There comes a time in every person’s life when you find yourself somewhere unknown, far away from your local café and in need of a coffee. Everyone has had to roll the dice at some point, ducking into the closest shop and hoping for the best. Of course when you take that first sip and find the coffee good, the experience becomes relatively peaceful. After the quality is confirmed you’re on your way. No questions asked.
Sometimes though, things can go horribly wrong. The café might look great, the barista seemed confident but there was something lacking in the coffee, the acidity was there but that’s where the flavour stopped, or maybe it was the over powering smokiness and taste of burnt which puts you off. It can be quite frustrating when you’ve handed over your $4 and what you get back in your hand is not quite what you were looking for. This happened to me not too long ago and the kicker was I had been recommended the place by a friend of mine Barry who enjoys a good cup just as much as me. I was shocked at the disappointment of the brew and when I asked Barry about whether he’d purposefully stitched me up he too was stunned that it would seem he had left me behind enemy grinds (pun very much intended).
So how does this happen? The café didn’t change its beans overnight or swap machines. I described the barista to Barry and low and behold he knew the girl, saying that she had always been pretty on point when she had made him a cup. Once I knew that nothing had changed at the café from Barry’s great cup to my disappointing morning I knew exactly what was going on. It’s all about extraction!
Extraction refers to the process of taking the flavours, aromas and oils out of the bean and transferring them into the water. It’s a fairly simple concept, you take a bean and grind it up then run water through it and bam you got yourself an espresso. But what it would seem some people don’t know is that a roasted bean is always changing through its short life span and that at different times along this journey it will take an adjustment of how fine or course you make your grind to extract the right amount of flavor. Extract too much and you will start to draw out those smoky flavors to the point of a burnt taste, too little and only the acidity will be there. What you’re looking for in that nice middle ground where the chocolate and caramel flavors live. The Promised Land I like to call it.
When a roasted bean is in its early stages it has not yet reached it maximum flavor so a finer grind is necessary because you will need to extract more out of the grind and smaller pieces of grind mean more flavor is being extracted. At around the halfway mark a roasted bean is in its peak thus keeping it ground as fine will mean to much flavor being drawn out the bean so a courser grind will keep that at bay. Again when the roast is getting older and the oxidization is in full swing flavor diminishes meaning the grind again will have to become finer to grab out as much of what’s left in the bean as possible.
To make sure our barista’s are tuned into this process we recently put them through crash course in extraction with the coffee wizards over at La Hacienda who import some of the finest bean from around the world and also do training courses for any level of baristas. We aim to keep our coffee consistent and tasting great so keeping our staff informed with all the tricks of the trade is a must for us at Level Eighteen. Give us a call and see how we can extract the best flavor for your event.