Masterclasses – tips and techniques

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

Industry Comment – with Emily Oak


Who decides what the customer wants?


What does a customer remember about a coffee they drink? Is it the latte art, the café atmosphere, the conversation they shared with the barista or the origin and farm the coffee came from? Chances are it’s one of the aforementioned, but what a barista is trying to share and what a customer takes away is probably rarely the same thing.

The experience that a customer treasures from going for coffee or visiting a cafe is often the same reason they were attracted to go there in the first place – and it is different for everyone.  Of course there is no right and wrong when it comes to defining this interaction although for the most part a feeling of trust and respect between the customer and the café must exist.

Specialty coffee baristas love what they do. We’re passionate, dedicated and in most instances educated quite thoroughly and specifically about the coffees we roast, dial in, pour and serve every day. We know the region and district it was grown, in some instances we’ve met the farmers and workers and touched the trees that produce the cherries. We care about the supply chain and the integrity of our product, and, we want you to understand it’s true value. Despite our competing businesses, as a collective this is our common goal.

So why is this a topic worth discussing? As I mentioned earlier, the problem occurs when the goals and the outcomes don’t line up.

The biggest question currently facing the specialty coffee retailer is how to better engage customers to share our passion. Because more often than not, it seems, that customers just aren’t that into it. We have, I believe, as an industry, accepted that in the past that sometimes our interactions have been less than ideal. In the push to share our cause we’ve come across as patronising, soap-boxy and preachy, and not actually stopped to find out what people are looking for. Customers end up dissatisfied and then disengage, no longer paying attention to what we’re trying to share.  What we need to do as an industry is recognise that not every person who walks through the door is looking to know the whole story…. (yet!) Equally, customers need to recognise that coffee isn’t just coffee, hopefully through the quality of experience and relationships that can be developed between a café and its patrons.

As an industry we’re in a unique position. Our clients visit regularly (daily in most instances) and the frequency of interaction we are offered is far greater than that of most other hospitality industries.  Specialty coffee needs to share with customers our product and our story, because the coffee we serve is undervalued by the general public. Because of this, people are not willing to pay what coffee is worth, or understand why in fact, we actually need to pay more.

How we better spread this message is still being debated, but at the very least communication needs to be improved. Baristas need to adapt to respect the needs and wishes of their customers and understand that everyone is looking for a different outcome from their interaction. Hopefully from this basis, a new dialogue can open up. Equally, customers need to be willing to engage a little more and begin to understand that when it comes to coffee, things can only get better.

Emily Oak is Division Manager for St Ali and Sensory Lab in NSW and a former member of the WCE Board of Directors.

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Industry Comment – with Emily Oak


Singles or Blends?

Not so long ago I had a minor squabble with Neil Perry via twitter on the pros and cons of single origins vs. blends in espresso beverages. Even as one of Australia’s most recognised and successful celebrity chefs, his mis-interpretation of the merits of each had me perplexed. As I attempted to explain how each performed generally as espressos the conversation got split into tangents and inevitably came to a halt, but it left me wondering how many people are confused by what ‘single origin’ or ‘blend’ actually means and how they can best be used.

The term ‘single origin’ can be a little confusing. Essentially it means coffee from one single place – either one country, one region or one single estate. It is not mixed or blended with any other coffee, be it from another or the same, country, region or farm. It is alone, one bean from one place.

A blend is anything other than that. A blend can be coffees from various countries, from various regions, or even two varying roasts of the same coffee mixed together (usually referred to as a ‘single origin blend’– just to things!).

So, why do we offer both? It’s hard to establish how blending coffees together began, but it is easy to explain why it became popular. By putting together coffees of various taste and depth, a roaster can develop flavours and textures that might not be possible in a single origin bean. When done well, a blend can bring out the best in coffees as individuals, while complementing each other to create balance, the desired taste or other aspect most sought after. Blending can sometimes hide faults in coffees and add volume as fillers, or perform better (than single origins) when mixed with milk.  Traditionally, over decades, coupled with the limited technology for quality control from the growing and production of green coffee and roasting, blends produced a better outcome for espresso coffees.

