Cof­fee: the stim­u­lat­ing art of pump and grind

As bleary-eyed caf­feine ad­dicts one and all, we wanted to know the se­cret of the per­fect cup of cof­fee. The “cafetière” cognoscenti heard our pray­ers

The Field - - Contents - writ­ten BY hat­tie el­lis

Hat­tie El­lis as­sesses ar­ti­san brews

Cof­fee, the proper stuff that is, has un­der­gone a revo­lu­tion in re­cent times, with thriv­ing in­de­pen­dent cafés now serv­ing ar­ti­san brews around the coun­try. But de­spite its style and en­er­getic buzz, spe­cial­ity cof­fee can seem com­pli­cated and ex­pen­sive. Do you need to join long queues in trendy cafés or buy fancy kit and be­come a barista at home?

No won­der most of us reach blearyeyed for the cafetière, vaguely scoop what we think is the right amount of cof­fee and plunge when it feels sort of ready. Caf­feine is deeply habit form­ing; as much a need as a taste. Why bother to change?

Yet there’s clearly much to learn and en­joy. I ven­tured forth, cup in hand, to find a way through for the non-hip­ster. Ar­ti­san roast­ers are the best guides. Only through roast­ing do green beans de­velop the 1,500 aro­matic com­pounds that are re­leased into de­li­cious cup­fuls. It’s a highly de­vel­oped craft and such ex­perts have pow­ered the shift to­wards bet­ter beans and brews.

My first guru is Ian Steel of J Atkin­son & Co in Lan­caster. Lon­don may be the driv­ing force be­hind good cof­fee in the UK but it’s not the only cen­tre.

Atkin­sons has been go­ing since 1837. The business was bought by Steel and his wife, Sue, re­turn­ing to Lan­cashire after ca­reers in Lon­don. With their two mil­len­nial sons, Mait­land and Cas­par, they have formed a bridge be­tween cof­fee old and new.

Be­hind the shop is a state-of-the-art Cal­i­for­nian roaster with the high­est of eco­cre­den­tials. In the shop it­self, mag­nif­i­cent old can­is­ters and scoops shiny with cus­tom sit along­side a 1940s gas roaster that is still used to show cus­tomers how the process works.

It’s In the roast ac­tion

The beans are ready – whether for a lighter or darker roast – when they brown and crack, fill­ing the shop with sounds as well as the in­tox­i­cat­ing, com­plex aroma of freshly roasted and ground cof­fee.

Next door is The Hall, a stylish 1930s par­ish hall re­pur­posed as a café. On the long counter are a series of cof­fees be­ing brewed in syphons, a vac­uum cof­fee-mak­ing con­trap­tion that looks like a Star Trek gizmo, halo­gen glow below, glass cof­fee-bowl

above. The espresso ma­chine hisses like a mod­ernist steam en­gine and con­tented cus­tomers en­joy su­perla­tive cakes and the sour­dough toasties that are de rigueur in trendy cof­fee houses.

Along­side espresso, cof­fees from two types of beans are on of­fer: cur­rently, Ethiopian and Rwan­dan. The tast­ing notes for these are, re­spec­tively, “flo­ral, peach, tea” and “can­died sugar, vanilla, plum wine”.

My first les­son is that sin­gle-ori­gin cof­fee, brewed well, has a broad range of tastes. The po­ten­tial for sweet­ness, acid­ity and aro­matic flavours will vary de­pend­ing on the coun­try of ori­gin, pro­cess­ing and bean.

I sip and yes, es­pe­cially as the cof­fee gets slightly cooler, re­mark­able sen­sa­tions fill my mouth, in­clud­ing a re­fresh­ing acid­ity that is akin to eat­ing a juicy ap­ple. The com­plex­i­ties un­roll, stay­ing in my mouth long after the cup is empty. A whole new pal­ette of taste and plea­sure is re­vealed.

Ian has trav­elled to many of the cof­fee pro­duc­ing coun­tries – to Kenya, In­dia, Su­ma­tra, El Sal­vador, Colom­bia and his ul­ti­mate des­ti­na­tion, Ethiopia, a coun­try with the mys­tique and sta­tus of be­ing where the cof­fee plant is thought to have orig­i­nated. The coun­try’s mul­ti­tude of wild va­ri­eties of­fer her­itage beans with un­usual flavours, some of them lightly flo­ral.

Each re­gion – and even cof­fee farm or col­lec­tive – has dif­fer­ent styles, in the same way as wines and vine­yards are dif­fer­ent. To gen­er­alise, Cen­tral Amer­i­can and African beans tend to have more acid­ity and fruit flavours, and coun­tries such as In­done­sia and Brazil give rounder, softer, heav­ier cof­fees, some with choco­late tones.

the beans count, too

As for the pro­cess­ing of the beans, look for notes such as “nat­u­ral process” if you want to try some of the more funkier flavours and “washed” for a crisper, cleaner cup­ful.

When brew­ing cof­fee, you are dis­solv­ing all the mirac­u­lous com­po­nents of the bean – flavour mol­e­cules, caf­feine, oils – into the wa­ter. The key is to use the right pro­por­tion of cor­rectly ground cof­fee to wa­ter, and to brew for the best amount of time.

All these el­e­ments mat­ter if you want to avoid weak and sour un­der-ex­tracted cof­fee or over-ex­tracted cof­fee that is harsh and bit­ter.

You don’t need a spe­cial ma­chine. Fil­ter cof­fee can be made at home with just a fil­ter pa­per-lined cone to put on top of a cup or jug. Pour the wa­ter over slowly and evenly to get the max­i­mum ex­trac­tion.

