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word from the wise: the super-simple guide to coffee

by Jasmine Wallis

Want to expand your coffee knowledge past the jar of instant in the office kitchen? Fancy knowing the difference between arabica and robusta, or a macchiato and a latte? Well, settle in, folks – we got the rundown on everything java-related from St. ALi head barista Todd Souter, so you can impress your friends at brunch on the weekend, and become a coffee connoisseur lickety-split.

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Where does coffee come from? Well, coffee is actually a fruit. Coffee cherries are grown usually at high altitudes in tropical climates, picked when are ripe, processed and dried. The seeds of the cherry are removed and this will later become roasted coffee beans. Depending on the country of origin, climate, altitude and processing method, these will all have an impact on flavour and the experience of that particular coffee.

What makes a perfect cup of Joe? Many things! Getting access to really good quality beans is a great start. Using scales and a timer is also really important; making coffee isn’t difficult but just like cooking or making cocktails you need a recipe to stick to for consistency. You may have a result that is delicious; you want to make that repeatable. On the other side you may have a result that is absolutely horrendous, you most likely don’t want to repeat that.

How do you recommend making barista-style beverages at home? I highly recommend using scales to measure your dose (the amount of dry coffee) and yield (the amount of liquid you are aiming to extract), and a timer to check your brew time (the time it takes to extract the liquid). Having a good quality grinder with sharp burrs is also important.

Is it better to buy whole beans or ground? Whole beans always – whole beans are the future! Once beans are ground you immediately start losing aromatics, because they’re exposed to oxygen. You also start to lose flavour and this will deteriorate over time. I highly recommend using whole beans and grinding fresh in order to get the most flavour out of it. Oxygen and light are coffee’s worst enemies. Keep your beans sealed in the original packaging in a cool, dark, dry place and they’ll last a lot longer.

Does coffee ever go stale? Yes and no. Ground coffee, yes. Whole beans that are well sealed and kept away from light and oxygen can last for a very long time.

How can you tell if coffee’s gone stale? For espresso, you’ll notice a lack of aroma in the ground coffee and in the espresso, and a very dark/black extraction with no crema (that creamy, golden layer on top). You may also experience a lack of sweetness and/or a cardboard-like flavour. For filter, the signs of age are a lot more obvious. Old filter beans have a distinct ‘cardboardy’ flavour. You can improve this simply by extracting a little less liquid (using less water). Grinding finer or using more coffee (in this particular situation) will make it worse.

What’s the difference between:

Arabica and robusta? Arabica beans are produced for flavour and grow at high altitudes. They’re also usually retailed at a higher price. Robusta beans are produced for caffeine, which tastes bitter. They’re grown at much lower altitudes and are generally cheaper to produce.

Macchiato and a latte? Lattes are the most popular drink we serve at ST ALi, served in a 7oz (207ml) glass. It's a single or double shot of espresso combined with textured milk. A good latte will have a finger-width of creamy foam on top. Macchiatos differ depending on which part of the world you are in and which cafe you go to. At ST ALi, a 'short macchiato' is a single espresso served with a side of hot steamed milk so that the customer can enjoy their preferred amount of milk and foam. A long macchiato is a double espresso served with a side of hot steamed milk.

Long black and an Americano? A long black is the second most popular drink we serve at ST Ali. We make ours with around 60g of hot water (depending on the coffee) and a double espresso is extracted over the top, so that the golden crema is intact – they are delicious! Americanos are more popular in American-style cafes; typically they’re served in 12 to 16oz cups. Usually it starts with a double espresso and then hot water is added to dilute the strength (closer to a filter-style coffee).

Where can we get more coffee knowledge? Come in and visit ST ALi of course! Another valuable resource is Barista Hustle. This is an online resource started by Matt Perger (former Head Barista at ST ALi and a multiple time Barista Champion). They have an online forum for asking questions and articles on understanding and improving particular areas of coffee preparation.

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