Whether it’s using fresh juices, herbs and garnishes for your summer time favourites or you’re cracking out the coffee pot for an epic spiked brunch drink, there’s one irrefutable fact when it comes to mixing cocktails – freshness matters!
In this edition of Up Your Bar Game, we’re talking coffee quality with Allison East, a latte artist and co-owner of Calgary-based Latte Art Love.
J: Thank you for speaking with us today Allison.
A: Thanks for reaching out, it’s great to be here.
J: It’s great to use quality and fresh ingredients in cocktails, which is what I do and I wanted to ask you about coffee today, which is what you do. There are a lot of coffee-based drinks out there and I’d love to share some tips with home bartenders on what to look for in beans, making coffee and espresso at home and how to tell if a good coffee-base has been used in their drink.
A: Well, freshness really speaks to it with cocktails as well as with coffee. The first thing I look for when I’m buying my beans is roast dates. A general guideline is that the roast date should be no more than a month from when you buy it.
J: What happens after a month?
A: What happens with the beans is that they let go of gas, CO2, and in that process get very dry. As the beans lose their oils, they lose their flavour and aroma. After about 3 months, your coffee starts to taste really gross. If you ever keep your beans for 6 months and then use them, you’ll probably think, “Oh, these aren’t as good as it was 3 months ago.”
J: One tip I’ve heard before is that to keep your beans longer, people should put them in the freezer. Is that true? Is that something people should do?
A: No, that’s not true. That’s a total myth. People do it all the time and it doesn’t do anything.
J: I’ve done it before for sure.
A: I have too! My parents still do, although I don’t know why since it really doesn’t do anything.
J: So really, if you’re not a big coffee drinking, the best thing to do is to buy in smaller quantities.
A: Exactly, smaller batches are perfect.
J: What about grinding? Should you be grinding your coffee beans at home? Or is it okay to buy pre-ground?
A: I would buy a grinder and grind it fresh at home and avoid blade grinders and opt for a bur grinder instead. Blade grinders heat up the beans and evaporate the oils I was talking about earlier. You want to keep them [the oils] in there because it creates a great aroma and a great taste as well. Bur grinders provide a more consistent grind. An inconsistent grind can provide bitter and sour flavours in your coffee because of the way it interacts with the water as you’re brewing.
J: How do you tell if you’ve got a good coffee on your hands?
A: Well, in the land of espresso, one indicator is the amount of crema. The crema when it’s freshly roasted is nice and full, it’s about half of your shot when you first pour it and then it separates out. If it’s over 3 months old, it might have a thin foam of crema. Crema is like beerhead, but on your coffee and you want about half of that.
J: If there was someone at home who didn’t have an espresso machine but wanted to make an individual shot, what would be a good machine to get or a good stove top method?
A: There are many different ways to brew coffee. I would recommend an AeroPress. I take it camping! It’s very simple and you can do one or two shots and it comes out quite smooth and sweet. If you enjoy a French press, you’ll really like the AeroPress.
J: Can you give us some recommendations on flavours that coffee goes really well with?
A: Personally, I really like lemon flavour with coffee. If you’re adding milk, don’t do that! I also really enjoy milk with coffee, obviously the latte is one of my favourite drinks. Other flavours that pair well are cinnamon and nutmeg. Or rum! Anything that goes well with rum will go well with coffee.
J: Great! Thank you for speaking with us today, Allison. Your tips are helpful and I’m sure our readers’ coffee-based cocktails will taste even better after this!
If you want to learn more about coffee and espresso, stay tuned for upcoming classes, workshops and events (like a monthly Whovian Tea) from Latte Art Love in their space at ARCHEloft Makerspace in Calgary.