Latte Art: Turning Crema to Canvas

A signature of the third wave coffee movement is latte art, espresso drinks finished with a design. You’ve absolutely witnessed this: lattes finished with ferns, hearts, or flowers freshly poured by your barista. It’s a testament to a well-pulled shot of espresso, milk with good micro foam, and a barista who knows what he/she is doing (and who has likely poured a few hundred lattes).Latte-Art-Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-Diego

Latte art is a really fun addition and beautiful detail, and there’s really no way to fake it. To even have a shot at making one of those beautiful designs, you’ll need your shot of espresso to be fresh and have a nice layer of crema (that light, tawny foam-like layer floating atop a well-pulled shot of espresso). Additionally, you’ll need to have steamed your milk well. It helps a lot if the milk is fresh and cold before you begin steaming, and it’s considerably easier to pour latte art with full fat dairy milk (latte art is possible with non-dairy milks like soy or almond milk, and also with fat-free dairy milk, but it’s definitely trickier to pull off. If you’re a beginner, you should absolutely start with good old-fashioned whole milk.). Your milk needs to be fully micro foamed, and the timing is best if you pull the shot while you steam your milk.

There are actually two categories of latte art: free pour latte art and etching. Free pour is what you’ll see most of your third-wave baristas doing- as they pour the drinks, they also manipulate the foam to draw the design as it comes out of the Latte-Art-Espresso-Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-Diego-300pitcher and flows into the cup. Etching happens after a latte has already been poured: a barista will then use the existing foam to draw or stencil a design or picture on top of the latte- some baristas even sculpt three-dimensional art out of the foam! However, because of the time required to render art in the etching style, it’s likely that the drink will have already begun to cool, and the foam to have degraded a bit by the time the consumer gets their drink. For this reason, free pour latte art tends to be favored by coffee shops that place a high premium on the taste of their coffee bean.

To be able to free pour a design into a latte, you’ll need to use your freshly steamed milk and freshly pulled espresso just as soon as they’re done. One important step is the first bit of milk poured into espresso – it ought to be done from a height of at least six inches, and with enough force that the milk breaks the surface of the crema. This is a delicate balance – too soft, and the milk will just float atop the crema, ruining your canvas. But too hard, and you’ll break apart the crema too much for drawing.

After you’ve broken the surface, pour carefully until the foam begins to come out of the back of the pitcher- once this happens, you’re able to start making designs!

Next time you are at your favorite coffee shop check to see how your espresso drink is finished. A well-finished latte is a sign of quality, freshness and barista experience.

Coffee Brewing Methods: Side-by-Side Comparisons of At-Home Brewing Methods

In recent years, coffee drinkers have far more access to different types of coffee than ever before. The fair trade and direct trade movements have made it more likely that an at-home coffee consumer will get fresh, single origin beans- and know where they come from. But there’s no point in having access to amazing coffee if you don’t have a good method of brewing it for yourself. We’ve compiled a little side-by-side analysis of different methods of brewing your coffee at home- how to do it, and what your resulting cup will be like- so that you can make the educated choice about which brew method is right for you and your lifestyle.

Drip Coffee Maker

Drip-Coffee-Maker-Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-DiegoHow it Works: Everybody has probably used a good old Mr. Coffee machine at this point. On the user side, it’s one of the simplest methods: scoop your coffee grounds into the basket, add some cold water into the top of the machine, and press power. Not rocket science.

What the coffee is like: While coffee from an at-home brew machine is super convenient, you definitely lose a little quality. Coffee from these machines tends to be flat-bodied and without a lot of depth of flavor. One plus is that the machine keeps your coffee warm for you- but a downside to that is if you don’t get to it quickly enough, that heating mechanism will cause the coffee to taste burnt after a bit. A coffee machine is a great way to get a lot of coffee, fast, but you don’t have a lot of control over all of the variables. If you’ve just purchased some really high-end beans and want to get the most bang for your buck, you should probably eschew the coffee machine.

French Press

How it Works: When brewing French Press coffee, you’ll want your coffee to be ground very coarsely. Scoop the coffee into the bottom of your French Press, boil some water, and then pour the boiling water carefully over the grounds, and stir gently to ensure that you haven’t got any dry pockets. Replace the top the French Press on the glass carafe, wait four minutes, and then press the plunger with a steady, gentle downward force until all of the grounds are at the bottom of the glass. Serve immediately.

