From latte art to well-pulled espressos


This week, TimeOut put a coffee-making class through the mill. But how did it measure up – smooth and strong, mild, or just a long grind?  Roopa Gulati reports from the coffee front line The Class
‘The Coffeesmiths Collective – The Art and Science of Espresso’.

Star rating
4 stars

The aim
To brew espressos like the professionals (and make pretty patterns over flat whites) after one evening class in the City. But to practise at home and get real benefit from the course, you’ll need your own espresso machine, or access to one.

£45, for one session of two hours.

They claim
‘Designed for people who have an interest or a passion for coffee and want to learn the key principles and techniques of espresso coffee making. After covering foundational theory (sic), you’ll develop your espresso technique under the personal instruction of our skilled baristas.’

What we did
Four espresso virgins met in the brightly-lit café; two hours later, we were talking pressure bars, 30 second runs, and stretching milk as if we were born into it. All thanks to the expertise of Coffeesmiths Collective co-founder, Kiwi Chris McKie. He’s a pro at assessing a good grind (lots of rough edges on the beans to extract maximum flavour), the precise coffee weight needed for an espresso (20.4g), and he runs this hands-on masterclass on key techniques. Flying the flag for New Zealand, we also learn how to froth milk for flat whites, using the espresso machine’s steam spout until the dairy becomes stretchy and meringue-like. And then there’s the drama of creative artwork. I made a sci-fi Klingon – an original.

Who goes
Coffee geeks of all ages and backgrounds who already own, or use, espresso machines.

The gift of being totally 100% wired after a two-hour evening session – four flat whites and two espressos later, it was a legal high.

Best tip
One of life’s lessons: ‘Just because an espresso has a mile-high crema, don’t expect it to be a memorable experience’.

This course is great if you want to refine your espresso technique. The catch, of course, is that you need an espresso machine, and good ones cost hundreds of pounds. Mine might have to wait until that lottery win.  But many of McKie’s top tips are handy even when making regular filter coffee with stovetop makers and cafetieres, as so much depends on the grind and the temperature of the water.

Where do I find it?
The Coffeesmiths Collective, c/o The Liberty of Norton Folgate,
 Units 8 & 9, 201 Bishopsgate,
 EC2M 3UG; Shoreditch High Street


Choose the Best Espresso Maker for You

espressoA confession: I can’t function without coffee. Don’t judge me. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. In this frazzled day an age, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t require an infusion of caffeine to get through their day. I don’t go for those frothy concoctions that are mostly milk or whipped cream. Nope. I’m much too hard core for that. I go for espressos, because I need my caffeine strong, hot, high-quality, yet convenient—preferably served in shots. It sounds like such a tall order, but not of you know where to look and what to look for. I’m a bit of a coffee connoisseur so I prefer to make my own. I’m constantly scouring the internet for the best espresso machine reviews 2016 to keep up to date. There’s a lot to consider and a lot to choose from. Whether it’s a commercial or home espresso machine you’re looking for, you can easily find great options in different price points.

The La Pavoni EPC-8 Espresso Machine

This is my current favorite machine. It features a beautiful chrome plating, and as a bonus, it can also be used to make cappuccinos. This particular model is manually-operated and is not for the newbies. The Italian brand La Pavoni has been in the espresso-making business for over a century so you can trust its quality.

The Nespresso Inissia

For something that’s practically idiot-proof, I would recommend the Nespresso Inissia Espresso Maker. This machine is compact, lightweight, and fully automated. It’s a great choice for personal use.

Breville’s Barista

If you’re looking for something heavy-duty, I would recommend the Breville’s Barista Express. This also comes with a hefty price tag but it’s definitely worth it. You can ground your own fresh coffee beans with this machine. Your espressos will come more full-bodied and flavorful. This is consistently highly-rated and excellently reviewed in best espresso machine reviews.

There are a lot more to choose from. It’s a veritable paradise for espresso lovers out there, what with the myriad of choices available for us. Happy hunting!


More Coffee Classes

Coffee enthusiasts at every knowledge level have a number of ways to learn more about beans, brewing techniques and how to make those pretty little designs in latte foam. Some of the sessions are even free! So there’s no excuse not to discover more about the craft of coffee.

Blue Bottle Coffee’s Oakland roastery has free cuppings twice a week, held every Tuesday and Sunday at 2 p.m. If you’ve got a group of at least 10 friends, you can also sign up for a private tour of the facility ($15 per person/$20 per person with pastries) and that includes an in-depth discussion and tasting.


Ever wonder how baristas make those pretty designs on top of your coffee drink? Drip’d Coffee Lab in the Inner Sunset holds a recurring Latte 101 Workshop to demystify the art; the next session on March 29 is already filling up fast. You’ll first learn how to steam milk properly and then you’ll be off and running towards making heart, rosetta and tulip designs in no time. The cost is $32. Drip’d is also doing an introductory Espresso 101 Workshop on March 15.

Those looking to give their caffeine knowledge a serious kick (whether an amateur cook or food professional) can turn to Mill Valley’s Boot Coffee for a number of courses running this spring. Classes include Roast Profiling and Cupping, Understanding Green Coffee and Grown in the USA: Coffee Farming and Quality. This is also the place where you can become a licensed Q Grader, or professional cupper. It’s something of a boot camp all right, especially if you opt for a five-day intensive, but it is actually named after the founder, Willem Boot.


Does Good Design Make Coffee Taste Better?


Does good design make our coffee taste any better? Probably not. Despite the recent research into coffee cup colour and it’s effect on taste perception (really, read it here)

What extraordinary design does for extraordinary coffee, is it allows the cup to be seen and tasted. Wanted. If no-one is interested and seduced by a potential experience, why would they bother trying our relationship sourced micro-lots? When would our effort into profile roasting get tried by more than a handful of locals and people chancing by? What would the point be in cupping and evaluating every single roasted batch of coffee by our team be? Why bother with a Barista School?

Great design is at many levels, and brand and branding are not a way for a marketing team to justify their continued employment. Brand is everything. From the music played in store to the store itself.

Design does not stop there from the cups and packaging and this very website by Maya Liepaz, to our logo, started by Stephanie De Villiers and evolved by Maya. One thing has remained intact. Design and functionality, preceded by philosophy and deep understanding of the brand.

Is this always a happy, easy process? No. Mediocrity is easy. Loving and living your brand is hard. It takes courage and relentless determination, and at times argument with those you love and trust, until something right is forged from a mess of swarming ideas and desires.

But it is worth it. Because the accolades put bums on seats. And bums on seats order and drink coffee. And that experience, if holistically loved, becomes a story they tell.