Is traveling to each continent or dining with your favorite celebrity a part of your bucket list? While those would be amazing experiences, I recently took steps towards completing one of my top wishes — becoming a barista.
In the past, I’ve shared coffee shop etiquette and now it’s my time to step behind the bar to share some more insight.
First, let’s go to the basics. What is coffee? Its bean comes from a tree and is known as a coffee cherry. According to the National Coffee Association, Swedish botanist Carolus Linneaus is credited with first describing genus of coffea, in the 18th century. For that reason, I’ll strongly consider naming one of my children ‘Carol’ or ‘Linny.’ With hundreds of recognized coffee plants, how do you truly know which bean to use? I took that question to my training ground and new coffee shop in town — French Truck Coffee. Located in the former Southern Camera Service building at 2978 Government St., the golden addition to Mid-City is the first Capital area location for the New Orleans-based beanery.
I met up with Emily, the shop’s assistant manager and lead barista, one Tuesday before the sun was up, to commence with lessons. I knew I liked Emily when she channeled her Patches O’Houlihan by telling me “If you can steam milk properly, you can do latte art.”
While I expected to jump straight into doling out soy quadruple shot lattes with no foam, Emily reset my expectations and brought me back to my high school days, specifically to junior year. Chemistry.
To be honest, Emily threw out a ton of numbers and measurements that I quickly remembered why I majored in mass communication and Spanish, in college. From calibrating the right ground, to measuring the grounds and timing the pull (the technical term for the production of liquid espresso), much goes into producing the day’s first cup of coffee.
Here are some of the key takeaways from my barista experience:
Coffee begins and ends with the bean and the water. French Truck Coffee directly sources its coffee from two fair trade farms.
When it comes to water, your bean will take on its flavor. French Truck uses a reverse osmosis procedure to assure the purest of water. What can you and I do? Use filtered water. While Baton Rouge is known for its great tap water, using distilled or filtered water will elevate your coffee game.
Get the Ground Right
When we began dialing in (jargon for setting up the perfect pull), we focused on getting the precise texture of the ground. The coarseness or fineness of a grind determines the preparation. A rougher ground is optimum for a drip coffee, the type most of us consume at home, at the doctor’s office or at work. For an espresso, you want a fine grind and it sets the tone for the right amount of espresso. This is why Emily stressed the spooning out of extra grounds to get to our number of 18.5 grams on the scale. To keep with the math, an espresso shot is a 1:2 ratio — for one serving (18.5g) of grounds, it should take 25 to 35 seconds on an espresso machine to brew 36g of espresso.
Milk + Creamer
Even though I don’t add milk or sugar to my daily coffee, I am a sucker for a solid cappuccino. A cappuccino is an Italian beverage split into three equal parts — espresso, steamed milk and foam.
Emily. We kept our cappuccino simple in flavor with just the basic ingredients and got fancy with the design. Emily showed off with some foam art with a rosette, leaf and a swan. Yes, you read that correctly, a swan. It was easily the best cappuccino I’ve ever had, swan and all.
With milk, I learned a few key things: Once heated to the touch (of the pitcher), it should be the consistency of wet paint and it should highlight the bean, not hide it. So, for all of you who practice a ratio of 90 percent creamer, five percent sugar and the remaining on coffee, I’d reconsider your approach.
After my morning at French Truck Coffee, I know I’m not ready to compete in a barista championship like Emily, but I do wish my science teachers had used food more as a learning tool. Like Kevin from The Office, I would have been unstoppable with the combination of food and numbers. I did, however, leave the shop a bit buzzed. Emily and I spent a majority of our time dialing in and tasting multiple shots of espresso. I now know the right equation for a balanced espresso; one that isn’t bitter, yet is sweet. And, yes, the ratios and measurements were a bit overwhelming, but each number crucial to the production of pouring the perfect cup.
Images: Sean Gasser