French-Press-Coffee-Achilles-Coffee-San-DiegoWhat the coffee is like: Some people really swear by French Press coffee, but for others it’s an acquired taste. This method of brewing allows for the coffee to have a lot of texture- both in a silty way (some grounds that are just too fine will remain in the liquid of your coffee), and an oily way (this method of brewing allows for lots of oils to remain in the coffee as well). One drawback of the French Press method is that the coffee will not be piping-hot for a long time- after you pour your boiling water into the press, it’s still four minutes before you can start on your drink, and by your second cup, the coffee might be on the lukewarm side.

Pour-over

Pour-Over-Coffee-Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-Diego-resizedHow it works: We’ve discussed the procedural intricacies and eccentricities of the traditional pour-over method of brewing on this website before. Pour-over coffee is usually produced one cup at a time, but you’ve got some choice in your brand of equipment. Three of the most popular types of pour-over coffee makers are the Kalita Wave, the Hario V60, and the Melitta Dripper. To craft your pour-over, grind your coffee and pour it into an already-wet paper filter in your chosen dripper. Then, use boiling water to saturate the grounds, first just letting the grounds bloom, then inundating them with enough water to get a steady-drip through (easier said than done- be sure to check out our more lengthy how-to guide on making pour-over coffee for further guidance).

What the coffee is like: A good pour-over, featuring fresh, well-roasted, and appropriately ground beans, is one of the best ways to really taste the nuances of your cup of coffee. The texture, if produced correctly, will contain a good amount of oil from the beans, but not much in the way of silt or grounds.

Aeropress

How it works: Relatively new on the scene of at-home coffee makers, but rapidly adopted by connoisseurs, the Aeropress represents a marriage of twenty-first century technological know-how and traditional coffee-making. The Aeropress was invented in the Bay Area in 2005: it is comprised of two lightweight plastic cylinders and a plastic filter, as well as necessitating a small, dense paper filter on top of the plastic one. To produce your cup of coffee, you place moderately fine coffee grounds into the cylinder with the filters attached to the bottom. You add boiling water (though the inventor of the Aeropress recommends slightly cooler water than you’d use for other methods- perhaps only around 180 degrees Fahrenheit), then stir the grounds to agitate them. Then you place the other cylinder, which has a rubber plunger one on side, plunger-side down, creating a seal. Wait one minute and then push the plunger down until you hear a hissing sound. This method of brewing has become very popular among travelers and campers, due to its lightweight portability, lack of breakable parts, and the fact that it doesn’t require electricity.

Aeropress-Coffee-Maker-Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-DiegoWhat the coffee is like: Coffee from an Aeropress has a higher pH than drip coffee from a percolating machine typically does, making the cup a little less acidic than you might be used to (good news for caffeine hounds with sensitive stomachs!). Even though the “pressing” motion of this method is reminiscent of the French press, the dense paper filter keeps any sedimentary texture from the cup.

The last of at-home brew comparisons features two of what are likely the most stylish methods of brewing coffee, looks-wise: the Moka pot (also known as the macchinetta) and the Chemex. Both have won awards for their design and have been displayed in museums- most prominently New York’s Museum of Modern Art. And both could be considered fairly timeless- they were invented in 1933 and 1941, respectively, and are still quite popular today- that’s some staying power! So if you’re looking to make a statement about the way you drink your coffee and add an artistic artifact to your household, look no further.

Moka Pot/ Macchinetta

How it works: Marketed as a stovetop espresso maker and wildly popular throughout Europe, the Moka pot is a three-compartment coffeemaker that you use on the stove. You place water in the lowest compartment, fine coffee grounds in the middle compartment, and boil the water over medium heat. The pressure of the boiling water forces it through the coffee compartment and into the topmost compartment.

What the coffee is like: We’ll be honest- The Macchinetta makes an amazingly strong and distinctive coffee, but the syrupy, espresso-like liquid isn’t going to be the best way to highlight the qualities of your bean. You will get some crema on your coffee, like espresso from a machine, but not quite as much, as the espresso won’t have experienced such high pressure. And beware- this coffee is not for the faint of heart. If one cup of machine-brewed stuff is all you usually need, a Moka pot might be overkill for you. Caffeine hounds will absolutely appreciate the strength of the brew and the speed with which you can get it.

