Yesterday was quite an interesting and packed day.
At 9am it was back to the machines in the Barista Foundation course and because it had been realised that the lever machine was a pretty bad thing to be setting noobs on we were 6-7 to a machine for the morning dial in and milk learning (ouch!).
The instructor did an admirable job of managing this rather chaotic set-up and I largely just sat out the espresso re-cap because I’d have just got in the way and stepped back in when it was milk-o-clock because I need all the practise I can get on commercial wands.
By 11am it was time for the practical exam and half of the people in the room who had never used a steam wand before had now used a steam wand once or twice and were not ready for it. Thankfully the instructor (Alessandro) decided to delay and stagger the practical exams over the afternoon after the lectures and we all got to get a bit more practise in on the steam wands. (When your wand can steam a jug of milk in 5s vs your home wand of 40s it’s something that needs getting the hang of!).
Here is a little chap that we put together with some fairly badly steamed milk
Rina Paguaga – Stories from Origin
This was a super engaging talk from somebody who makes their living running a coffee farm. Forced out of Nicaragua by war when she was young with the rest of the family (across the border to Honduras) their family had to restart the entire business when they returned on a new farm in the early 90s when her father was already 70.
A picture of her father got a huge cheer as he’s still around and kicking twenty years later.
The farm is now ran by her and her brother and they’ve really focused on the quality pipeline from the plant to the barista, educating the pickers to only pick the properly ripe cherries and doing the processing on site where they can supervise it properly. They’re in the top 3% of the CoE because of this and have started branching out into naturals and honey process coffees (which is a risky but rewarding business if you can get it right).
This was a really insightful talk that really brought across how much of a story most of these farms probably have behind them (In My Mug from Has Bean would agree!).
Sang Ho Park
Obviously I like Square Mile and know who Sang Ho is and a little about what is going on with their taste standardisation initiatives but I didn’t realise quite how in depth they were going.
Sang Ho is a really engaging and humorous speaker and his anecdotes about being a young korean growing in Britain and how this influenced his own perception of taste were both funny and insightful.
The mile high takeaway was that we need a common language and understanding of what the flavours are in coffee and other products and the research and materials they are trying to produce are about trying to make that conversation more precise so when two people say “Blueberry” they are refering to the same thing rather than some emotive recall from childhood.
There was also a good discussion of how the barista when describing coffee was typically subjective and the roaster usually has to be objective because they’re looking at quality control of the bean and trying to find defects and remove then. They also need to calibrate with the other roasters in the team and language is a large part of this.
(This goes back to what I keep saying about preferences being subjective and flavour being an objective and quantifiable thing, but I digress).
Anyway, it’s possible to create the equivalent of the pantone colour chart for taste and what’s what they are doing with FlavorActiv. Creating pre-prepared concentrated flavours with the appropriate chemicals from the study of the composition of the flavours. The session ended with a cupping session of some pre-prepared “defects” which made the room smell awful and brought out the best of my gag reflex. Super effective though – fermentation defects and phenol are going to be staying with me for a few weeks.
Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood – Water
Read the book, this talk was just an entertaining summary of that ;). There was a fun cupping between the various different waters that he was talking about and I successfully picked out which one was whihc (because water does make a huge difference).
I did pop over for a chat and to talk about brew ratios and equipment and how various combinations of these things could also make huge differences alongside water. The end result really though is that coffee from soft water areas are usually going to taste pretty guff on hard water or vice versa. (Obviously this is super generalised and the actual talk contained the usual spiel about Ca, Mg and bicarbs).
Foundation Barista – Practical and theory exams
With a bit more practise, milk was super easy on the commercial machine and passing the practical was easy (again, should have proabably done intermediate haha). The theory was the equivalent of asking a secondary school student about their ABC – I think that it’s a great intro if you’ve never touched a machine before but I guess that’s not what we’re about on this blog!
We headed out into a british pub full of british people (guided by some wonderful Serbians who wanted to go and drink beer), new friends were made and we ended up in the pool at 1am when we got back. Oh what fun.
Looking forward to today!