There’s lots of discussion as to what to look for as indicators of good coffee in any given cafe.
Latte art is often cited and it’s true that good latte art is one of a few indicators that your barista cares about their craft… and your taste buds. It’s hard to get good latte art from poorly foamed milk.
Yet you could also say that it means the barista just knows how to make good espresso milk.
The presence of good crema is also often mentioned. A well-extracted espresso does create a good crema, it’s true… but have you ever tried tasting the crema by itself? Not the tastiest part of an espresso by a long shot.
I’ve been working in the Specialty Coffee industry for five months now (And a consumer of specialty coffee for at least fifteen years). In those five months I’ve noticed one factor that ties in all my favourite cafes… all my favourite baristas, really.
Just one secret to good coffee…
The baristas taste their own coffee.
They tinker with grinders and water ratios throughout the day, chasing that mythological beast: the perfect coffee.
They don’t just set up in the morning. They stay alert for ambient temperature changes, oil build-up in the portafilters, increase in hourly custom (grinders heat up the more they are used).
They question whether the espresso has become too sour or too bitter and adjust accordingly. They monitor the steamed milk temperature and ensure the steaming wand is purged and cleaned after every use. They constantly clean work areas with dedicated cloths: one for the wand, one for the machine and one for the portafilter – and never cross-contaminate.
But above all, they taste their own creations. They understand the profile of a particular espresso blend or bean and chase it all day.
When was the last time you saw your local barista taste their own coffee?