Thursday, January 31, 2008

Freeing Your Inner Barista

Have you ever added up how much you actually spend on ordering coffee to go? If your caffeine obsession has a designer label as important as your Prada that could run up to thirty dollars or more per week. That's over $1500.00 per year! On coffee!

Well there is no doubt that I am a coffee shop boy but I am also all about economizing. And I have learned a few tricks of the trade over the years. You could take that chunk of money and get yourself quite the nice coffee shop at home set up if you wanted to go that way. Then you could really join the ranks of true coffee snobbery.

On these very early mornings when I write the posts it is never without a cup of café au lait nearby (and usually after having to tear myself away from extensive reading of The Cool Hunter and listening to The Drone Zone) but I have to admit it took me a while before I learned to perfect my own customized coffee concoction. What it all comes down to, in the end, is having the right tools and knowing how to use them. The first lesson in coffee snobbery is that it must be fresh, fresh, fresh. There is no sense in grinding your own beans if they are not just ground. If you are percolating the java then get it right into a carafe. After ten minutes on the stovetop it is burnt and useless. Would you let a filet mignon sit on the stove for hours to keep it warm? Insanity! And lastly, know the basic types of coffee drinks. There are really only a few.

Espresso or caffè espresso (sometimes misspelled as 'expresso') is a concentrated coffee beverage brewed by forcing very hot, but not boiling water under high pressure through coffee that has been ground to a consistency between extremely fine and powder.

Espresso was developed in Milan, Italy in the early 20th century, but up until the mid-1940s it was a beverage produced solely with steam pressure. The invention of the spring piston lever machine and its subsequent commercial success changed espresso into the beverage we know today. Espresso is now produced with between 8.2 and 18 atmospheres or bars (0.82 to 1.8 megapascals; 120 to 265 PSI) of pressure.

The defining characteristics of espresso include a thicker consistency than drip coffee, a higher amount of dissolved solids than drip coffee per relative volume, and a serving size that is usually measured in shots, which are between 25 and 30 ml (30ml=1 fluid ounce) in size. Espresso is chemically complex and volatile, with many of its chemical components quickly degrading from oxidation or loss of temperature. Properly brewed espresso has three major parts: the heart, body, and the most distinguishing factor, the presence of crema, a reddish-brown foam that floats on the surface of the espresso. It is composed of vegetable oils, proteins and sugars. Crema has elements of both emulsion and foam colloid.

A classic cappuccino.Cappuccino is an Italian coffee-based drink prepared with espresso, hot milk, and milk foam. A cappuccino differs from a caffè latte in that it is prepared with much less steamed or textured milk than the caffè latte with the total of espresso and milk/foam making up between approximately five and six ounces (148-177 ml). A cappuccino is traditionally served in a porcelain cup, which has far better heat retention characteristics than glass or paper. The foam on top of the cappuccino acts as an insulator and helps retain the heat of the liquid, allowing it to stay hotter longer.

Café au lait
Café au lait s a French coffee drink. In Europe, "Café au lait" stems from the same continental tradition as "Caffè Latte" in Italy, "Café con leche" in Spain and "Café com leite" in Portugal, simply "coffee with milk". At home prepared from dark coffee and heated milk; in cafés prepared on espresso machines from espresso and steamed milk ever since these machines became available in the 1940's.

In many American coffeehouses, a café au lait is simply a latte with strong drip brewed or French pressed coffee substituted for espresso, though a French roast or similarly dark coffee may be the base of the beverage. In the US they thus serve both caffè latte and café au lait as two different coffee beverages, and define them as such while this is not so in Europe, except in the German variation of the drink, Milchkaffee ("milk coffee") which in Germany is served side by side with the espresso-based caffè latte (which in addition is sometimes called café au lait to add to the confusion). In addition, the term "misto" (literally, "mixed") is often used to refer to a café au lait, most notably by Starbucks.


A latte (also referred to as a caffè latte, and sometimes erroneously spelled “latté”) is a type of coffee drink made with hot milk.

In Italian, latte is simply the word for milk. What in English-speaking countries is now called a latte would be referred to in Italy as "caffelatte" or "caffellatte" similar to the French café au lait and the Spanish café con leche. Caffelatte is today part of the defined international coffee menu, which also includes cappuccino and espresso.

The Italian origin is still the inspiration, but international methods of serving may differ greatly from the original (for example, by the darkness of the roast, the use of espresso, and the foaming of milk). In Europe, it is also common to use the French term café au lait, although in the United States this is defined as regular coffee with warm milk, often served in a bowl. As recently as 1980, if one ordered a "latte" in an Italian coffeehouse in North America, one would expect to get a glass of milk — and if one ordered a "caffelatte," one would get a beverage very similar to what is called a "latte" by today's standards.

The tools are simple, the most expensive being the espresso machine. This is an investment but if you use it you will love it. I had one years ago but because I never had the time to use it, save weekends, I ended up giving it away. One tool I do use every day is the frother. They are battery operated and what they do is really whip air into the heated or steamed milk to make the rich froth. Some people also use an immersion blender to achieve this. Once I brew my very strong morning coffee I heat milk in the microwave and froth it up to a thick consistency. I then mix that in equal proportions with the coffee for the perfect morning Café au lait.

So, what did YOU have for coffee today?

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