Monday, February 1, 2016

THE NEW COFFEE EXPERIMENT

I’m very excited to relaunch The Coffee Experiment; the composition of the new website better reflects my writing and the original idea that sparked this project. You will notice a new menu to the left, which are the new focuses of The Coffee Experiment: Conversations, Travel, Design, and Coffee 101.

I was always more interested in the social aspect of coffee — the way that it universally brings people together — than the coffee itself. CONVERSATIONS will focus on the people I have coffee with. The TRAVEL section will be a place I can write about travel, both coffee related and otherwise. I spend much of my time in coffee shops, writing, meeting people, or simply being. I am very inspired by the design of coffee spaces, the way they can be artful, while also serving as the gathering spaces for communities. Thus, the DESIGN section will focus on the architecture of coffee spaces, in every form. I still love to drink good coffee; COFFEE 101 will remain a place to write about coffee drinks and brewing methods that I enjoy.

 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

COFFEE 101: ESPRESSO AT HOME WITH THE RANCILIO SILVIA

The Rancilio Silvia is an Italian-made espresso machine, producing high quality results while being both compact and rather easy-to-use. Clive Coffee named it one of the best single-boiler espresso machines under $1,000 (as many of you may or may not know, espresso machines are generally, expensive). Though I’ve never owned a more expensive machine in comparison, I can say that this machine has been my at-home savior.

After a couple of months, and perhaps 400 cappuccinos later (not all imbibed, don’t worry), I’ve learned a thing or two. And I wanted to share my amateur findings. There is, as always, much room for improvement. I’m only two months in to being top barista of my household.

Details:

The Rancilio Silvia is a single-boiler espresso machine — meaning there is only one water-heating source for both brewing and steaming.  Therefore, it will take a bit more time to prepare a milk drink; after an espresso shot is pulled, there is a waiting period for the machine to heat up to optimal temperature again before steaming milk.  Since I’m usually only making one or two drinks at a time, this isn’t a concern for me.

Important Variables:

First of all, as always, good coffee is required for a good result.

When pulling espresso at home, one of the most important elements is your grind.  Grind is an important aspect of any coffee-making, but one honestly can’t pull a good espresso shot unless a proper grind size is used. I received the Baratza Maestro (since discontinued) as a gift, and it has really made all the difference.  There are even more efficient grinders for espresso use, but I have found that this one is doing the job for now.

The espresso should be fine and powdery, which allows a uniform and compact tamp (that little silver hammer which baristas use to pressurize the grinds in the group-head). While tamping, one should apply even, forceful pressure for about 30 seconds. There should be no holes or cracks in the espresso once it is tamped.

The extraction time is the final variable one must watch carefully. It is, quite simply, the time it takes to brew an espresso shot. Optimal time varies between machines, but generally lies between 20-25 seconds from the time you flip the switch to the end result. I am currently extracting espresso for about 20 seconds. A proper shot of espresso should be topped by a thick crema (that cream-colored frothy layer that sits on the top of an espresso shot, an effect of the gases being released during extraction.)

Next up, I’ll tackle the highly difficult art of steaming milk. Stay tuned!

I produced a short film on my iPad — grainy and pixelated — to give you some visuals.

Monday, March 18, 2013

MIAMI, FLCOFFEE 101: CAFE CUBANO

At Abuela’s Kitchen, a newly opened Cuban restaurant on Lincoln Road — Miami’s crowded and eclectic outdoor shopping mall — the women at the counter greet sólo en español. Since I don’t know much Spanish, I stick to what I do know: coffee. “Cortadito, please,” I ordered on a breezy Friday morning. “Non!” the waitress countered, shaking her head. “Too small. You want a cafe con leche — very strong and good.” It was early, and Cubans, like Italians, drink their heavy milk drinks in the early hours of the day.

Cubans are one of the many cultures that make up the multifaceted community of Miami, and the influence on the culture is unmistakable. Walking around Miami Beach often feels like wandering through foreign streets, from Brazil to Paris, Haiti to Cuba; as one Colombian immigrant told me, “Everyone in Miami is from somewhere else.” While I’m sure Miami natives exist, the city’s strong Latin presence is evident in Miami’s coffee scene. In nearly every cafe, one will see a café cubano on the menu.

A café cubano is a shot of espresso, often made with Bustelo beans, pulled with sugar, or sometimes, poured over sugar. The sugar caramelizes and turns into a kind of syrup, creating the notable sweetness Cuban coffee is adored for. Bustelo beans are darkly roasted, so the sugar is never overpowering because the undercurrent of the coffee is so strong.

