Fairtrade Coffee

Coffee beans espresso cup Over the last year, we have been on a hunt for good Fairtrade beans for our espresso bar. Our coffee supplier brought us an excellent  Fairtrade and organic bean in the spring that is great for our non-espresso coffees, which we serve in a cafetierre. It’s full flavoured and certainly makes a nonsense of anyone saying one has to suffer for organic!

The espresso bean has been harder, because there are limited options, and most, it must be said, are quite poor. We are not willing to suffer any drop in taste. Our existing bean has made so many of our customers happy; it would be foolish to give them anything that doesn’t match up.

Coffee beans espressoIt’s also tricky – what might taste great in an espresso might not be so good in a cappuccino. It’s hard to find a bean that tastes good across the range of espresso bar offerings.

However, if the likes of us don’t push for fairtrade and organics, the options are unlikely to improve. So, we pushed.

It would seem as if our coffee supplier has come through again. Last week he dropped in a bag of Fairtrade (though sadly not organic) beans that are a mix from small farmers in Brazil, Tanzania, Guatamala, and Columbia. They are very good indeed, and I think we will make the switch. If our customers are as happy as we are, it’s a keeper!

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A Good Cappuccino (is Hard to Find)

Cappuccino A cappuccino should be a decadently frothy, silky concoction with a strong coffee hit. It’s a coffee drinker’s drink as opposed to a latte, which is for those who like their coffees weak. With a good cappuccino, the foam should be as much a sensation as a taste – a vehicle for the espresso. Unfortunately, it is rarely so. It is one of the most abused espresso bar drinks in Ireland.

The cappuccino is thought to derive its name from the Capuchin monks, or more specifically their hoods – capuccio. In Italy it’s generally a breakfast drink, but elsewhere is enjoyed all day long. The proportions are generally agreed to be 1/3 espresso, 1/3 milk, 1/3 foam.

It is unusual, however, to get more than a few millimetres of foam on a cappuccino in most cafes in Ireland. This has to do with over-heating the milk – I have talked about the importance of milk temperature before, and a general lack of care. In fact, there is often no difference between a latte and a cappuccino except the powdered chocolate.

In our shops, we generally like to think of cappuccinos slightly differently from the proportions above, which we consider slightly misleading. We don’t like the three elements to be separate but rather espresso with frothed milk that has doubled in volume but stays intact. Scalded milk with some egg-white-like foam perched on top doesn’t do it for us.

Frothing MilkInterestingly, this time of year it’s harder to froth the milk. As the cows go off a diet of grass and start eating silage, the protein levels in the milk fall. We have noticed the difference in the past few days. The milk bubbles become larger and less stable (see right), and they tend to readily collapse again.

Since we use a dairy that renowned for its fresh taste and that doesn’t alter or stabilise its milk, we feel the change acutely. It is possible to get milk that is controlled for protein, and I have seen it in more and more cafes in Dublin, but the taste definitely suffers.

So I guess we just have to take even more care and look forward to the cows on the grass again!

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Caffe Latte Freddo

Latte Freddo A customer in our Dingle shop told me about a coffee drink that she had come across in Italy. I had never heard of it and so I tried it out with good results. It’s very simple – you take a glass of very cold milk and add a shot of espresso. With all the hot weather we’ve been having here it makes a refreshing way to get a coffee hit. The only downside is it is not a sipping drink. You tend to reach the bottom of the glass in a hurry!

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Coffee Rant Number Three

Take away coffee  I’m afraid I was making coffees for most of the day, and hence I feel another coffee rant coming on. I’ll limit it to two points.

1. Even before Starbucks made its inevitable entrance into Ireland, many cafes have tended to look more toward Seattle than Rome for a model. What Starbucks sell, in my opinion, is a feeling of validation about being busy, and that fits in well with the new Ireland. In other words, “I am so busy, I need a coffee THIS big to keep me going.” We’ve recently bowed to customer pressure and increased the size of our take-away cups on our lattes, and sizes seem to be increasing rapidly all around us. The entire definition of a cappuccino or latte is rapidly changing away from the Italian model, and I think that’s a bit of a shame. Is bigger always better? I always liked that little cup at an Italian street-side cafe…

2. Why do people order take-away espressos? I’m happy to serve anything to-go, but where are you going to take 1 oz of espresso? How far are you going to get? Will it not be cold before you get there? Wouldn’t you rather have it in a warmed cup, down it in a few seconds (after all, it is called “Espresso” i.e. “fast”), and be on your way?

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Affogato al Caffe

Affogato pouring One of my favourite treats in the whole world is the Affogato al Caffe, and I just wish that more people knew about it! After all, it combines two of my favourite things – coffee and chocolate. If I make an affogato with chocolate ice cream, it includes three, although vanilla would be the more popular option…

Affogato al caffeIn any case, the name Affogato means “drowned in coffee,” referring of course to the ice cream, and when I came across it, I thought I was in heaven.

