I do love a good cup of coffee. And I’m certainly not alone in that respect, with coffee becoming firmly entrenched in British culture. As a nation, we spent £730 million on coffee in the British Isles last year alone.
We can see for ourselves that coffee shops are a growing fixture in our landscape, and, in fact, on a recent trip to Oxford, I was stopped by a tourist, asking where the nearest tea room was. And I actually couldn’t think of one. If the lady had asked for a coffee shop, I could have reeled off half a dozen nearby.
Whilst there are no shortage of coffee shops in every town and city in the country, I have been interested to discover some of the really excellent independents that take coffee much more seriously than the larger chains, and dedicate themselves to producing the very best coffee they can.
I recently visited Speakeasy Espresso and Brew Bar, located just off of Carnaby Street in London. I spent the morning with John Kyle learning how to make the perfect cup of coffee using a Rocket Evoluzione Machine, which is quite a serious piece of kit at £1400.
Like John, my coffee of choice is always a flat white, so this is what we learnt to make. Of course, every coffee shop has its own way of doing things, so what I learnt was very much their way of doing things, but it certainly produced an excellent cup of coffee.
First up, I learnt that one of the secrets to a perfect brew is that everything must be measured. The coffee beans, and the time taken to prepare a shot of coffee are all controlled precisely to ensure the perfect result. This will depend on your machine, but my homemade technique of pouring ground coffee aimlessly out of the bag has to go. The coffee beans need to be accurately ground too, for the right result. Again, my home coffee grinder seemed woefully inadequate compared to the Mahlkonig Vario grinder we used which has tens of grind settings to get your beans just right – but it is £400 new.
John expertly guided me through the process of making a shot of coffee, showing me how to tamp the coffee perfectly, which is where the ground coffee is flattened into the basket before being attached to the coffee machine. This simple stage is really crucial to get right, as the flow of water through the ground coffee affects the flavour and consistency of the output.
Next, we had a go at the milk. John described the milk on a flat white as “as close to drinking velvet as you can get” which I think is a pretty accurate description. Getting your milk just so is harder than it may appear. We used the arm of the Rocket machine and a small metal jug to heat our milk. This was the hardest part for me, as I felt I could have done with more hands as there are several processes to carry out at once, from controlling the steam levels of the machine, to holding and swirling the milk jug and feeling how warm it’s getting against your hand. Although it doesn’t sound like much, it all happens really quickly, and there are lots of things to do and think about when you’re at this stage.
After a couple of attempts, I did manage to get it just right, although my pouring techniques leave a little to be desired – I was trying to attempt a heart shape in the milk. Still, it tasted pretty darn good, so I was happy.
This is a brilliant opportunity to for coffee enthusiasts to learn how to improve their coffee making skills at home with fun, likeminded people. Courses take place in the evenings and are around £35-45 for a couple of hours. You can even bring your own equipment and learn how to get the best out of it. There are many alternatives to an expensive coffee machine, such as cafetières and filters too, so you don’t need to buy a particularly expensive machine.