Chemex

How it works: The Chemex brewing method is, in its essence, a pourover method of brewing, albeit with a very particular piece of equipment. The Chemex is iconic- the conic aperture makes for great design and also gives you a slightly different brew than you’ll get with most pourover drippers. As with those drippers, however, you’ll want to grind your beans to a moderate fineness, then pour to allow for the bloom. With a Chemex, you can use paper filters or a laser-punched metal filter.

Chemex-Coffee-Maker-Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-DiegoWhat the coffee is like: This can depend, dramatically, on which filter you decide to use. Across the board, critics generally praise what comes out of a Chemex. However, if you’ve used the strong, thick paper filters, then you’ll have a cup of coffee largely devoid of oil- very clean, and excellent for tasting your bean of choice without distractions. If you’ve used a metal filter (like the Kone brand made for Chemex coffeemakers), you’ll still come away with excellent flavor, but you’ll have to have find in a very textured cup of coffee- lots of oils will get through the pourover, as well as fine grounds that are likely to settle in the bottom of your cup. It probably won’t be as textured and silty as a French Press-brewed cup of coffee, but it’ll be close. One added bonus of a Chemex is that you tend to be able to make more coffee in one batch conveniently while still maintaining the pourover-like quality- so this is a good one to reach for when you have friends with discerning tastes over.

Our recommendation? Simply visit your local coffee roaster, grab a bag of your favorite roast and sample a cup from each method. You can’t go wrong.

How is Coffee Decaffeinated? The Swiss Water and Mountain Water Process

Decaf Coffee

Decaffeinated coffee has long been the outcast in the coffee world- especially among coffee connoisseurs, roasting snobs, and caffeine junkies. The reputation of decaf coffee runs from mediocre to downright dangerous, depending on who you ask. Some people hate the taste, some people are worried about chemicals or carcinogens in their coffee, and “Death-Before-Decaf” tattoo-sporting baristas have long made coffee shop customers afraid to order the decaffeinated bean.

But the dark ages are over! Decaffeinated coffee no longer has to be the pariah among coffee beans that it once was. The process of decaffeination has been greatly improved with technological advancements and innovations in the last few decades, making it a far healthier option than it once was and improving the taste now as well. Plus, the proliferation of Third Wave coffee roasters- roasters who really care about the quality of the bean, and have lots of experience roasting different specialty beans- is making it more and more likely that you can find a decaf bean that has been roasted well (roasting a decaffeinated coffee bean is a notoriously tricky thing).

When decaf coffee originated, turning the idea of making a cup of coffee into a cup of decaf coffee has been made turned into a reality by using chemical solvents. Coffee was soaked with different chemical compounds that extract the caffeine and created decaf. However, it is that very process that gave decaf the poor popular standing that it has today. Using chemicals, especially in the early days of decaffeination, led to coffee that tasted subpar. Additionally, the earliest decaf processes employed chemicals like benzene and chloroform as solvents- things that are toxic or known to be carcinogens. As a result, decaf coffee’s standing in the world was not a good one.

Swiss Water Process and Mountain Water Process

Today, however, everything is different. Chemical processing is still used today, but it’s no longer the health hazard that it once was. And coffee science has progressed to using other methods to decaffeinate coffee as well- specifically, the water processing method has gained a lot of momentum. There are two very popular ways to water process your coffee to decaffeinate it- the Swiss Water Process (so called because it is a trademark of a company- not because it is made with Swiss water especially) and the Mountain Water Process (also trademarked).

How-is-Coffee Decaffeineated-Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-DiegoThe Swiss Water Process uses a liquid called Green Coffee Extract or GCE– that is created by removing the caffeine from a batch of green beans, and then discarding those beans. That GCE is then passed through specialized charcoal carbon filters- which are shaped to only filter caffeine molecules out- and reintroduced to a batch of green beans. The GCE helps to maintain the flavor of the coffee throughout the decaffeination process. That batch of beans is then subjected to the same process, but since the GCE is saturated with oil and flavor (but no caffeine), it means that the decaf coffee will maintain a richness of taste.

The Swiss Water Process and Mountain Water Process each claim to remove 99.9% of caffeine from their batches.

Today, the Swiss Water Processing plant resides in Canada, and you can likely find a local retailer or coffee shop that employs their method of decaffeination with their own beans. The Mountain Water Process is located in Mexico.
Supposedly, researchers are working on a decaf coffee plant- where the decaf beans will actually grow on their own. It may be several years away still, but it will surely be a game-changer in the coffee world.

