Just last week, were were at Le Méridien Kuala Lumpur celebrating International Coffee Day by learning how to make the perfect cup of coffee. Not only that, by the end of the event, we would have learned coffee art as well. Since I am a right klutz at anything to do with drawing, I was pretty eager to see if they could make an artist out of me, and doodling on coffee, no less. Without wasting time, I started taking notes and really paying attention at the Coffee-art session with Illy Coffee Master Barista, Goh Chee Wan, as I would soon be trying my hand at it!
So, what I learned was that an espresso is named as such because it is to be freshly prepared and enjoyed immediately. Espresso is fussy. The word means, “express,” which means that it is prepared upon request, on a moment’s notice, on express request, extemporaneously.
Authentic espresso preparation ideally starts by freshly grinding beans perfected for this purest of methods. The art of the barista is to calibrate the grind, expertly tamp just the right amount of coffee into the filter, then keep close watch on time, temperature and pressure. You might think it looks all right, but only the experienced barista knows the perfect amount and calibration.
To put it simply, a shot of espresso is made by forcing about 1.5 ounces of nearly boiling water through tightly packed, finely ground espresso coffee. If everything goes well, what comes out is a dark brown, slightly thick liquid with a small amount of crema (a foam, sort of like the head on a beer) on top. There are many variables in the process of making a shot of espresso. The temperature of the water, the pressure of the water, the fineness of the ground coffee and how tightly the coffee is packed are just a few.
Espresso is the quintessential coffee preparation – rich, aromatic and velvety all at once – a natural layer of crema on top belying a full-bodied, yet deftly balanced liquid below. So, here it is, and doesn’t it look terrific!
And if you check out the Illy website, it tells you EXACTLY how to make the perfect cup of espresso. Espresso is made with a jet of hot water at 88°-93°C (190°-200°F) passes under a pressure of nine or more atmospheres through a seven-gram cake-like layer of ground and tamped coffee. Done right, the result is a concentrate of not more than 30 ml of pure caffeine fix.
Even the barista himself said that his limit in a day is 6 – 7 of these shots. Anymore and it will have the reverse effect , i.e. he gets sluggish instead of energized. Omg, if I drank as many as him in day, I’d be awake for a week!
Then we moved on to coffee art and drawing on lattes and cappuccinos.
So, is coffee art important to a cup of coffee? Hell yeah!
It sure beats drinking a boring looking brown cup of liquid ( might as well drink milo!) Coffee is after all, a sensory experience. Thus coffee art adds to the sensory pleasures as, 1. it is pleasant to the eyes and 2. the frothy milk is sweetly smooth on the tongue.
Of course we would soon learn at this workshop that the milk needs to be correctly frothed. The stretching and texturing must be well done and the temperature must be ideal.
Looks easy enough, but it’s bloody difficult, okay?! 😛
Yup, learning the importance of the milk, was the first thing. The foam’s consistency depends on the milk’s fat content. For the most velvety, rich cappuccino, one should use whole milk. You can substitute low-fat milk, at the sacrifice of some smoothness.
Foam produced from skim milk is light and meringue-like, quick to dissolve, so not very ideal. To make great cappuccino, it takes some practice with water, steam and foam, along with the right equipment. You’ll want an espresso machine with a built-in steaming wand. And of course, illy coffee to work with.
A cappuccino is an approximately 150 ml (5 oz) beverage, starting with equal parts espresso and milk, each 30 ml (1 oz). The foaming action creates the additional volume. For a cappuccino at its best, pour cold milk into a metal steaming pitcher, about a third full.
Release steam from the steaming wand for two seconds to eliminate any residual water. Dip the tip of the steaming wand into milk and start the jet. As the foam rises and the volume of milk increases, lower the pitcher, always keeping the tip submerged and tilted to create a vortex. Do not mix unnecessarily (i.e. let the natural circulating action do the work).
the ever so patient Goh, teaching me to “feel” my way on what 65 degrees Celsius should feel like! He said chances are you will let go, but it will still be less than 65 degrees! He is such a smart man…
Continue steaming until the milk reaches 65 degrees (check via probe-style kitchen thermometer) and its volume doubles. Operate the steam one more time to eliminate any remaining milk residue. Tap the base of the pitcher firmly on the countertop to compress the foam, or you can swirl it several times. Pour around half into another pitcher, then pour back some into the original pitcher. Make sure the milk looks creamy with no bubbles.
Prepare an espresso in a large cup (ideally, a cappuccino cup). Before the milk is added, the espresso shot must have a creamy brown surface, an emulsion known as crema. As the white foam from the milk rises to meet the red/brown surface of the shot, a contrast is created and the design emerges. As the milk is poured, the foam separates from the liquid and rises to the top. If the milk and espresso shot are “just right,” and the pitcher is moved during the pour, the foam will rise to create a pattern on the surface. Alternatively, a pattern may be etched with a stick after the milk has been poured, rather than during the pour.
Now you are ready to make some art! Starting off with the milk pitcher close to the top of the mug, introduce a little bit of milk in the same place. Pour the foamed milk directly into the cup, first aiming for the center, then continuing in a circular motion out toward the rim. Lifting the pitcher an inch or so up, pour one revolution of a circle, making sure to move the milk pitcher, not the mug.
Hold the stream of milk in the same place, but wiggle the milk pitcher back and forth as you make a ringed circle. When your milk is almost completely poured, swing the milk up to create the bottom tip of your work of art!
At the end, a pattern may be etched with a stick after the milk has been poured, rather than during the pour. This adds detail to your art!
The bad news is that, my coffee art sucked, so, it will not appear on this blog! (maybe elsewhere, without my knowledge but.. ). However, the good news is that you can always get awesome coffee (with equally awesome coffee art) at Latitude03 if you are in the neighborhood. So, there you go… win-win!
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Le Meridien KL
2 Jalan Stesen Sentral
Kuala Lumpur 50470
Phone: 60 3 2263 7888
Fax: 60 3 2263 7222