The Art of Serving Coffee

2011/07/20 - Written by Elisa Casella
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Honoré de Balzac once said, “When we drink coffee, ideas march in like the army.” Coffee jolts the tired, softens the hard -hearted, and befriends the lonely.

Second only to water as the most consumed beverage in the world, the avid coffee drinker has a plucky palate.  The art of serving coffee is a talent that combines technical prowess, clever invention, and a macchiato of fun.

The Barista

A good cup of coffee begins and ends with the barista. The word barista is Italian for one who works behind the bar. Experts view the role of a barista as the mover, shaker, and taste-maker of the business. Sandro Maltoni of Caffé Art Java defines the barista as a bartender who is a “showman, always approachable, fun, and knows his coffee.” Café Myriade’s Anthony Benda, believes his role is first and foremost “to make the customer feel welcome in the environment, all while serving the best possible coffee.” Can anyone be a barista? Coffee expert Spiro Karagianopoulos thinks so, but they must love coffee and “educate themselves on coffee making techniques, develop their palate and use the right equipment.” Luke Spicer of Café Nevé says that serving the public means that you must also be creative and possess a “quick and chatty personality.” The barista is an open minded person who celebrates the particularities of the coffee buff, never forgetting that social interaction is the main reason someone walks into a café in the first place.

The Perfect Cup

Making a cup of espresso takes practice, skill, and perfect timing. The perfect espresso is incredibly sweet and aromatic, with a potent flavor that brings out the freshly ground bean.

A shot must be extracted within 25 seconds. The foam or crema is thick, smooth, and reddish- brown in colour and the taste should trail on the palate for five minutes after drinking it. Mastering the science of making a shot of espresso is the foundation to any cappuccino or the latté drink. In North America, we tend to enjoy milkier medleys of both versions than in Europe. Furthermore, Karagianopoulos reminds us that the perfect shot of espresso may require anywhere from six to thirty steps , as factors such as efficiently cleaning the coffee machine to a properly adjusted handle affect the taste of the final product. Next time you drink an espresso; look out for tiny spots on the crema. Sandro Maltoni and coffee connoisseurs call them godshots. It takes practice and skill for any barista to produce but they are sign of perfection in a cup.

Specialty: A Growing Coffee Trend

The tastes of the modern coffee aficionado are becoming more refined. The super sized and overly sweetened concoctions served up in mainstream chains just do not cut it anymore. Coffee retailers and roasters are now moving into third wave coffee shops. The focus is on growing beans from single origin farms and serving roasts as fresh as four days to a month old. As the trend ignites in North America, barista’s host cuppings, similar to wine tastings, to educate the masses on the vigor and viability of single origin coffee.

Once you know that you are drinking the honey from the purest bean in the world, what can add an even more personal touch to your morning brew? It is called latté art. The art is the design created on top of any espresso based drink, such as a cappuccino or latté. The paint required is velvety frothed milk and a thick crema. The barista channels Michelangelo as he uses technique to pour the milk onto the crema. The painting begins as the pitcher is thoughtfully tipped, dipped, centered, and rocked side to side. The final drizzle spawns rosetta, heart, animal shapes that would put a smile onto the face of any cynic. Some barista’s even add etching detail to their designs. Art competitions have become popular. Latté art takes years to master and exists to highlight the skill and ingenuity of the barista, as well a great tasting coffee.

But the real joy comes from the experience of drinking the coffee itself, no? At any Italian coffee bar, observe how the drinker eagerly lifts the tiny cup from the saucer to their nose, takes in the distinctive bouquet, swills it in three easy sips, and finally brings the cup back to the saucer in a spirited clang. The ritual is like no other and demonstrates why the art of drinking coffee will never die.

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