Perfect the Pour Over Coffee Process

The Stages of Pour Over Coffee

The preparation of pour over coffee has experienced a real renaissance in recent years. Some of this might be attributed to the rise of Third Wave Coffee – the growing emphasis on single-origin cups of coffee, as well as the increased awareness of the complexity of flavor found within a bean. Pour over-brewed coffee is an excellent way to experience the diversity of flavor profiles found in a variety of beans and roasts. The following is a guide to the different stages of the pour over brewing process.

Stage One: Beans and the Grind

To begin your pour over coffee, you’ll need to be equipped with the necessary supplies. First, you’re going to need fresh roasted beans. Since pour over is a great way to experience the flavors found in the bean and its roast, you’ll want to buy coffee roasted within a week or two from a local roaster. Why spend the time on the pour over if the bean isn’t worthy of the investment? You will find most Third-Wave coffee shops that do their own roasting sell beans in increments of 8, 12 and/or 14oz.

You want to grind your coffee immediately before you brew – the fresher, the better. The coarseness of the grind is very important. If you are making a 12oz. cup of coffee you want the complete pour to take about 3 minutes. Too course and your cup will finish pouring within a minute, too fine and you will be staring at your cup of coffee for 5 minutes before it is ready. Make sure you measure out the amount of whole beans before you – usually, between 23 and 27 grams of coffee per 12 oz. of water is a good rule of thumb.

Stage Two: Water Temperature and the Kettle

One important piece of equipment that is often overlooked by at-home brewers is a kettle that makes pouring easy. Purchase either a conventional kettle or an electric kettle with a gooseneck, not a spout. When you pour the water over the beans, you’ll want a lot of control over the amount of water in the pour and where you pour it. A traditional spout just won’t afford you that control, and you’ll end up with a subpar cup of coffee. An electric kettle is convenient because you can monitor the temperature of your water – ideally around 204 degrees Fahrenheit.

Before you place the coffee in the filter, wet the filter with hot water by pouring just enough to saturate the paper. This will help you prevent the paper taste of the filter from detracting from the coffee flavors.

Stage Three: The Initial Pour – Saturating the Coffee Grounds

For the initial pour, you want to pour between 60 and 75 grams of water over your coffee. Saturate the entire surface of the grounds, and watch as the coffee bubbles and moves – this is called the “bloom,” when carbon dioxide is released from the grounds as the coffee begins to be extracted from the beans.

Roast-Coach-Pour-Over-Coffee-Espresso-Bar-San-Diego Stage Four: Continuing the Pour

After the coffee has bloomed, but before the bloom has collapsed, pour another hundred grams of water into the grinds. Pour slowly, in a spiral motion, moving from the center of the grinds to the outside, and back. Watch carefully while you’re doing this – you want to make sure that all of the grounds are saturated. It might take you a couple tries to really perfect your timing on this, but no worries! Brewing a good cup of coffee takes practice, just like anything else.

Stage Four: The Finished Cup

Just one more pour to go! Once your second pour has almost drained, go ahead and carefully pour once more – again, a spiral pattern is optimal. Pour until you’ve reached around 350 grams (12oz.) total for your cup of coffee, and wait until it has completely drained. Take a few sips before adding any cream or sugar and start to familiarize yourself with the unique flavors of each cup and enjoy one of the purest forms of coffee preparation, pour over coffee.

What’s the Difference Between Direct Trade and Fair Trade Coffee?

If you’ve frequented any third-wave coffee shops lately, chances are you’ve heard more than a little talk of where the coffee comes from- third-wave coffee shops make it a point to know where the coffee comes from, what type of bean it is, and tend to forgo blends in favor of a single-origin cup of coffee (single-origin, here, means exactly what it sounds like it means: coffee that comes from only one place or batch).

Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-Diego-Colombian-CoffeeIn these discussions about the agricultural and geographic origins of your cup of joe, it’s pretty likely that you’ve heard the term direct trade. To the uninitiated, the term seems unnecessarily obvious, or obfuscating- isn’t all trade direct? What, precisely, would indirect trade mean?

