Upping my Barista Skills

This last weekend I finally went on a course all about coffee. All my interest in coffee has been built on the last 10 years and I’ve never been on an actual course to learn the skills you need to make good coffee. I don’t count being the whole person at a cupping demonstration as a course, although I did learn a lot! So on Saturday I headed to Rave Coffee in Cirencester for a Barista Skills course.

I really want this art work on a smaller scale for my reading nook. I will also buy some of their old coffee sacks at some point to make cushions!

I was early so waiting in their small cafe area with a lovely flat white with the Signature Blend. It got really busy as they are only open in the mornings on Saturdays, but I did wonder how many they had on the course as it is only a small roasting area. It ended up be 5 plus Donavan who took us through everything. I watch him set up the machine we would be using.

This course was focused on espresso shots and the drinks you can make with an espresso base. It was really interesting to learn about the grind and the ratio of water to beans. I still need to learn about the other brewing methods, but this gave me a good start on that road to be able to understand and learn on my own using websites.

We worked through weighing the beans and adjusting the grinder time. We were using a commercial electric one, but I did ask about grinders for the home and they recommend spending more money on the grinder than any other piece of equipment. I also asked about hand grinders and they recommended one I had been pointed to already and a different one I hadn’t heard of. I also recommended to look at Bella Barista, Coffee Hit and Coffee Forums to find out more about this area.

So my shopping list so far is a new grinder and much better scales!

We then worked through what a coffee shot looks like when split out. This was fun to watch and something I don’t want to attempt myself. They each smelled and tasted completely different and the very last one just was not right as too much water had run through the beans. It was really interesting to see and understand what too much water really means to the taste of coffee.

We then got to practice making quite a few shots each. As we had set up the grinder to do exactly the same each time we only had to press the button and out it came. The next skill was in the flattening out of the bean and the pressing it down with a really nice tamper (another thing to add to the shopping list, but not essential). The put it into the machine and timed the shot. We set the machine to the correct time so that all we needed to focus on was getting the tamper pressure right. I was not brave enough to check the seal of mine by turning it upside down, but I will over a sink when I can control the mess if it goes wrong!

We also learnt about keeping everything clean. This will extend the life of all your equipment and shows a real pride in the skills you are learning and demonstrating. It is a really mark of respect and you can tell and good coffee shop from a bad coffee by how well they keep it all clean, but also by how well they clean between making each drink.

We then moved on to the milk. This is the harder part I think as every machine is different and every type of milk is different. We stuck with whole cows milk to keep it simple. This is all about the steam and getting the foam and then the spin of the milk. It’s all done by feel, although we ha d a thermometer to check our gauge of temperature. It gave me a really appreciation for skill involved in getting this right and I definitely need more practice in the area to get my flat white right. The pouring is also key and was the bit I was even worse at than the steaming, which improved as I had multiple goes.

We talked through each type of drink you can make from an espresso base, starting with the cappuccino, which is the one we concentrated on making as this is the one with the most foam. Donavan made this one as I got so absorbed in this I forgot to take any photos of my own.

We then moved onto the latte and that involves less foam so you focus on heating the milk straight away rather than creating the foam like with the cappuccino.

Then we added the flat white. This was the first time I have ever tasted them all side by side and it was enlightening. The latte tasted watery and weak compared the cappuccino and flat white.

We then looked at the cortado and the ristretto, which reduces the milk much further than the other drinks to the point where there is more espresso than milk. I am definitely a fan of the stronger coffee drinks over the milky drinks.

Overall it was a really great day and I learnt a lot. We also got to meet Dave who is on the Coffee Forum a lot and restores coffee machines. It was really interesting to get more insight into the brands to get and to avoid when it comes to grinders and the espresso machines. This was my first step into the local world of coffee and I love it.

I then went home and waited until the next day to practice as I had a little too much caffeine that day. So on Sunday I practice espresso and milk skills. I think with the addition of scales and a better grinder I will improve my coffee, but otherwise I like how I make espresso.

It’s my milk skills that need drastic improvement and my gauge of temperature is awful! I made this cappuccino like drink liking the milk was hot based on my hands and found when I came to drink it, it really wasn’t hot, but rather the hot side of warm. Some work needed there (or a better machine!).

Seriously though scales and a grinder on my must get soon list as they will benefit all my coffee brewing methods. I am also going to get an aeropress for travel coffee making and work I think. Then when my espresso machine breaks I will look at investing in a better one to take it up another level.

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