Every morning, Sydney streets exude that earthy aroma of freshly roasted beans.
But although local caffeine addicts are self-proclaimed experts on taste and how to say, “One café latte, please,” they know little about their cuppa's creation.
Even though they demand boutique coffee from an espresso machine -- no brew here -- most don’t know their barista’s many secrets.
Maybe the aloofness is because their southern rival, Melbourne, does it pretty much the same way.
So here’s your step-by-step guide -- just so you can shout at your barista if they get it wrong.
First, get the beans right
“More than anything it’s a systematic approach,” says Shoji Sasa, barista at Single Origin Roasters. "We also like to call ourselves coffee scientists."
They use 20 kilos of their own coffee daily -- but it’s not ground straight after it's roasted.
“During summer, the roast we use is seven to 10 days old," Sasa says. "In winter, we let them age for longer, about 11 to 14 days.
“The rest is all stored in a cool room at about 18 C.”
But don’t put it in the freezer, “As when you take the coffee out to use, the coffee will sweat, release moisture and the beans will eventually get damaged.”
There goes that particular myth.
Grinding it out
There's no such thing as a weak coffee in Sydney, with most handles piling in about 20 grams of grind.
“Behind the counter, every sound, smell and color matters,” says the owner of Delmain Providore Café, Matt Adamson. “Step in my shoes and you’ll experience a different type of caffeine anxiety.”
The fineness of the grind is all important, he says, as it affects the color and speed of coffee extraction.
“But a barista’s gold medal lies in the hidden next step,” says Adamson. “The handle must be heated before tamping coffee in the holder.”
Then about 18-20 grams is placed in the handle for a double shot.
Your barista should now be running hot water through the machine for a few seconds -- before placing the handle on the machine.
Coffee is an oily substance and you have to get rid of that piled up residue, or it will dominate the taste.
Each shot should filter in about half a minute, so patience is rewarded with taste.
Once the handle is mounted on the espresso machine, coffee addicts should urge their barista to run the coffee through straight away, otherwise, the machine’s heat will burn the coffee before the hot water filters through it.
The perfection then comes in that color: a hazelnut brown, with tints of red.
“If the shot comes out very, very slow, that means the grind is too coarse,” says barista Manni Girn of Steel Espresso. “It’s also over-exposing the coffee beans, giving a husky, burnt tang.
“I go for 30 milliliters in 30 seconds of extraction -- it’s a rough estimate,” he says. “Later on when you master this art, you’ll just know when it’s right. Your heart will say, ‘Yes, that’s going to be damn fine coffee’.”
And remember, soy milk takes more time to froth than cows' milk.
The shot of coffee can’t sit for too long or its flavor will evaporate and dissipate very quickly.
So remind your barista to be steaming milk while the coffee is extracting.
Many baristas stick to their patent “60-65 C” rule while frothing, but others just follow their intuition or steam milk until the jug’s too hot too touch -- hardly rocket science.
“My trick is to introduce small amounts of air into the milk (dependant on whether it’s a latte, flat white or cappuccino) at times, to give it that silky consistency,” Sasa of Single Origin says. “The sound is very important -- too loud spells a bad and flat coffee.”
Finally, pouring that coffee
You're now waiting for that sip, but ideally, you should take a few breaths while your barista pours the milk.
The shot of coffee awaits in the cup and should sit, says Manni Girn, for “12 seconds before the milk is poured into the cup.”
In this final step, the milk can’t wash the coffee out: too fast and it’s too milky, too slow and there’s no scope for art.
“Latte art is the final process and every dine-in coffee deserves the extra love on top -- be it a heart, leaf or swan shape,” Girn says.