Direct Trade vs. Fair Trade

Direct trade coffee, as a term and as a practice, has gradually developed as an alternative to the concept of fair trade coffee. Fair trade took off in the latter half of the twentieth century, as a way for people producing commodities like coffee, tea, or even craftwork to market and sell their products to places like the United States and Europe- and to make a reasonable living wage doing it. Fair trade, which became an official certification, focuses on poverty alleviation and sustainable development in the areas in which these commodities are produced. For coffee specifically, fair trade has traditionally utilized the establishment of coffee cooperatives (co-ops) in which a number of growers come together to sell and make decisions for their communities at large. When you purchase a bag of fair trade-certified coffee, you can reasonably assume that the people who produced that coffee received reasonable remuneration for that coffee.

So why move to a direct trade model at all? While fair trade coffee does accomplish a more ethical system of buying and selling coffee, direct trading offers a few things to coffee merchants that simple fair trade does not. First, when coffee shops talk about coffee that is direct trade, it frequently means that the owners or purveyors of that shop communicate and buy directly from the growers of the coffee- cutting out the marketplace middlemen and importers/exporters that are typically a feature of fair trade coffee. Buying directly from coffee growers has a lot of benefits- it means that the buyers can truly ensure that a fair price is paid for the product, and if a long-term relationship is built between a coffee farm or co-op and a coffee shop owner, the two can collaborate around the growing process, roasting process, and taste of the bean. Coffee roasters can give feedback to the grower about bean quality, who can alter things for the next batch of coffee to produce a healthier bean and ultimately, a better cup of coffee. Coffee growers can also receive support for expansion or improvements from a particular buyer once a relationship has been established.

An increasingly globalized world often brings the potential for exploitation and vast economic inequality – direct trade coffee has so far bucked this trend. When coffee growers and coffee roasters/purveyors are able to directly collaborate, it can mean improved quality of life for the growers, and better coffee for the roasters.

4 Things a Good Barista Pays Attention To

Espresso

Achilles-Coffee-Roasters-San-Diego-EspressoDoes the barista watch it the whole time?
Espresso is a temperamental thing. Even the most seasoned of baristas will tell you that there is really no way to guarantee that each and every shot is perfect. A number of continuously changing factors can alter the quality of the pull of the shot- the temperature of the machine, the humidity in the shop that day, or simply the ghost in the espresso machine! A good barista knows this, and will stay near the espresso machine while the shot pulls to ensure that it looks like a quality shot.

Milk steaming

Starbucks and other mass chains have popularized the practice of “auto-steaming”-putting the steam wand in the milk and walking away- in the name of efficiency and speed. It may work for turning out lattes as quickly as possible during an eight a.m. rush, but it certainly shouldn’t be happening if your coffee is being made by a barista who knows their stuff and has the time and desire to make a really good latte or cappuccino. A barista with coffee-making skill and knowledge will pay attention while they’re steaming milk, watching the motion of the milk, feeling the temperature of the pitcher, or even just listening to the pitch of the sound being emitted. This is to ensure that they are foaming and microfoaming effectively- and not scalding the milk.

Freshness

If you want the best taste and good caffeine content, it is critical that your coffee shop restocks newly roasted beans with regularity. A good shop should be able to tell you the roast date of their current beans, and that date shouldn’t be more than a few weeks old.
One important thing to remember about freshness, however- when it comes to espresso, you don’t want absolutely fresh beans. After roasting, it is really important to allow the beans to “rest” for a few days- otherwise it can be really tricky to figure out the correct grind for the bean and pull beautiful espresso shots with any consistency.

Cleanliness

– Okay, so this one should be a no-brainer. Obviously, when you’re looking for quality in any food or drink establishment, cleanliness is a pretty good indicator of whether a business is paying close attention to their product and keeping their customers healthy (or even obeying the region’s health codes!). But we’re not talking about general tidiness, here- hopefully your regular coffee shop does sweep the floors, but it’s definitely not going to directly affect the quality of your morning java. The cleanliness that you should be looking for should be directly around the making of your coffee- does your barista rinse their portafilters or wipe them after they knock used coffee grounds out and before they grind more into them (portafilters are the small round trays with handles that twist into the espresso machine and drip the espresso shot out the bottom)? Do they wipe the leftover milk off of the wands when they’re done steaming? What about spraying a little steam out to get any milk inside the wand off (this is called “purging” in coffee lingo)? Occasionally, some of these steps might get missed (especially during the craziness of a morning rush!), but by and large you should see your baristas doing these things with frequency if they know their stuff and want you to get the highest quality latte possible.