A café con leche is one part café cubano, two parts steamed milk. Often, condensed milk is used, creating an extra sweet treat.

Finally, a cortadito is the perfect blend of the two. It is a Cuban version of the macchiato: a potent shot of Bustelo, laced with sugar and a drop of steamed milk.

Cuban coffee is engrained in Miami culture. Gazing at the crowd huddled around the the outdoor window at Abuela’s, it’s full of locals, tourists, Latinos, Haitians, and Europeans alike: a snapshot of Miami, all drinking a café cubano.

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Monday, October 31, 2011

BROOKLYN, NYCCOFFEE 101 – THE FRENCH PRESS

The French Press is my favorite way to make coffee. It’s fairly simple and takes little time. Everyone has their own way of making it.

I consulted Brooklyn Roasting Company’s Michael Pollack on how to make the perfect French Press, as their DUMBO cafe features French Presses on the menu.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

PORTUGALCOFFEE 101 – THE SIPHON, PORTUGUESE EDITION

Vacuum coffee pot, syphon, siphon — whatever you want to call it, it looks like it came out of your tenth grade chemistry lab.

But in many circles, it’s the chic way to brew coffee, and it’s no different in Portugal. At the beautiful new culture club in the Palacio Belmonte — one of the oldest palaces in Lisbon, now a gorgeously appointed hotel — one can enjoy a siphoned cup while listening to the likes of brilliant Israeli concert pianist, Elisha Abas.

Maria, owner of the Palacio along with her husband Frederic, fixed me a cup. A mid 19th century design, popularized in the 1960s, the concept is quite simple, and the result is clean and aromatic. The siphon is made up of two glass carafes connected by a glass stem; the coffee grounds are placed in the top carafe, the water in the bottom. A flame is lit at the bottom, causing the water to heat and create a pressure vacuum, that forces the water up into the coffee grounds. Once all the water has reached the grounds, the coffee is stirred for one minute. Then, the flame is removed, and the brewed liquid passes down through the filter, back into the bottom carafe.

Et voila, the coffee is ready to serve, straight out of the glass carafe. The coffee has little sediment and clean flavor. And at the culture club, it’s an homage to the vintage idea that good aperitifs and coffee are best served with Chopin floating through the air (compliments of Elisha), which makes it the most fabulous place to have coffee in Lisboa.

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

ROME, ITALYCOFFEE 101 – GRANITA DI CAFFE

The New York weather has kicked off it’s hot, thick, smelly, sticky summer party. It makes you kind of lazy, in need of a shot of caffeine — but nothing too hot. It’s definitely iced coffee weather.

Granita di caffé is an Italian specialty, a variant of iced coffee unlike any you’ve ever had. Like a snow cone for adults, it’s Italian shaved ice laced with espresso and a bit of sugar, sandwiched between two heaping scoops of unsweetened panna.

Tazza d’Oro is known to have some of the best granita di caffé in all of Rome, but I was told of a place that was even better. Described as small and “ugly” (though to my eyes, it was still quaint as ever) — it was a low frill kind of place. But many Italians agreed, it had the best granita di caffé. So I crossed the bridge to Trastevere, a youthful bohemian district of Rome full of art galleries, boutiques, and cafes.

I found Bar San Calisto on a little street off of Piazza di Santa Maria (and a gorgeous church worth going into). A tiny bar full of locals. The granita di caffé was rich and strong, the espresso soaking each bite, and the homemade panna providing the perfect balance. Simple, yet divine, and perfect for a summer day.

If you can’t make it to Rome, the Washington Post has a recipe here; it’s easy to prepare at home.

Also in the neighborhood: Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Palazzo Corsini, housing a lovely Caravaggio — amongst other works — and Villa Farnesina, with gorgeous frescoes completed by Raphael. It’s also fun to wander, popping into the art galleries and boutiques featuring local designers.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

SOHO, NYCCOFFEE 101 – THE CORTADO

In essence, the cortado is the Spanish lovechild of a macchiato and a cappuccino. It’s really all about the ratio; the milk is used to cut the acidity of the espresso, but not overpower. The espresso comes through to balance the milk, which is steamed more like a latte, with little-to-no foam. The milk is steamed at a lesser temperature as well, and it is served in a 5 to 7 oz. glass rather than ceramic.

On your next trip to the cafe, order a cortado (La Colombe makes an amazing one).