I am delighted to welcome Ant West, Owner/Operator of Bambino Coffee based in SE19. I have had the pleasure of meeting Ant on a few occasions and his knowledge of coffee is second to none, as is his cold pressed espresso. In this first guest post, Ant takes us through the origins of the flavour of coffee…..
The flavour of coffee?’ I hear you say but surely the taste of coffee is the flavour of coffee, right? If somebody were to offer me something that isn’t coffee, but has the ‘flavour of coffee’, say some of those dinky little japanese coffee sweets, I’d probably decline. A bitter ‘coffee’ burnt taste is not something I enjoy.
Decades after the industrilization of food production, post WWII, Instant soluble powder derived from coffee has been the hot caffeinated beverage that is call coffee. Beans that have been ground, filtered, immersed (definitely not what I’d call brewed) then dehydrated or freeze dried. These extremes are something that the subtle chemical compounds in coffee doesn’t respond well to.
Even in these times of recession we don’t have to accept a second rate substitute for the real deal. Mainstream coffee production and consumption has for too long been about making a standardized product. Dark roast, bitterness, French roast, Italian roast and ‘strong’ are all things that are a total turn off for me when associated with that delectable fragrant bean, called coffee. This is roasting coffee heavily to sacrifice character on the altar of homogeneous flavour and industrial production.
Good news! There are mavericks out there, roasting coffee to its own natural characteristics, profiles that are based on what brings out the best of the bean. So now we have available coffee from Ethiopia with sweetness and spice with notes of dried peach and strawberry, Java with butterscotch sweetness, oaked wine and blackberry notes. El Salvador with fruit pastry and nut tones and Guatemala with mandarin and pink grapefruit acidity. I could go on as the coffee bean has over 2000 flavour notes that is a pretty big deal when you compare to red wine that has less than 500 notes. The point is that we are not roasting to a ‘strong Italian’ roast, or worse adding robusta to a blend give give you a cup of bad breath and burnt rubber tyres.
A mate of mine recently worked a coffee bar for an Italian wine tasting, now he did anticipated the limited palette of these Italians that goes hand in hand with the cultural arrogance and sense of entitlement have they with coffee, especially heavily (burnt) roast coffee. So he selected a coffee with notes of brown sugar, honey & chocolate from Brazil a Bourbon varietal coffee plant. Proccessed as a pulped natural to remove the cherry flesh from the beans, and dry milled at the farm. A fantastic coffee which was taste tested by several baristi and roasters as an espresso and with milk before the event. Its a great coffee, a real crowd pleaser. But when it came time to serve cues of Italian wines tasters many kilograms of espresso they were hating it! It was sour tasting as an espresso. The coffee cuppers (tasters) had not tried it with sugar, as not self respecting barista drinks coffee with sugar. Thats what you add if it tastes bad! But the Italians, as a matter of fact as a cultural habit to balance the dirty bitterness they expect and are used to with coffee added 2-4 sugars before even tasting the espresso.
This is the extreme example of a problem for the Barista and Roaster alike. How do you get people to change the habitual of all habits. How they take their cup of Coffee. Some idea include serving a bright acidic espresso coffee with slices of green apple as a palate cleanser to prime the drinkers tongue for the coffee acidity to follow. Serving tamarind or dates with a sumatran filter coffee to give visual and taste clues before actually tasti.ng the cup. Or simply asking people to try coffee without milk, syrups, sugar or adulterations.
Milk and sugar were first added to coffee when it was first consumed by the Western world. The Polish and Hapsberg army turned the Turks away from the walls of Vienna in 1683, but in there haste the Turks left behind sacks of coffee. Before this the Arabic empire had guarded coffee from western use. For around 900 years before this coffee had been taken black.
Just think a coffee farmer labours for years to grow coffee, it takes five years just for a coffee plant to first fruit. The coffee roaster has taken that bean and roasted it to suit its characteristics and bring out its best qualities. Then a barista who has years of skill and experience extracts that coffee to its peak flavor. Should you really just dump sugar in it without even trying a sip first?
Next time you order a coffee I implore you, talk to your barista about its plant species, origin, cherry pulping and drying process. Take the time to sip it and enjoy with respect to the journey and history of the coffee bean.
Ant West is a formal canal boat chef and owner/operator of Bambino Coffee 32 Church Road ,Crystal Palace, SE19 2ET. He has been a barista for over 12 years and was sea shepherd chef on the 2002 Antarctica campaign. You can find the Bambino Coffee blog here and on Twitter at @BambinoCoffee