I have always wanted to take a coffee course but for one reason or another, it would never happen. So I was ecstatic when a good friend of mine got me a coffee course booking called “Espresso a la maison” at Cafe St Henri. The class was located at the back of the St Henri store, where we usually see the in-house roaster machine. We were a group of roughly 10 people and we sat around in a circle at the back with our teacher of the night, who also happens to be the head roaster for S-H. While we sat waiting for the last of the group to arrive, we could hear the loud grinder from the barista in front, the small echoes of conversations between patrons, and the sweet aroma of freshly ground coffee. With the music playing softly in the background, I realise one thing as I glance around our group: we were all amateurs with a passion for coffee and we couldn’t wait to leave the course with a better understanding of our favourite beverage. Later on, I saw that this was what made the class very fun because everyone was at the same level of knowledge yet we were not shy to ask even the most basic of questions. In turn, our teacher was responsive, had great humour and was very knowledgeable.
Now, I won’t give you all the details of the class because I only want to tease you enough to take the class yourself. However, I’m been asked to write about my experience and well, I’ll be delighted to share the following takeaway lessons:
Clean your grinder with cleaning tablets.
Not soap, not water, not vinegar. For example, Urnex’s Grindz.
Don’t be afraid to waste.
I mean this as don’t be afraid to throw away your first grind. The first grind always has remnants of your previous, old grind. This is old and uneven coffee that will easily ruin your cup of coffee.
Tampers aren’t everything.
Sure, you can buy yourself a fancy, varnished, wooden tamper. But the uniformity of your grind is up to you, not the tamper. How hard you press down on your portafilter with your heavy tamper is also useless. There’s a great article about it, here.
Tap to even your grinds.
On the same note, don’t expect your tamper to even out your pile of coffee. That’s your job. The best way to even out your portafilter is to tap the side of it with your hand. A light tap is usually enough to redistribute the coffee equally and avoid possible holes for channels to form.
A good grinder goes a long way.
I wanted to know what the price threshold for a good espresso machine was. For example, should I only start looking from $350 and up? But should it limit to $1000? Do I really need to get a Marzocco GS3? The answer was very surprising, ” The espresso machine is just a glorified kettle. If your budget is $600 overall, $400 should go to the grinder and $200 in the machine.”
Speed is important.
Observe how fast your espresso shot is taking. It should flow like thick golden honey. Too fast, means your grind is too coarse: the water just passes through the coffee without extracting the flavours. See why having a good grinder is important?
I apologise for not having many pictures but honestly, we were such a small group, I couldn’t just whip out my phone and start snapping away. I know, I know. You just have to believe me when I say its worth it and go try the course for yourself!
The best part of the coffee course: I got to take home a free bag of coffee beans of my choice.