To make it, you simply take a scoop of ice cream (we like to serve it in a small coffee cup) and pour over some espresso (we use a single shot run long, in other words, an espresso lungo). In the shops, we serve the shot of espresso on the side and let the customer do the pouring.

I think I must do more research now, and have another one!

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Coffee and Milk

When I briefly talked about coffee in Dublin in a previous post, I don’t think I was quite fair. I do think that coffee has improved, and certainly we’ve come a long way in the last five years or so, but there is still quite a way to go. Cappuccino ThermometerBefore I wrote that post, I had one of the worst cappuccinos I have ever attempted to imbibe in a mall in South Dublin, and I paid 3.50 for the privilege. And I though we were expensive!

I suppose the entry into Ireland of Starbucks, whatever people might think of them, will nudge cafes to up their game. Already, milk thermometers are beginning to appear, and certainly not scalding the milk is one of the best ways to improve coffee drinks.

A big change that I noticed in some of the better coffee houses in Dublin is a huge improvement in the foam on cappuccinos. This is certainly welcome, though it does come with a downside, since it’s mostly due to the introduction of UHT Milk. milk cartonUltra heat treated milk is the rule on the continent and is what you would get when you order a cappuccino or latte in Italy, Germany, etc. A new product on the Irish market now is Cappuccino Milk, which is controlled for protein, which means consistent foam. I saw it in several coffee houses.

I have to say that although I’m a fan of progress and welcome new products to improve coffees, I’m a bigger fan of fresh milk, and we are certainly going to stick with it in our own shops. It might be harder to froth, especially when the cows are off grass in the winter, but it can be done with a little care, and even if it’s not quite as silky as the UHT milk, I think the end product is superior when it comes to taste.  

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Crema and Coffee at Home

Coffee pot Copernicus over at Midnight Court wrote in a comment here about having trouble getting good crema on his espresso using a little stainless steel espresso pot at home. Given that he said he spent time working in Italy, I assume he means one like that shown above. Practically everyone who has had a meal in someone’s house in Italy would have seen these. My grandmother, who lived on the Lago Maggiore used hers religiously every day.

I can only get very inconsistent crema myself making coffee made by this method. However, I think that the importance of crema is overstated in terms of home use.pull espresso In fact, it’s only a guide (though a good one) even in a cafe. There is a excellent article on Virtual Coffee in which the author says that while he believes crema is important, the mere presence of crema does not mean that the espresso is a good one, and that an espresso with great crema can be burnt and bitter. A friend in Dingle is so fixated on crema that he has ordered a La Pavoni pump machine like the one above after I gave him a loan of mine. It’s a beautiful machine, and it’s probably the best possible option for making espressos at home, but frankly it’s a bit fussy for my taste. When I stagger downstairs and into the kitchen in the morning, I want a coffee that tastes good, and I don’t need it to look perfect. In a restaurant or cafe, it’s a different story, and I expect both. That’s the standard for our own shops. But if my morning coffee doesn’t have any crema, I’m not going to worry as long as it tastes as I expect it should.

Caffetiere French pressI think my grandmother would have stared blankly at any mention of “crema” regarding her coffee pot, as would probably most Italians making coffee by this method. They would probably say, “If you want crema, go to an espresso bar. If you want a good coffee, stop babbling nonsense, and I will serve it to you.”

So if you’re happy with your coffee, be happy – crema or no crema! If not, switch beans. If you’re still not happy, try making coffee by another method. If you want to try the cafetiere method, it’s cheap and easy, but the coffee will be less like espresso than the above method. I bought the Bodum one on the right in Roches, and I even get a decent crema! Use good, fresh coffee and let the water cool slightly after boiling. If you want a French-style café au lait, use a dark roast ground medium-fine, make the coffee strong, warm the milk (don’t scald it) and combine about half milk and half coffee. Bring on the croissants! 

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Cafetiere vs. Caffe Americano

Cafetierre2 With apologies to Markham and others who have given up coffee for Lent, I am going to return briefly to the subject, because I think we’ve made a break-through. It’s not anything earth-shattering, but still I think worth talking about.

For the last years we’ve been struggling with making a simple cup of coffee. It might seem a humble option in a board full of caramel lattes, and affogato al caffes, but still I feel it’s like vanilla ice cream – a bench mark. If I go to an ice cream shop, I often taste their vanilla because often the simplest flavours are both the hardest to do and the easiest to judge.

CafetierreIn our shops, we’ve been serving Caffè Americanos when people ask for “coffee.” The Americano is perfect for the many people who like it, but it’s not perfect for all coffee drinkers. Although many people think it’s a strong coffee because it comes from an espresso machine, the name means quite the opposite. Italians called it “Americano” years ago because it tasted like American coffee to them, the kind you still find in US diners. In other words, it was very weak to their palates.

After a lot of tasting, we’ve decided on the French-style plunger, or “Cafetiere,” for our regular coffee. We’ve chosen an organic, fair-trade bean from Maher’s and grind it quite fine. The result is a deep, rich flavour for those who like their coffee very strong. For everyone else, there’s still of course the Americano.

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