Articles From Whole Latte Love

Confessions of an Espresso Novice: Part II

Posted: 06/24/04

It has recently become clear to me that for the past several years, I have been happily skipping in a field of coffee ignorance. I think that at one point I must’ve picked up the National Enquirer Coffee Edition, read it cover to cover, and accepted it as espresso novicemy coffee bible, because the more I learn about this stuff, the more I realize that my mental rolodex needs to be cleaned out and completely recreated. The first tabloid tale of coffee to expel: coffee from a can tastes the same as fresh ground.

Now, my contact with coffee grounds and beans is fairly limited. I will be the first (well, maybe the second) to admit that I normally drink the stuff you get from the supermarket in 2 lb buckets, and heck, I even enjoy it. It’s cheap, it’s readily available in a wide variety of flavors and roasts, and it doesn’t taste that bad. So I pretty much assumed that all home baristas functioned under the same principle as I did: the fresh stuff is for coffee houses and the rest of us cluelessly accept our canned destiny. As I delve further into the coffee world, I’m beginning to figure out that the freshness of the grounds is important, but just as important is the freshness of the beans. Furthermore, this emphasis on freshness and quality is even more important when you’re dealing with espresso because it’s such a concentrated extraction of the flavor. Apparently, I needed a little more education than I thought.

Knowing that I had yet to make all of these startling revelations, my roommate began my espresso lessons with grinding beans. "Part of the original draw to espresso," she said, "was that each drink was made specifically for one person. So, a true barista grinds only enough beans for one drink at a time." She went on to say that coffee immediately begins to lose it’s flavor once it’s been ground, so grinding one serving at a time really does improve the overall quality of the shot, and I was starting to see the combination of art and science that is involved in espresso.

Up until this point, we had been functioning totally on theory and verbal information, so I was itching to make something actually happen. I added the beans to the hopper, grabbed the porta….thingy (more on that in the next installment) and pressed the button. I shut my eyes, took a deep breath in, and was promptly pelted in the face by hundreds of projectile coffee beans. Note to self: Always put the lid on the bean hopper before grinding.

Despite the mess I had made, I noticed that a fantastic aroma had begun to fill the air. That was when it hit me: no matter how good my canned coffee smelled when I pulled the foil off to open it, it was nothing compared to the overwhelming fragrance that was being produced at that exact moment.

Before I even had a chance to start cleaning up the renegade beans that were decorating the kitchen, my roommate looked at the grounds I had collected and pronounced them unusable. "They’re too coarse." she said. "Let me tell you about the golden rule…" Golden rule, schmolden rule; I think I’d better get a handle on this grinding thing first.

Read All Installments - Confessions of an Espresso Novice
A. Part I: In the Beginning
B. Part II: Finding the Grind (You are here.)
C. Part III: Striking Gold
D. Part IV: Emily Post & Inspector Gadget
E. Part V: Work it! The milk, that is.
F. Part VI: The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

G. Part VII: Give Me A Cup Cake Prison.
H. Part VIII: To The Espresso Machine I Loved Before.