I was a barista for over three years – part-time around studying and full-time during the holidays, plus on my year off prior to university. As with every job I’ve done, I threw myself into it. I didn’t even really like coffee before I became a barista. Ten years from when I started, I know whether the milk for my drink has been steamed and allowed to settle properly from the second I pick up a paper cup. The first sip will tell me whether the espresso is any good, or if the machine is calibrated incorrectly. And if you offer me coffee in your home, odds are I’ll twitch as I watch you make it.
Because almost everyone does it wrong. My family were amused by how militant I was when I first learned how to make coffee – I used to go as far as setting a kitchen timer, but these days I’ll settle for subtly keeping an eye on the nearest clock – but indulged my seriousness. It’s worth the effort. Coffee tastes a huge amount better if you follow a few very simple rules:
1. Keep your coffee away from the fridge… same goes for chocolate, by the way (providing it’s high-quality and doesn’t contain any nasty emulsifiers or preservatives… though that’s another story). Freshly ground coffee must stay away from fridges. Why? Because moisture is one of coffee’s “enemies”. Keep your beans and grounds in a cool dry place (and if I find any coffee in your freezer, I’m likely to run for the hills… or at the very least, the supermarket) such as a cupboard. Ideally, grind it as you need to use it – it’s much better if it’s ground fresh for use
2. Use hot rather than boiling water… boiling water burns coffee. Burnt coffee is awful. Switch your kettle off when the water is hot and bubbling, but before it boils. If you miss switching it off and the kettle boils, let the water cool down a little before pouring it on your grounds. And when you do add the water to the coffee…
3. Ensure all of the grounds get wet… as you pour the water over the grounds, either stir them or swill it so that all of the grounds get wet. Dry grounds are wasted ones, and it means your coffee will be of incorrect strength
4. Allow it to brew… those of you who add the water and then immediately plunge the coffee, stop! Wait! A French press needs to be brewed for four minutes before you plunge. Again, otherwise it’ll be too weak and the whole thing will have been a waste of time
These are the biggest and most frequent mistakes I’ve seen people make, but they’re the easiest ones to rectify and remember. Take your coffee grounds out of the fridge, turn your kettle off a minute or so early (who’s going to argue now that I’m saving you time?) and enjoy your improved coffee. And the fact that I now won’t watch you like a hawk as you make it.