Single origins coffees, whilst always having existed, have had somewhat of a renaissance in the last decade or so. This is primarily because of the rapid increase in the quality and traceability of coffees, as well as a renewed interest in single cup brewing. Even when I started in the coffee industry 17 years ago we sold the generic Colombia, Brazil or Mexican coffee. Now, we can trace our coffees back to the region, farm or estate and get a much higher quality cup.

Singe Origin coffees are however individual in their taste and not for everyone. In fact, the point of them, more often than not, is to highlight the individuality and nuances of a region, variety or processing method; aspects of flavour that can get lost if mixed with other coffees. As an espresso, single origins are most often softer in milk than a blend or sometimes a little confronting with unusual or unique characteristics as a black coffee. They are not for everyone and are almost always limited when it comes to repeating a flavour profile.

Both blends and single origins are valuable elements, especially for specialty coffee, as an avenue of sharing just how good quality coffee can taste. Blends are a fantastic way of introducing people to better coffees but ironically, as people explore coffee more and more they are inevitably drawn to tasting the distinct and diverse range of single origin coffees now available to the market. Regardless of what you prefer, if it’s a good coffee bean to start with you will almost always enjoy the experience.

Emily Oak is Division Manager for St Ali and Sensory Lab in NSW and a former member of the WCE Board of Directors.

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

Go Naked!

Naked coffee, or a naked group handle (sometimes also known as a bottomless portafilter) is a traditional group handle that has had the bottom cut out of it, so that the base of the filter basket containing freshly ground coffee is directly exposed.

Because of this distinct modification, the extraction process can be observed as the coffee liquid passes straight from the bottom of the filter basket into a cup.


Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

History of the Espresso Machine – Part I

Confusion and error still plague the history of the espresso machine and its inventors. Coffee expert Ian Bersten has gone further than anyone else in getting to the true story in his book ‘Coffee Floats, Tea Sinks’.
We publish the first of a three part piece comprising edited extracts from the chapter entitled: ‘The Espresso Coffee Machine Revolution’.
From the first days of brewing coffee, inventors were confronted with the interplay of grind size, water temperature and brewing time, the interaction of which they never fully understood. These critical factors had to be just right for a complete extraction of the coffee flavour.


Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Espresso Coffee: a Complex and Fragile Beauty

davids_13by David Schomer

Often during my twenty years spent in hot pursuit of this elusive espresso, I have come back to the words of Piero Bambi, the owner of LaMarzocco espresso machines: ‘In espresso we are trying to preserve the fragrance through the brewing process’. And really, isn’t that what anyone wants from coffee, to taste as good as it smells?  But to achieve this is to control several complex factors from the green bean selection, roasting, and blending to the sensuous performance art of brewing and pouring. Let’s follow our barista as she performs her graceful dance to lure this delicate beauty into a cup. It starts when she (we are tagging along with Linda Cleckler) hits the button on the grinder. Heavy conical upper burrs pull the beans down, compressing them until they shatter into smaller fragments to enter the flat burrs, to be sheared into the final grind…  
To comment on this, or any other articles, click here for the Crema Magazine Forum

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

Water and Espresso Coffee

By Christopher Short

Coffee aficionados love to discuss the elements that make for their perfect cup. Factors often mentioned are their favorite brand of coffee beans, the proportion of arabica to robusta beans, the type of roast and single versus double boiler espresso machines, just to name a few. Interestingly, one issue only occasionally considered is that of water quality. This is odd given that water constitutes 95% of an espresso.

The reason it is not top of the list is probably because few really know what attributes they should be looking for in water and they generally have little choice in the matter. For most of us, it just arrives, normally out of the tap. The reason we should be concerned about water quality is that it does affect the taste of your coffee and it has a significant effect on brewing equipment performance and reliability in many regions. (more…)

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

The 7 Basic Steps to Great Home Espresso

It has many guises…espresso, cappuccino, café latte, macchiato, ristretto, doppio, flat white – that bitter sweet pleasure which is a way of life for so many of us. Sure, the active ingredient caffeine is found in other beverages, such as tea and soft drinks, but there’s only one true pure form: coffee.

But there is an art to making an espresso and all its variations. Even that simple long black demands respect for the espresso machine, and attention to the packing of the ground coffee beans. Without that ‘rat’s tail’ spiralling into the demitasse, your coffee is going to be sub-standard.

