Artisan Coffee School - Learning to brew this thing the right way!

by Nik Speller - Friday March 6, 2015 2:03 pm

No longer content with a cup of Nescafe, folks want to learn how to make great tasting coffee at home. Nik Speller travelled to the edges of Zone 3 to discover how to brew the perfect cup - and boy, was it complicated.

Nothing in life is simple. Running, for instance, should just be you, a pair of trainers and the outside world. But what sort of trainers do you need? How will you keep track of time? What did you eat before? What did you drink after? How do you stretch? And don't forget your clothes.

Coffee can't be complex though. It's boiling water poured over ground roast beans. Done. Easy. Let it cool slightly and drink it.

Alas no. It turns out that I've been making coffee wrong all these years. I didn't consider the grind, the provenance, the roast and the blend. I didn't consider the water temperature, the water purity, and the wind direction.

Wow. So much to bear in mind, just to drink a cup of coffee. It's unnecessary, completely unnecessary, the sort of knowledge only a true bearded unicycle riding hipster has the time or inclination to consider - or so I thought as the barista at Artisan coffee in Ealing began the class.

Then it suddenly dawned on me. This is why some coffee tastes awful. This is why I like certain coffees over others. This is why I walk past coffee shop x and y to get to cafe z.

Those nuggets of information slapped me in the face, those kernels of truth (combined with a hefty dose of caffeine) had me sitting up and listening some more. I was learning. God damn it. This wasn't part of the deal. Normally, I show up, scoff some food, slurp some drink and leave without paying a bill, not giving a moments thought to retaining information. Not fair Artisan Coffee, not fair at all.

We started the morning with a tasting of ten coffees, of all different varieties, all brewed by the simplest of methods - coffee plus water - and tasted with a spoon. Cupping, I believe it's called. We then went back to school with a tour of the old flavour wheel, with notes on what dictates the flavour before roasting, during roasting, after roasting, at every stage in-between, and then all over again for the brewing.

As mentioned earlier, there’s a hell of a lot of variables to consider and I be lying if I said I remembered them all. We had the chance to practice tweaking the brewing variables next, to reveal just what difference colder water, a long brewing time and a finer grind all make. And it’s surprising, changing each variable really does make a difference to the taste of the coffee, particularly when you factor in (yet another variable!) the method by which you’re making it.

Here, at Artisan, we experimented with french press, aeropress and V60. The impact these different methods has on the finished coffee, I really can’t tell you. Needless to say, the course is exactly the sort of thing that someone who is keen on learning that details and differences should be attending. If you pay attention and take notes, I guarantee you’ll improve the way you make coffee.

As for me, it transpires that the rich dark, bitter coffee I love so much is an extreme roast blend of arabica and robusta beans, overcooked with boiling water, until the flavour is removed and all that remains is ash. The sort of coffee that is antithesis to hipsters, but loved by old Sicilian men in Mario Puzo novels.

I suppose that puts to death any pretence that I was ever cool. I'm drinking the wrong coffee and enjoying the wrong coffee. Shoreditch, Dalston and the like clearly aren't for me.

Oh well. At least I know now. At least I can head out, buy the coffee I like and brew it in the best way possible. And for that, I should be thankful to Artisan Coffee, even though I can never drink coffee with the cool kids again.

After all of that coffee you must be hungry...

- It's pie week! Join in with Guinness and Piebury Corner.

- Beer and chocolate, together at last.

- Smarten yourself up and get to STK 777.

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