Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Latte art training at Extract

Commit To The Pour. The same four words bounced around inside my head, mocking, taunting as yet another of my failed attempts at ‘latte art’ swirled down the plughole. It all looked so easy when our tutor, Sam patiently demonstrated the process for the umpteenth time, pouring a beautifully textured coffee adorned with an infuriatingly neat and symmetrical ‘rosetta’ (the industry name for the delicate, fern shaped, artistic pattern often seen decorating decent coffee). Fighting down the strong urge to howl in rage and knock the perfect cup to the ground, stamping on the broken pieces like a petulant child, I step forward, determined for another go.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a total carve up. My milk is too ‘stretched’ and I adorn my cup with a shapeless foaming milk blob. Cappuccino anyone?
Pouring my effort down the sink and gritting my teeth, I prepare to go again…

‘E’ and I were spending the morning at Extract, a South West based artisan coffee roaster of some renown and we’re learning how to ‘do coffee’, more specifically flat whites and lattes.

Irritatingly, ‘E’ is great at it from the start. (Hardly surprising from someone who owns a café). Me? I’d been quickly sized up; my capabilities measured and had been relegated to the remedial class of just one pupil, pouring the somewhat easier dumb-ass heart shape instead of the soaring phoenix like Rosetta. It felt like I’d been handed a coffee bean shaped dunce hat.

Practice, Practice, Practice. Sam insists that’s all it needs, and after 3 hours or so, I was back in the nerdy top set, adorning coffees with a stunted and withered parody of a fern shape instead of milk foam icebergs.

I had no idea that there were so many factors and variables to getting it right. The texture of the steamed milk, the height of the pour, the size of the cup, the angle it’s held, the angle of the milk jug and if that wasn’t enough, the right wiggle movement when creating the pattern. The pros make it look so easy. Bastards.

By the end of the morning, my face plastered with a smug grin, I’d actually produced something that was aesthetically pretty decent. So what if the cup was only three quarters full and any customer I attempted to foist it upon would immediately complain and refuse to pay for it? I’m chuffed with my final effort. Yes I need more practice, but I actually sort of know what I’m doing, kind of.

So, here’s what I learnt…

Tamp the coffee nice and flat, but not too hard (30lbs of pressure to be exact – I’ve no idea how you’d actually put that information to any practical use though)

Flush the machine and the steam wand before and after each use.

Use a small jug, and fill it to the same height each time – make only 1 cup at a time.

Insert the steam wand into one side of the milk, to create a vortex.
‘Stretch the milk’ for only a second or so, you want an initial crackle and then the wand needs to pushed slightly deeper into the milk. There shouldn’t be any loud hissing and spitting, more a smooth murmur.

Hold your hand on the jug and turn the steam off as soon as it feels too hot to hold.

The milk should be slightly creamy, not foamy.

Bang the jug’s base on a flat surface firmly, to remove any bubbles and then swirl the milk to add texture.

Hold the coffee cup at a downward angle.

Swirl the milk again right before pouring.

Commit to the pour, once you start, just go for it – (any half ass-ness will guarantee it goes wrong).

Pour the milk from around 4” or so height into the centre of the coffee, and move the jug closer as you pour until the jug is at right angles and the spout is pretty much touching the coffee. At this point, make tiny small sideways movements, whilst gradually straightening the cup as it fills.

The final flourish is a straight pour through the centre of your (hopefully) beautiful rosetta pattern.

After the training, we had a brief opportunity for a look around, and spent some time admiring the massive cast iron heft of ‘Betty’, Extract’s centrepiece and very much in use 1955 vintage coffee roaster that had been so lovingly restored that to my layman eyes looked like it had been built yesterday.

So, putting what I’d learnt into practice, my first attempt in ‘E’s café this morning wasn’t half bad. The milk was exactly the right texture, I didn’t manage anything that could be described as a rosetta, but the fancy artistic squiggles will come with more practice, the main thing was, it was the best coffee I’ve ever made. So, right now I’m more than happy with that.

Thanks to David, Samm, Marc and Sam for being so welcoming (and patient) as we spent hours making one disastrous coffee after another until we got it right… well, nearly.

Extract Coffee Roasters

Telephone: 01454 228 457



Polly said...

When the hubby got super hooked on proper coffee, the 30 pounds of pressure baffled us too. Thankfully there are dynamometric tampers that always apply 30 pounds of pressure :D Kinda convenient!

ricketyjo said...

Brilliant!! Sounds like i need to send my hubby here since on some days my flat seems to resemble a cafe with all the coffee machine noise and smells. Great post, thank you :)

Shu Han said...

that's brilliant! I always wondered how they got those beautiful patterns, but well, I never really got down to actually finding out how, just sat there and stared in awe.

Dan said...

Polly - Dynamometric tampers? I had absolutely no idea. Thanks for that, makes much more sense now.

RicketyJo - If your husband likes coffee, he'd love this. Was absolutely fascinating learning how to do it properly.

Shu Han - Really pleased you found this useful. It always looks so deceptively easy when the pro's do it. I often wondered what trick was, now I know.