Seven steps to the perfect home espresso

Step 1 – Select your favourite coffee blend. You can either use pre-ground coffee or grind your own just before you make your espresso. If you are using pre-ground, make sure it is freshly opened and espresso blend [not filter]. If you prefer, as we do, to grind your own, make sure it is finely ground.

Ensure your espresso equipment is clean and hot, this includes the filter holder and filter basket, where your coffee grounds go. Preheat your cups – espresso cups should be approx 60ml capacity, cappuccino cups about 200ml capacity.


Step 2 – Place coffee grounds into the filter basket using a spoon or preferably a coffee scoop. You must place the right amount of coffee in the basket in order to get a good, strong espresso – one scoop in the smaller (one cup) basket; two scoops in the bigger basket (two cup) one.




Step 3 – Level the coffee in the basket and tamp (compress) the grounds. This will slow the flow of the water through the coffee, so that it can pick up all the flavour (oils & aromas) from the grounds. Check your machine instruction guide as to how hard or soft you should tamp.

Step 4
– Ensure the rim of the filter holder is clean before inserting it into the machine. Activate the water to flush  out any grounds from the inside of the machine.



Step 5 – Insert the filter holder into the machine. Immediately place warm cups underneath and start the flow of water through the coffee. The extracted coffee should pour in a fine stream (the proverbial ‘rat’s tail’).






Step 6 – The result should be 30ml of espresso (in around 25 seconds) with a 2mm golden, hazelnut-coloured crema on top. (The crema is an important indicator of the quality of your espresso.) and…Taste!

Note: If you get little crema, make sure your coffee is fresh for a start. Try again making sure you have the right amount of coffee, the right tamping pressure and that your machine has been properly warmed up. You may need to experiment with different grinds (particle sizes) – remember you typically need a very fine grind for espresso coffee. As a general rule with domestic espresso machines, make your espresso before preparing the milk.



Step 7 – Steaming your milk. Place fresh, cold milk in a small stainless steel jug (fill between a third and one half of the jug). Activate the steam button so that your espresso machine increases in temperature to produce steam. Once the ‘Ready’ light on your machine goes on, turn the steam on and off to expel any water.

Place the tip of the spout just (about half a centimetre) under the surface of the milk and positioned near the centre of the jug. Turn on the steam wand to full power. You should see and hear air being drawn into the milk, creating a whirlpool effect, making it foamy. When the milk reaches 65°C turn off the steam and wipe the steam wand clean.


Pour the steamed milk to produce the drink of your choice and enjoy!

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Jack Hanna, World Latte Art Champion 2007


World Latte Art Champion, Jack Hanna, speaks to us and shows off his talent as well as sharing a few tips for creating latte art.

Young, focussed and confident; these are all words that could be used to describe Sydney’s Jack Hanna, World Latte Art Champion 2007. But there are two words that best sum him up – driven and talented. At only 21 years of age, Jack’s journey to World Champion has been swift and decisive. “When I really get into something, I want to be the best that I can be, otherwise I feel I am wasting my time”, explains Jack. (more…)

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

The Signature Drink – Paul Bassett on Espresso Series

It wasn’t so long ago that coffee came in only two forms – black or white. But there are endless opportunities to be more creative with coffee…these ‘creative coffees’ have really only come of age in the last few years, and I believe their inclusion, in the form of the ‘signature drink’ in barista championships has given them increasing popularity in the world of espresso coffee.

So what makes a great creative drink? No doubt, it requires an understanding of espresso and the ability to start with a great shot of espresso.  But it also requires an understanding of the different ingredients and how they combine, as well as the way they compliment the espresso. And lastly, there’s the almost intangible factor of harmony or what I call ‘balance in the cup’. (more…)

Friday, May 30th, 2008

A Point To Grind

By Emily Oak

I am very lucky that in my work as an educator I often get the opportunity to associate with people already active in the coffee industry, as well as people who are so enthusiastic about coffee that they are setting up a mini espresso bar at home. Unfortunately for both of these groups they often overlook or misunderstand the importance of the grinder in the whole equation of making a cup of coffee.