What's the secret behind great coffee?

Australian coffee is celebrated worldwide, with a rapidly growing Aussie cafe movement in major overseas cities like New York. What's so special about our espresso?

We can let you in on the secret: it's because here in Australia, we understand that coffee is much more than beans and water. The best baristas have a firm understanding of the science and art of coffee making and are remunerated accordingly.

In this article, we discuss what makes Australian coffee unique and how you can learn to extract shots like some of the world's greatest.

The rise of Australian coffee culture

Australians have evolved coffee into a form of social connection, culinary exploration and an opportunity for mindfulness.

Australia is a relatively new arrival on the international coffee stage. Our love affair with coffee began following World War II, when Italian immigrants arrived in the country with stove-top coffee makers which they used to brew espresso, rather than drip or filter coffee.

Over time, more and more Italian cafes appeared across Australia, giving rise to the popularity of espresso and signalling the start of our internationally recognised "coffee culture". Because espresso produces a more nuanced palate and requires greater finesse to produce, our love of coffee is rooted not in convenience or function of the caffeine, but in the quality of the brew.

Australian cafes celebrate coffee as an opportunity to explore flavour and bond socially.Australian cafes celebrate coffee as an opportunity to explore flavour and bond socially.

Today, the vast majority of cafes around Australia are independently owned and serve espresso coffee, many even procuring unique blends to establish a distinct, inimitable flavour palate.

Where Australian coffee differs from that of its Italian predecessors is perhaps the result of our late arrival. Unhindered by tradition, Australian baristas have experimented broadly with different forms of coffee from the famous flat white to the long black. Whilst in Italy, the cultural habit is to drink only single espresso shots (milk coffee drinks are for mornings only) and to do so whilst standing, Australians have evolved coffee into a form of leisure, social connection, culinary exploration and an opportunity for mindfulness.

The details of great coffee

With Australian baristas constantly pushing the envelope and defining great coffee, we've come to identify key variables which must be controlled to produce a high-quality espresso shot. 

Freshness

The first and most basic detail of good coffee is freshness of the beans and the grind. When beans are roasted, carbon dioxide forms inside them. Over a period of up to two weeks, these gases will seep out of the bean. It's important for baristas to wait until the beans have finished degassing to avoid the carbon dioxide creating an uneven extraction and impacting the flavour of the coffee. The period after degassing is the ideal time to grind the beans; wait too long and oxidation can occur, which results in a stale flavour.

Oxidation is also why it's vital you use freshly ground coffee for espresso. When beans are ground, the oxidation process speeds up rapidly and it can be a matter of minutes or even seconds before the flavour begins to be affected.

Extracting the perfect shot comes with skill and practice.Extracting the perfect shot comes with skill and practice.

Cleanliness

It goes without saying that cleanliness is crucial in any food or beverage preparation setting – but even the slightest contaminant can affect the taste of coffee. The group head should be purged between each extraction, and the basket should be wiped of all residual grinds and oil.

Dose

This refers to the amount of coffee in the basket. When water is pushed through the coffee, it travels to the bottom of the coffee bed, dropping in temperature, extracting the oils and turning into espresso. If the dose is increased or decreased, this changes the time it takes for water to pass through, impacting the overall quality of the extraction.

Consistency is vital when producing coffee in a commercial setting – and dose is the one variable that should remain the same no matter how many others you alter to change the extraction.

Milk skills are the next step in creating an iconic Australian flat white.Milk skills are the next step in creating an iconic Australian flat white.

Grind

Think of coffee grinds like sand or rocks; if your grinds are coarse, water pushes through the coffee bed as if they were rocks, with plenty of space and easy flow. When grinds are smaller like sand, water must be forced through at high pressure. You want your grind to be fine enough to result in a gradual extraction, but not so fine that water can barely pass through.

Tamp

Tamping is the act of pressing down on the coffee bed before pulling the shot. This condenses the space between grinds and ensure coffee passes through evenly. To get an even tamp, you may need to move the grinds in the basket to ensure they are evenly distributed before compressing. An uneven tamp results in channelling – where water passes through one side of the bed before the other, and leads to an unsatisfactory shot.

Excellent coffee takes plenty of practice and a thorough understanding of the science of extraction, as well as familiarity with milk steaming, free pouring and other key barista skills. To gain the abilities you need to succeed as a barista in Australia – or on the world stage – apply to a Kenvale barista course today. 

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I have been to many hatted restaurants this year and can honestly say that they would have struggled to produce such fantastic dishes.

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Best wishes to your graduating students for success in their career and to your staff to continue to guide students to reach such a high standard.

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