an espresso lover's blog

Thursday, May 08, 2003

I did some charity work yesterday. A small group of youths are starting up a youth cafe in a suburb outside of Oslo. They needed someone to teach them basic barista skills. I love to make coffee in any circumstance and to teach, so I volunteered. I really looked forward to it and prepared well. I even wrote a 7 page document covering the basic stuff and I guess lots of coffeegeeky details :)

I arrived half an hour early to give the machine a good cleaning. Someone had told me that it had pretty much never been cleaned so I expected the worst. Sure enough, lots of rancid coffee oils and coffee residue in the group and portafilters, but I pretty quickly got it clean. Helping me was a kid called Steffen. I guess he was something like 13-14 years old. He was in good spirits and followed my cleaning routines intently. I asked him to join in and quickly learned him backflushing and the portafilter wiggle. At the end he got a field promotion to espresso machine cleaning chief :). I would soon find out that little fellow was a natural at brewing espresso.

The other kids/youths arrived and we decided it would be best to train 5 of the 10-15 that had arrived. I told them that the training would probably take something like 2 hours and got some open mouths :). They were very surprised and some of them were a bit reluctant to volunteer. Steffen was already part of my small barista team and I got four more and we were ready to go. They were all pretty young, the youngest maybe 13-14 and the oldest close to 20, so I decided to skip the technical details and focus on the mechanics of brewing and steaming. I didn't know what their attention span would be and I didn't want to make the art of espresso making look to boring and technical. I started by talking a bit about the machine and the grinder, did a slow walk through of the steps involved in brewing a double espresso, all the time explaning the steps. It is very rewarding to be able to teach the correct way of doing things. I even borrowed some moves from the schomer video, like letting the old brewing water out in a white cup to show why it is important to do that flush before inserting the pf :). Later I would find out that this had worked because they complained loudly when they forgot to do it, and even asked me if they had to do it all over again :).

We then moved on to steaming. They were all a bit apprehensive about it, but I took my time and explained it very thoroughly. I then set the kids loose with brewing and steaming, and showed each and every one how to steam by holding on the mug and guiding them a bit in the stretch phase. It is important to teach that the tip must be moved to the surface of the milk pretty quickly so the stretch phase is maximized. In a short time they were all making very good milk indeed, most of it so nice microfoam that it could easily be used to make latte art with. The most common mistake was stretching too little and not heating the milk enough. Other than that, count me impressed! Soon they were assembling cappuccini, lattes, mochas, you name it. I ended the training session by going through all the classics. It went very well and I was happy to see that my latte art was working out fine. Earlier that day I had been practicing on a rancilio C10 to rehearse my technique. I went through a gallon of milk and then it all clicked perfectly. I find it is useful to do that because the commercials are different than my E2K Junior. It goes faster and I have to change the placement of the wand slightly to compensate.

When I arrived I actually thought the machine was ruined because when I turned the steam knob nothing happened. Nada. I called the supplier and he thought the long storage could have caused stuff to block up. Well, since everything else worked perfectly I had a feeling that I was missing somehting obvious, and sure, I hadn't turned the knob enough. Turns out that the old Rancilio Epocas have slightly different steam kobs and they have to be turned quite a lot more, something like 3-4 revolutions or more. Weird.

As mentioned earlier, the yound kid Steffen seemed to be a natural. His espresso flowed beautifully and was consistently a bit better than the others. I praised him a lot (and the others too of course) and he was even more into what he was doing. Add to that the caffeine buzz these kids were getting from sipping mochas and lattes, and you can pretty much imagine how things worked out. They were all steaming and brewin like crazy. We ended up using 3 gallons of milk (12 litres).

Well, it was a great evening. I had lots of fun and got a big round of applause when I left, feeling pretty proud of what I had accomplished in 2-3 hours.

So, I hereby pat myself generously on the shoulder.

5/08/2003 07:53:00 PM  

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