Good cof­fee can also be made in a cafetière, ac­cord­ing to James Hoff­mann, the mas­ter-roaster who is the co-founder of one of the pi­o­neers of new cof­fee, Square Mile, and au­thor of an ex­cel­lent guide, The World At­las of Cof­fee.

Quan­tity is im­por­tant, de­bated and of­ten mis­judged. Hoff­mann rec­om­mends 60g ground cof­fee to one litre of wa­ter for both fil­ter and cafetière cof­fee. In a small, 250ml cafetière this is 15g of cof­fee. A stan­dard scoop is about 9g but vol­ume is less ac­cu­rate than weight be­cause grinds vary and so do cof­fees. One trick is to mea­sure the cof­fee on dig­i­tal scales and then to pour on the wa­ter while on the scales – 1g equals 1ml. Once you are used to this, it be­comes as straight­for­ward a habit as spoon­fuls.

Then you need the cof­fee to be the right size of grind. When mak­ing espresso the wa­ter is pumped through cof­fee quickly, un­der pres­sure, and re­quires a very fine grind. In con­trast, the in­fu­sion of a cafetière, or pour­ing hot wa­ter slowly and evenly over the grounds for fil­ter cof­fee, re­quires a slightly less fine grind – but not too coarse – so that the flavours dis­solve out prop­erly.

“If you brew a pot that’s too weak, it’s prob­a­bly be­cause the cof­fee is a bit too coarse and you haven’t ex­tracted enough flavour,” says Hoff­mann. “The in­cli­na­tion is to use more cof­fee to fix it but you don’t

The key is to use the right pro­por­tion of cor­rectly ground cof­fee to wa­ter

im­prove the ex­trac­tion. With a slightly finer grind, the wa­ter can suck out more flavour and you get a stronger, more bal­anced cup.”

As for tim­ing, four min­utes brew­ing is about right, if the grind is cor­rect. The wa­ter tem­per­a­ture is best slightly off the boil but this mat­ters more with darker roasts that can be­come bit­ter more quickly with hot­ter wa­ter.

There are a cou­ple of big­ger hur­dles to jump if you want to en­joy bet­ter cof­fee at home.

Roasted cof­fee is a fresh food and this means it de­te­ri­o­rates. Buy whole beans in pack­ets that proudly an­nounce the roast date and use them within a month to six weeks. Keep cof­fee in a cool, dark place – but not the fridge, which can cause con­den­sa­tion.

Once ground, the sur­face area of the cof­fee is ex­posed to oxy­gen and loses its aroma and flavours quickly. Grind­ing just be­fore brew­ing is highly rec­om­mended.

There are two types of grinder: the whizzy­round blades that are most com­mon; and burr grinders, the type favoured by cof­fee-ex­perts be­cause the method de­liv­ers a more evenly sized par­ti­cle. This is im­por­tant be­cause dif­fer­ent sized pieces can lead to both un­der­and over-ex­tracted cof­fee in the same brew.

A sim­ple hand-grinder costs about £30 and is ef­fec­tive but hard work. A rea­son­able elec­tric burr grinder is £60 to £100.

“It’s a painful truth but you have to buy a grinder,” says Hoff­mann. “If you buy ar­ti­san cof­fee ready-ground, after 24 hours you’ve lost a lot of what you’ve paid a pre­mium for.”

Adding milk is cus­tom­ary for many of us but that’s partly be­cause it im­proves bit­ter, over-ex­tracted cof­fee. Milk also slightly muf­fles the finer flavours of good cof­fee. It’s well worth try­ing a brew black, at least at first. An espresso, how­ever, is stronger and isn’t so much af­fected by a drop of milk – or more, as in a flat white or cap­puc­cino.

As for home-made espresso, most cof­fee geeks say that the ma­chines are a lot of work for less flavour than one made by a pro in a shop. If you have a ma­chine, ide­ally grind your own beans. How­ever, ready-to-use pods can con­tain good cof­fee, with com­pa­nies such as Colonna and Vol­cano mak­ing com­postable cap­sules of high-qual­ity beans.

There are con­sid­er­able up-sides to go­ing to a good cof­fee out­let other than buy­ing freshly roasted beans. Some of the best in the cap­i­tal are pro­filed in a richly at­mo­spheric, well-il­lus­trated new book, Lon­don Cof­fee, by Lani Kingston. This cov­ers the sub­ject from the old-style Bar Italia in Soho to the early adopter of new cof­fee, Mon­mouth Cof­fee, to the hip new out­lets. With a wider reach, The Lon­don Cof­fee Guide will di­rect you to the best in­de­pen­dents in town.

The rise in cof­fee houses mir­rors the fall in pub at­ten­dance. Per­haps we want to be more awake from our drinks these days. Lap­tops and mo­bile phones mean we can work any­where and meet­ing for a cof­fee is a use­ful unit of time for work and friends. How­ever, the bet­ter flavours un­locked by spe­cial­ists make me, for one, in­creas­ingly will­ing to wake up and smell the new cof­fee.

J Atkin­son & Co: tel 01524 65470; www.the­cof­fee­hop­

James Hoff­mann: tel 020 7729 3744; www.jameshoff­

Four min­utes brew­ing is about right, if the grind is cor­rect

Above: J Atkin­son’s café in an old pri­ory hall of­fers its pa­trons a new “hal­lowed ground” Right: cof­fee cher­ries are har­vested from a farm in the Rwen­zori Moun­tains, Uganda

Lon­don Cof­fee by Lani Kingston, with pho­tog­ra­phy by David Post, pro­files some of the best places to grab a mug of the brown stuff in the cap­i­tal. Pub­lished by Hox­ton Mini Press, £20.

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