One final plea

This is one last humble request on a topic I know I’ve ranted on about before.

It would be really good, when talking about how we are brewing espresso amongst professionals, to start by talking about the weight of the espresso.  We need to stop using volume.  It is useless. Utterly useless.  Saying 1.5oz is like saying “about a basket full of coffee”.  It gets me in the vague ballpark, but it doesn’t really help if I am trying to dial a coffee in.

I’ve been really enjoying the reviews of various blends over on Home Barista, but I’d have really loved to know how much people’s great/amazings shots weighed (especially with Vivace’s Dolce where unusual crema volume is reported) – it would have made the reviews a lot more interesting and transparent.  I am sure it would also have been useful for people following along with those coffees and similar machines at home.

I know Andy Schecter posted about this on Portafilter less than two months ago – and now I just sound like a broken, whining, complaining record.  But weighing espresso is just so useful.

Alright.  That was it, no more posts about it.  This was the last (hopeful!) try.  We shall now return to normal service….

UPDATE: It was in error that I used the Home Barista thread as an example as some of the reviewers were indeed using both mass and brew ratios.  Apologies!

So what exactly is a macchiato these days?

This hasn’t exactly been bugging me but perhaps it is worthy of some thought.  In all the talk of “traditional” cappuccinos (let’s not get started again on the absurdity of thirds) there is another drink where the role of tradition is becoming questionable.

These days there is a huge variation in the taste of macchiatos.  Whilst they mostly consist of about an ounce of espresso (be it a short double or a single) the amount of milk going into them varies wildly from the old fashioned teaspoon of milk with a dot of foam to signal its addition to equal quantities of coffee and milk, or in some cases about two parts milk to one part coffee.  Whilst the variation in ml of milk is quite small the ratios, hence the taste and texture of the drink vary wildly.

For me there was a pivotal moment in my approach to this drink where I went from the old fashioned way to the 1:1 ratio way:  I got good enough at latte art to pour a half decent rosetta in an espresso cup.  I would quietly hope that people who order macchiatos from me would let me decide how to make so I could show off my new found skills (no point lying about this).  But most of the time they didn’t because I worked out quite early that macchiato drinkers are fussy.  (Well, you are!)  Let me turn this around into a few questions:

When was the last time you asked for a macchiato (from somewhere you expected it to taste good from) and were served the full espresso cup version without latte art?  Do we make the full cup because it tastes good or looks good?  Why are we adding the milk – at what point does the milk go from softening the espresso to smothering it?

I’ve had lots of old fashioned ones, and plenty with nice art but nothing really in between.  This isn’t to say that one tastes better than the other.  I think a teaspoon of milk in an espresso can soften the experience of a straight shot without masking the espresso too much.  It seems to be the drink of people who drink a lot of coffee, who can’t face another straight shot but would like to see how good the coffee is.   For me the other drink with more milk is more like a cortado though I’ve struggled to really pin down what a cortado is, perhaps because I’ve struggled to find particularly tasty coffee when I have been down in Spain and I have yet to make it to Portugal.  Oddly the cortado was a drink I saw quite a lot in Norway though it was amusingly explained as the manly way to have a cappuccino, and it was a bit milkier than I would have expected though was served in a short glass which I thought was appropriate.

I am not claiming to have any answers on this.  I’ll be honest – I prefer drinking the old fashioned ones, but prefer pouring the full cup ones, but I think in any cafe environment it is always worthwhile getting as much input from the customer as possible (they usually know exactly what they want….)

Book Review: “I love Coffee” by Susan Zimmer

Several weeks ago an e-mail came through this site from a publishers asking for my address so they could send me a book. I was surprised, a little skeptical but gave it to them and this morning a book arrived. For free. I’ll be getting guest list for CoE next….

Anyway – I’ve had a chance to read through the book so I thought I’d write a little review (which I presume to be the reason they sent it to me…..)

The book is by Susan Zimmer whose biog is here. On the surface this books seems similar to “Coffee Cafe” by Sherri Johns that came out last year. The first part of the book being a bit about coffee and brewing in general and the bulk of the book then given over to coffee based recipes.

This book seems to be pitched at baristas, and many competing baristas are constantly on the hunt for new ideas for signature drinks so may look to books like this for inspiration. Of the two Sherri John’s is probably better as it has drinks contributed by previous champions and less of the drinks contain alcohol. However there are two drinks in here from Sammy Piccolo of Artigiano/49th Parallel Roasters (I am not entirely sure which, do please correct me if you know). Sammy also did the latte art throughout the book, and its nice to see pictures of espresso with a healthy crema – all to rare in most coffee literature!

The book has something of an old school feel to it – espressos are 45ml, you can make milk foam using your French Press as a kind of butter churn (not one I had heard before, or one I think I’d recommend!) and coffee from origin countries talked about in sweeping terms. However the photography is pretty good, and a few of the drinks are of interest – though quite a few of the recipes come from syrup suppliers so you need a well stocked cabinet of flavoured sweetness to try them all and I confess I am unlikely to lay my hands on Thai flavoured syrup very soon.

All in all an odd mix of the older style tempered by some good information likely supplied by a few wise contributors. A shame they didn’t have a little more influence. One for the completists but for most of the people reading this blog it is worth looking through the recipes to see if there is something you like and probably not for the first part.

Perhaps also worth noting that the author is donating a portion of her proceeds to CoffeeKids which is only a good thing.