UFA-The Ritual of Espresso

I thought I knew how to work an espresso machine. I really did. I learned the ropes when I was about 16. I’d quit my job manning the front desk at my dance studio to start over at the Dolce Café. Sam would reach up for the tins of Illy coffee I’d dump into the grinder and pull shot after shot for lattes, cappucinnos and, being that it was in Brentwood in the ‘90s, Iced-blended mochas.

I took the skill-set along with me to college and beyond, where I’d pull shots and steam milk, feeling confident in my concoctions. I stood behind my drinks. I can only feel terrible now for the hundreds, possibly thousands of coffee drinks I made for people, and how I contributed, in my own way, to the proliferation of terrible, ill-pulled espresso.

I hope that I can be forgiven now for the sins against coffee I once committed.

My revelation and re-education began on Sunday, when the Underground Food Academy got behind the counter and on the machine at Ritual Roasters. Chris Baca, Western Regional Barista Competition Champion 2008, was our fearless leader, giving the crew a crash course in espresso, from bean to machine.

There was a lot to take in, as every step was deceptively simple.

As I used to think it was something like this:
Grind the beans
Drop ground beans in the filter basket.
Sweep off extra.
Run the shot.

In fact it’s more like this:
Grind the beans (single origin or blend? What size grind? Don’t grind too much- keep the grind fresh fresh fresh)

Drop ground beans into the filter basket (while you’re grinding them, quick motions to drop in an even little pile, and settle the filter twice, maybe three times, but not too hard or else you’ll get channeling)

Sweep off extra (what’s your style? Back and forth three times with your first finger a little elevated, or flat, or pinched off between two digits?)

Tamp (flat tamper or beveled? even consistent pressure, keep your arm straight, tap it a little loose with the back of the tamper- THE BACK of the tamper!)

Run the shot (run the water through first, clean your deck, lock in the shot, then let it run a little, cup under if it’s looking good, but don’t pull it away too early—or too late!)


Like I said, it’s complicated. Katherine, a long-time espresso drinker (and maker) concluded that she “probably had never had a good shot of espresso before,” and vowed to try and apply her newly learned techniques “as much as (she) can!”

It was a damn good start to a new beginning, and Chris was a very patient teacher. There’s a lot more to learn, for certain. And with some luck and more UFA espresso classes, I’ll be on my way to righting my past wrongs.

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