When I first lived in London I worked in the music industry for Harvey Goldsmith, a well known concert promoter. I was in my early 20’s and it was THE job to have! We got to go to all the gigs…and as this was the Brit-pop era, that was pretty cool. And if no gigs, then there was always someone ready to hit the pub. The downside of this meant that we were forever struggling with ‘tiredness’ – and sometimes the good ol’ cuppa just didn’t quite hit the spot. One of my bosses spent most lunches in a champagne bar around the corner. He’s a generous guy…particularly after a few…and so we used to love it when he would spoil us and bring back cappuccinos from Le Coin, the little French cafe around the corner which knew how to make coffee (and the best baguette with Emmental and coleslaw…makes me drool thinking about it). These coffees were worth crawling out from under the desk for (yes, there were times when that would make do as a bed!) My memories from that time – admittedly a bit foggy – were that these were the best coffees to be had in London (or at least in my little world).
Roll on fifteen-ish years (yikes that makes me feel old!) and what a transformation of the London coffee scene. Starbucks opened after I left, which then led to the onslaught of Costa, Cafe Nero etc…all of which are just plain bad. During this time, I married a Canadian and subsequently moved to Canada…where coffee is just a fact of life (although there are still too many Starbucks etc for my liking!) I fell in love with Intelligentsia beans (US brand out of Chicago) and while living in Paris, I would get my fix brought over from North America by my family (read here if you want to know about the Paris coffee scene…needless to say, it’s worse than bad but thank goodness, things are slowly changing). As our ‘coffee mules’ were few and far between, this just wasn’t a feasible solution for the long-term given how much coffee gets consumed in our house.
So when we were scoping out moving to London at the end of last year, I was ecstatic when I discovered Allpress just down the road from our Shoreditch hotel. If you don’t know of them, then this is coffee at its best! They are a kiwi company and are considered one of, if not, the best Down Under.
I was recently fortunate enough to meet the team at Allpress here in London. As a result, I was offered up the opportunity to attend one of their Perfect Cup training sessions (which they run for those cafe’s barista teams who are supplied by Allpress). Run by the ‘Coffee Goddess’, Agnes, I knew it was the only way to get inside knowledge on making the perfect cup so I jumped at the opportunity (and of course, in the background was G saying “do it and become MY barista”!)
The guys at Allpress are serious about their coffee – right down to regularly flying off around the world to meet with the individual farmers who supply their beans. Sounds exotic, but according to co-owner, Tony Papas, it can be pretty rugged traveling. Their high quality demands means that most of their coffee is organic by default, but they stay away from those schemes which label as such, as this is a huge cost to the farmer.
I learned so much from Agnes…making the Perfect Cup really is a scientific process. Just the slightest tweak/screw-up can send your coffee from a delicious, addictive cup leaving you wanting more, to a too bitter or acidic cup of blah! And I’m sure you have all experienced that at some point, and probably more often than you wished for. The trick is getting the right balance of bitterness, acidity and sweetness.
Here’s some things I learned from my session:
- Green beans last a long time but once they are roasted they become hygroscopic, which means that they take on moisture. This means that beans are only at their optimum for 10-14 days – after that, they start to lose their oils, and the oils are what makes a great cup of coffee (the all-important crema comprises oil and gas). Now I get why beans are sold in small packages (usually 250g). Oh and vacuum-packing does not make that much of a difference.
- A shiny bean equals an old bean…this means that the oils are being released and that’s not good. So always look for a dry, matt bean.
- When storing, keep your coffee beans away from any strong smells as they will take on that smell. Best is a cool, dry, dark place (which now rules out my home location, which is in a cupboard with our gas hot water boiler…which frustratingly seems to be on all day!!)
- La Marzocco is the Rolls Royce of coffee machines. Of course, G has already scoped out that they have a home version…but that will definitely require a bigger kitchen before one of those moves in…I have a feeling this visit to Allpress will be an ongoing costly exercise!
- There’s a very precise recipe in making the perfect espresso…16-18g of coffee, tamped twice at 30lb/tamp, brewed somewhere between 23-28 seconds. OK – so at this point, I quickly realized that my home attempts will never match a good cafe’s barista.
- Timing of the brewing is important in determining whether you have got it right or not…too slow, and it will be bitter; too fast, and it will be sour/acidic.
- If grinding your own beans, which of course is the only way, you need to brew the coffee within 10 minutes, otherwise the coffee oxidizes, leaving a thin crema with a flat taste.
- For their milky drinks they only use full fat milk as it’s the lactose in the milk which makes it taste sweeter and gives the creamy, smooth texture lusted after by all latte/flat white aficionados.
- Steaming jargon…first you ‘stretch’ the milk, which produces the foam, then you ‘whirlpool’ as you heat the milk, which folds the foam into the milk. Finally, just before pouring, one ‘surfs’ the milk, which creates the glossy final product.
And that’s just a taste of how to make the Perfect Cup – the Allpress Espresso Way! Check it out for yourself…they even have an app which shows all the cafes who use their beans.
N.B. all writing for this post was fueled by Allpress’ Redchurch Blend.