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Be A Better Barista


New Zealanders have a reputation as keen coffee enthusiasts (some would even say snobs, but we take it as a compliment!) and with our coffee roasters and baristas in demand internationally for their skills and knowledge, it’s fair to say we know a thing or two about a good brew.

As the professionals have diversified from traditional café-style espresso to methods such as the pour-over and French press (or plunger), there has never been a better time to take their lead and hone your own coffee-making skills at home.

So, what does it take to be a home barista? The professionals call coffee-making an art or a science, and connoisseurs fret over details such as filters – there is such a thing as a gold-plated filter that’s said to achieve maximum flavour – but the essentials boil down to a handful of key tools (see What You Need, below). Of course, you can take it to the next level with scales to weigh your beans and a thermometer to get the water temperature just right, but it’s over to you how complex your coffee-making becomes.

What You Need

  • Coffee grinder
  • Pour-over maker or French press
  • Cups – choose double-walled cups for great insulation
  • Stainless steel jug and thermometer for heating milk
  • Canister

10 Simple Steps to Success

1. If you buy just-roasted beans, they should be left for five to seven days before brewing to allow flavour and aroma to develop. Individual preferences vary, of course, so use this as a guide and allow a couple of days either way.

2. When buying beans from your local coffee roaster, talk to them about your brewing method and the flavour profile you like – it could be a bean or blend that reveals chocolate notes or a hint of citrus is your cup of ‘tea’. With a little information, they’ll be able to help you choose what’s best for you.

3. Ask anyone who knows a little bit about coffee and they’ll tell you that the practice of storing beans in the fridge is a no-no. Oxygen, temperature and moisture all effect beans, so think cool, dry and dark for storage. Beans will keep for about two months when stored correctly – that’s in an airtight, non-transparent container out of direct sunlight. If you are unsure how long the beans have been around, your nose and tastebuds will tell you – if beans smell off and the brew is bad, the beans have had their day.

4. A general guide for the best grind for the pour-over method is medium (think the size and shape of coarse salt), and a little coarser for a French press. The best yardstick, however, is your tastebuds, so vary the grind to suit your preference. Get geeky and take note of the grind size and the coffee it produces – if the result was weak, go for a slightly finer grind next time; try it a bit coarser if the flavour was unpleasant or over-extracted.

5. If you are a perfectionist, you may want to weigh the recommended amount of coffee beans on a scale – 25g for 300ml of water. For a lighter, less strong result, reduce it to 20g. Grind your beans just before pouring hot water over the top – it’ll give you something to do while the water boils.

6. For those with a strong sense of smell and finely tuned tastebuds, go with the pros and use filtered water. Chemicals, such as chlorine, are added to water to sterilise it and can affect the flavour of your brew. If the water tastes bad, so will your coffee.

7. Boil the water and leave it to sit for a minute – a temperature of 92-96C is ideal – to prevent scalding the coffee grinds. If you like, use a thermometer to test the water.

8. To produce an even brew with a pour-over, give the grinds a quick stir after the first pour of water. After 20 seconds, slowly pour in more water, and more as the water level drops. The process will take about two minutes. The stir step is not essential with a French press, but patience here is key – leave the coffee to brew for four minutes before you plunge and pour.

9. If you take milk in your coffee, then you’ll want to heat it to between 60 and 70 degrees, as well as froth it to get the perfect finishing touch. A stainless steel jug, milk frothing wand and thermometer make this simple to achieve.

10. After you’ve enjoyed your best-ever cup of coffee, make a mental note to keep your grinder and coffee-maker clean – this will avoid a build up of oils that will go off over time and ruin your perfect brew.

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