The University of Coffee

by Kate Previte


Last week, our friends at La Colombe Torrefaction invited team Batali into their training facility for a lesson on all things coffee.  The place is part-office, part-warehouse and part-mad-scientist’s-coffee-lab, and we could tell as soon as we crossed the threshold that these guys really knew their stuff.  As we walked past industrial-sized racks of brewing tools and replacement parts, resident coffee guru Nico O’Connell  (La Colombe Partner and VP of Wholesales & Sales by day) excitedly showed us an incredible custom-built four-group lurking under an unassuming cardboard box.  Handmade in Italy, with a white pearl finish that shimmered delicately in the afternoon sun, it was a real beauty to even our untrained eyes.  Sticker price?  60 grand.


In the back room, we were handed off to Lee Mazur, who spent the next hour teaching us different methods for brewing the perfect cup of coffee, complete with weights, ratios, temperatures, and an exact timetable.  Lee doesn’t have an official title, but Nico told us he was a veritable coffee maestro, and after tasting his perfectly balanced cup of joe, we had to agree.  Turns out there’s a lot to that simple mug of water and beans, and although we can’t reveal everything about Lee’s brewing technique, here are a few of the most important things we learned:


1. Weigh everything!  The classic ratio for drip coffee is 1g of grounds to 16g water (For two cups, a simple formula is 30g coffee to 500g water).  For espresso, use 1g grounds to 2g water.  Science tip:  1ml of water weighs 1g, so if you want to measure your liquids by volume, go ahead—no math involved!


2. Warm your cups and your brewing equipment—cold tools will result in lukewarm coffee, and flavor extraction will suffer.


3. Grind quality is paramount!  Use the best grinder you can afford—a conical burr grinder will give you the best results for espresso (grind beans extra fine), and a flat burr is perfectly suited to drip and pour-over (grind ‘em medium-coarse).


4. If you’re making drip coffee, there will be striations in the strength of the brew, so always pour the finished product into another vessel before serving to mix it up and get a well-balanced cup.


5. If you are steaming milk for cappuccino, you want what’s called “micorofoam”—glossy, sweet-tasting perfection that’s a transient blend of foam and liquid milk—serve it immediately for the best flavor, texture and the prettiest latte art.  If you can make latte art at all, that is.  We found it looks easier than it is.


By the end of the visit, we were fascinated, humbled, and completely wired on coffee.  And although we were too amped to remember the exact caffeine breakdown of espresso vs. drip,one thing was for sure—these guys are the experts.

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