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January 2011 Newsletter

We're back! Our short break was surprisingly refreshing
considering it mostly consisted of lengthy road trips. The
tyranny of distance becomes very apparent when your friends and
family are spread over a country as big as Australia. However,
rest stops do give you the opportunity to sample espressos at a
variety of outlets. And if you sample sufficient espressos,
you'll definitely need the rest stops!

Some of the drinks were appalling, some were average and a couple
were quite good, but I was more interested in watching the
barista skills of the people pulling the shots than the end
results. My overall impression was that the actual brewing skills
of the people involved were generally adequate, with one
important exception: hardly anyone knows how to correctly adjust
the grinder.

The coffees being used were relatively fresh, the dosing and
tamping routines were correct, the shot volume settings were
right, but the actual shot timings (and therefore the extraction
qualities) were all over the place.

A couple of times I was presented with 60ml doubles pulled in 7
to 8 seconds, and my polite requests for an espresso pulled with
a finer grind were met with blank looks or excuses that "only the
boss/supervisor/sales rep are allowed to adjust the grinder". Yes,
it was over the holiday period and the staff were almost
certainly lowly paid casuals, but it appeared that they had been
given precisely two-thirds of the necessary training.

They knew how to froth milk and how to pull shots, but had no
idea of how to pull GOOD shots, and the importance of the grinder
to the overall process. Even most of the average shots appeared
to be more by accident than design, with little attention during
the shot. On the other hand, both of the good shots were produced
by eagle-eyed baristas who watched them to the last drop.

I suspect that it would be possible to improve the standard of
espresso all over Australia simply by teaching café staff that a
shot must run for no less than 20 and no more than 25 seconds and
that this is achieved by adjusting the grind, given that the
espresso machine itself is set for correct dose volumes.

When it comes to improved espresso I've been amazed by the
proliferation of Synesso machines close to home. There are at
least four Synessos within walking distance, the closest (about
150 metres) at 3 Station Pier and the others a bit further away.
They are generally matched with superb Mazzer grinders (Kony E's
seem to be popular) and excellent baristas, but while the quality
of the shots is superb, the taste is somewhat lacking.

The coffee blends seem to be based on the USA "3rd Wave" model,
acidy Cental American blends designed to punch through milk,
without much complexity,  aftertaste or body. Not really all that
good for a straight espresso.

Since the January special coffee is as usual the tiny amount of
green coffee I have left over from December,

Yemen Mokha Ismaili 


probably one of the best, most complex single origin espressos on
earth, I will admit that my taste buds might be just a little
biased at present.

Finally, I have to admit that while the coffee quality around
Sydney still has a way to go to catch up to Melbourne, the Sydney
Harbour Bridge New Year's fireworks are just about the best in
the world.

Until next month