What Makes A Coffee Great?


Don’t know if you know this or not.

Approximately 30% of the Australian population drink coffee on a daily basis.


Alternatively, approximately 37% of the Australian population are religious.

This means coffee is about 7% away from being as common as religion.

And wars have been started over religion, which means we should start gearing up for WW3 if coffee runs out!

For anyone drinking coffee, those stats shouldn’t surprise you.

Coffee is the preferred way to start the day for nearly â…“ of the Australian public, and that doesn’t happen by accident.

Australian baristas are known the world over for the depth of knowledge in coffee. It’s become such a part of the australian culture, that the world is now noticing.

When things like this happen, coffee goes from being an art to a science.

It used to be a touchy-feely, woo-woo profession, where you’d tinker over and over again with the blend to get it right. But like most things that become big enough to garner the right attention, systemisation and sciences gets a hold of it.

Take for instance Adam Carr, from Seven Miles Coffee Roasters in Sydney. With a background in sustainable fuels and chemical engineering, he now researches the variety of ways that coffee is influenced at a molecular level.

That is very different to touchy-feely top knots and woo-woo intuitions.

With this, coffee has become the art of understanding the process, and not latte art.

Without further adieu... This is what makes up a great coffee.

Step1: A good blend

Coffee is a lot like wine, and growing coffee is best left to the 9th generation coffee farmer who is a walking encyclopedia of coffee growing.

To give you a bit of an idea, here are some of the things you need to be mindful of when picking a bean:

If we were to take just these 7 factors (not counting for possibilities within each factor), we would have 127 different possible outcomes. This is before we even consider the most basic question:

What kind of coffee bean is it?

So, coffee really is like wine. Different regions will have general styles & flavours, but each plantation will have it’s own subtly different flavour.

If your barista says otherwise, it’s it time to find a new barista.

The roasters are the ones who then take the beans from individual farms, roast them and combine them at a certain ratio - this is called the blend.

After the individual flavours have been considered, roasted, and combined. This creates the flavour of the blend.

From here on, it’s the role of the barista.

Step 2: Get your grind right

While the espresso machine gets all the glory for it’s size, noise and prominence, the grinder is where the magic happens.

The grinder is arguably the most important part of the coffee making process.

Imagine you’re in the kitchen, and you want a vegetable or herb to release as much of it’s flavours as you can.

What do you do?

You usually will pound it and chop it up into tiny pieces.

This is effectively what a grinder does.

The grinder is the part that releases all the trapped gases in the beans, and breaks the bean down into smaller parts, allowing water to pass over more surface area of the bean.

This then carries the gasse and tiny particles into the the cup for your coffee.

Here’s where it gets tricky.

You need to make sure that your grind isn’t too small that it slows the flow of water, or that it is too big that the water won’t carry the gases and particles into the cup.

At the same time as you think about the size, you also need to think about the volume of coffee grind. You might have the right size grind, but you might have too much in the basket of your espresso handle, which will then slow the flow of water through the coffee grind also.

This is called under-extraction. 

Again, the inverse is true.

If you don’t have enough, then the water will rush through the coffee grinds, and this is called over-extraction.

Step 3: Extracting your shot

Here is where the wheels can really fall off.

You can’t tell if your grind is right until you extract your shot on your espresso machine.

So, if someone is careless and hasn’t taken the time to test their grind and get it set right, then the customer is going to be the one to find out (usually by way of approximately $5) whether the extraction is any good.

But, as important as the grind is, the extraction is important also.

If you roaster is any good, they would usually provide you with a recipe for your blend.

This will look something like:

____ grams of ground coffee blend in basket, extracted over ______ seconds =  ___ grams shot of coffee in cup.

If you can hit these numbers, generally the shot will be good.

This doesn’t mean you have to weigh and time every shot, but it does mean that you have to be aware of what your equipment is doing so that you can change if it is off at all.

Step 4: Consider your milk

Imagine that you are making a glass of cordial.

Your cordial is in the cup already, and you go to add water.

How much water you add will determine the strength of the cordial you drink.

Some people might sip yours and gag cos its so sweet, and someone else might think that you’ve just added colouring to flavourless water.

It’s your drink, and you know how you like it.

How much milk you add to your coffee is the exact same thing. Some people like a double shot, triple or even quadruple shot, which means that others might gag if they try your coffee (GOOD!).

You might try someone else’s style, and find that it’s like slightly adjusted milk, and thats good too.

But here is the thing.

Milk isn’t just a matter of pouring it into the cup at a set ratio to the espresso (although that is important).

What about texture? - I’m not kidding.

You know those times when the coffee hits your lips and instantly, your mouth is coated with a beautiful film of creamy coffee goodness? 

That, my friends, is the texture.

Texture is created by ‘stretching’ the milk through the use of the steam wand on your espresso machine.

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