At the beginning of February, wanting to realize a small dream of mine and simultaneously envisioning a practical Plan B, I signed up to become accredited as a barista. Somehow I had visions of myself working in a café, perfecting coffee, serving artsy lattes and chatting with customers. Maybe I had had a very fulfilling glimpse of such a job when I worked at Karma Yoga Studio as a front deskie, logging yogis/yoginis, selling merchandise and serving the wares of the café at the same time. Upon arriving in Sydney, I quite unexpectedly discovered that Sydneysiders take coffee VERY seriously and made such a commitment apparent in silky perfect coffee.
Thus, almost 6 weeks ago now, I arrived for my day-long training at The Sydney Coffee School. My teacher was the very energetic and very knowledgeable Emily Falson. Emily’s grandfather had brought the first espresso machine to Australia from Italy in the 1950s (soon after the first espresso machine was invented in 1948) at which point Emily’s grandmother was detained because they thought the milk frothing wand was actually a tool for terrorism. With cafes in both Sydney and Melbourne, Emily has trained two world champion baristas and is so overwhelmingly passionate about customer service. She’s been working the machine since she was yea high, and her sister is in coffee too working as a coffee roaster.
Within a day I would become a certifiable coffee snob, learning the particularities of freshness, details of the machine and proper technique.
We learned a bit about the provenance and history of coffee, the variations in bean and the fact that, after oil, coffee is the next most expensive trading material on the stock market. But the real training was in the types of coffee. The morning was an absolute whirlwind, learning how to make espressos, macchiatos, americanos, flat whites (a flatter cappuccino specific to Australia), lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, hot chocolates, ice coffees and affogatos. The morning was a veritable whirlwind of learning all the different combinations.
Coffee really is just the combination of espresso and milk in various different ways. A simple espresso shot should pour seamlessly from the machine through the tamped handle of grounds and should have a caramel-coloured crema atop. You know before even tasting the coffee that it will be lovely.
The difficulty is in perfecting the milk, and you’ll know it when you hear it. Textured milk is a bit of a challenge. The wand that squirts out steam needs to be placed in the milk in a particular way so that the milk isn’t too frothy. It has to sound right too, a high-pitched whooshing uninterrupted by gurgles of air. You see perfection when it happens, the milk just scintillates as you hold your hand to the quickly warming container. Once its too hot to handle, your milk is done.
In the afternoon we learned some latte art, which was really just an excuse to perfect milk. I tried some designs that came out with mixed success, but I really shone when we made layered piccolo lattes, fun little drinks served in fun little glasses that had a particular science to the way they were poured, a science I just ate up and loved.
Just look at these photos!