tray then chuck it! It should be nice, sweet,rich, thick, toasted type of smell.
Once you get it home and make a shot of espresso (which you need even for cappuccino) then the espresso shot should be thick and foamy. This is a sign of fresh beans.
We also are willing to pay a little more for our coffee to get the best taste possible but in a fair as possible way. therefore we try to always buy Fair Trade Coffee.
Last, always try to use filtered water in your machine. Oh, coffee is best served in a porcelain mug- it really does affect the taste of the bean.
Here in Adelaide there are a few good coffee roasters: like The Coffee Barun (fantastic) and Five Senses (both in Vic and WA). Rio is okay (IMO). Some people love Rio coffee but I prefer the Coffee Barun. He’s an artist! Sometimes you can go into a roastery and start talking to the Master Roaster, and you will learn heaps! Coffee will never be the same again! Even my 11 and 14yo sons know heaps about coffee- the science behind it all- just from living and learning coffee.
All coffee photo’s (latte art) posted on my blog are courtesy of my daughter, unless otherwise stated. If you’d like to visit her blog, simply click on any of the images.
Coffee is an interest that helps to pull our family together. I know it might seem a bit ‘over the top’ to some but it is like cords that bind our family together (along with many other things, of course). There are many cords that help tie our family together and they usually come about because of an interest that we each have. Sure, we don’t all have to be equally passionate or interested as each other but relationship building means listening, sharing, going out of our own comfort zones – it is living and learning together.
What passions or interests help to tie your family together?