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Publication Date : 08-07-2012
The boom in chic coffee bistros in Bangkok and around the world over the past decade would suggest that people ought to know a lot about coffee by now, but it's surprising how much we don't know. We need experts like Luv Kamonsawedkun now more than ever, in fact.
Time for some schooling!
Luv has just opened the Coffee Academy at her Fabb Cafe & Bistro on Ekamai Soi 10. She and her instructors educate the "students" on how coffee's flavour is affected by its origin and processing and about the roasting, blending and brewing, and introduce the delicate art of latte foam toppings.
Luv considers coffee a "noble" beverage, worthy of the same respect as fine wine. She learned to roast beans from a top barista in Florence, Italy, and then took a course at Lysander, a coffee firm in Taipei.
That's where she bought all the magical apparatus needed for the practice of coffee alchemy. Fabb displays all sorts of roasters, siphons and, of course, many, many jars full of dark beans waiting to reveal their mysteries.
The bistro adheres to the school of single-origin coffee, stocking more than 50 types of beans from around the globe. You can have a cup made from the world's priciest bean - Indonesia's famed kopi luwak.
There's Panama Geisha, St Helena, Guatemalan El Injerto, Jamaican Blue Mountain, Fazenda Santa Ines Brazil and a multitude more.
"Roasting is a form of art," Luv says. "You have to know the characteristics and profile of each green bean - the fragrance, acidity, body, flavour and aftertaste. Just as a sommelier knows his Bordeaux, the barista should know how to accentuate and bring out the distinct flavour and aroma of each bean with appropriate servings. It's learning by burning."
She demonstrates using a manual drum roaster made for small shops. The course covers how to operate the device safely, how to keep it in good working order, how the heat is transferred and applied and how the air flows through.
"Once you reach 120 degrees Celsius, you place the green beans into the drum," Luv explains. It's essential to concentrate. You'll hear sounds that indicate the bean temperature. It's like popcorn when it pops.
"When you hear the first cracking sound, that means light roasting has begun. By the second crack the bean colour is changing from light brown to medium brown. Wait one minute and then turn off the roaster. The roasting time shouldn't be more than 15 minutes. If it takes more time than that, you should check the roaster's gas feed."
Luv opens the appliance's door and the coffee empties onto a tray, where it's evenly spread to cool at the same rate and thus preserve the aroma.
"There are no strict rules," Luv allows. "Roasting is a combination of art and science. You need medium roasting if you're brewing with a French press or a siphon and a dark roast for espresso or iced coffee.
"I prefer the manual roaster rather than an automatic one because it helps people learn to manage the procedure from start to finish by themselves. It's like learning to drive a car on a manual shift - it requires more concentration and skill."
Luv says she drinks about seven cups of coffee a day, starting with one made in a French press without milk and sugar so the character of each bean stands out. At lunchtime she'll have two or three cups of macchiato, this time with milk and sugar to get the glucose, and then in the afternoon an espresso to help the digestion. Later in the afternoon she has a cappuccino for an energy boost.
Not everyone hankers for the skills of a professional barister. If just knowing how to make a great cup of coffee at home is your goal, Thrisnut Prapan of the Thailand Coffee and Tea Association is the academy's teacher for that. He'll take you through each step in using the press, siphons and an espresso machine.
"The balanced-siphon coffee maker isn't exactly a common sight in most kitchens, but it's quite an intriguing device," Thrisnut says. "Light- and medium-roasted beans are suitable. I'll use it to trap the delicate, floral flavours of Panama Geisha. For one cup of espresso we use 10 grams of grounds per six ounces of water."
The ground coffee goes in the glass jar and boiling water into the metal chamber. Light the alcohol burner to keep the water bubbling. It flows through a pipe into the jar with the grounds. Eventually, the water chamber will boil empty, and the balance lever will tip the canister and put out the burner.
When the metal canister cools it creates a vacuum, sucking the finished coffee back through the pipe into the metal chamber, which has a spigot at the bottom where you fill your cup.
"To taste coffee, the best way is to slurp, and the louder the better," says Thrisnut. "Slurp and swirl it all around the surface of the tongue and mouth to get the full flavour. Allow your senses of taste and smell to mingle.
"When you smell ground coffee you experience the first impression of its flavour. When it's brewed you encounter its aroma. When slurping, as soon as it reaches your tongue, it stimulates the taste buds and releases the aromas."
After roasting, grinding, brewing and tasting, it's time to delve deeper and get creative with latte foam. Supot Leesuwattanakul, the academy's "art" instructor, teaches the techniques for grinding, dosing, tamping, extraction, frothing the milk and etching the foam.
"There are two main types of latte art," he says. "The free-pouring pattern is created during the pour. Etching uses a tool to create the pattern after the pour. Latte art is a skill that can take time to master. We start with free pouring to create a fern shape. If you can master that during the two-day course, you're skilful."
As Supot pours steamed milk into the cup, foam begins to surface on one side. He moves the pitcher from side to side or wiggles the spout back and forth to form a zigzag pattern, and adds a quick cross stroke for the "stem". Finally, the pattern is bent into the shape of a fern.
You won't be doing this with your first coffee after the alarm clock gets you up, but it promises great fun later in the day.