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Don't ask me why, because I don't know, but today called for latte.… - John [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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[Aug. 27th, 2006|12:08 pm]
Don't ask me why, because I don't know, but today called for latte.

I'd been trying to cut down on caffeine for a while; I spent a couple months sick (only a week was spent *horribly* sick), and ended up not drinking coffee or tea for a while. Well, at that point, I had two choices: go right back to the addiction cycle, drinking coffee or tea because, well, that's what you *did* in the morning, or staying free of it.

I think I've been backsliding more and more, recently, due partly to finding things that I do at home vastly more interesting than the things I do at work... leading to me staying awake until Midnight, and then being groggy in the morning.

But today, low on my ADHD meds, I needed caffeine.

The Gaggia Carezzo that I have is a gift from kightp, and for a while, I was afraid that it was broken. No, I was just probably not getting it sealed properly, causing it to leak a bit. Plus, I probably should run descaling agent through it. No, it's still working well, it just hasn't been used in a while.

I don't tend to get too attached to physical things, but gifts from Pat occupy a special place in my heart, and this one was doubly special, coming shortly after I moved out here, as a way of signifying that this was my home.

(Yeah, that's right, I'm a latte sipping liberal, and if you conservatives want to scoff, I'm going to laugh, because the espresso business has produced huge numbers of small businesses, with low startup costs and minimal training required.)

With a good, pump-driven espresso maker, it's pretty easy to make a good latte. You need the coffee ground very fine... and it needs to be ground, honestly. You can't chop it with the cheapie coffee grinders, because you never get a sufficiently uniform grind. You'll have a combination of finely ground coffee and powder. The latter packs too tightly, and allows too much bitter flavor into the cup.

Contrary to popular belief, no, you don't need espresso roast to make espresso. Any roast of coffee will do. My theory is that the darker roasting flattens out some of the defects of the beans, and thus, it's the easiest way to get a consistent espresso. However, I'm not a coffee aficionado; ask an expert if you want a *good* answer to the question.

Anyway, to make a good latte, you first need to run a blank shot, to warm the filter and holder.

Then, you put in two measures of your coffee into the filter, which is made of metal, and fits into the filter holder pretty tightly. The measures are about 4 teaspons, if you don't have an official measuring spoon. You then have to tamp the coffee down. This is tricky; tamping it down is what makes the espresso shot come out in 15-25 seconds. Tamp it down too hard, the doubleshot will come out too slow, and be bitter. Tamp it too loose, and it'll come out too fast to extract the full coffee flavor. It'll take time to learn to do this right.

Brew the doubleshot; mentally time it. You can run a stopwatch from time to time, but, honestly, you'll quickly learn the right amount of time, just by watching how fast your coffee flows. Properly done, there'll be some lovely foam on top of your espresso; this is called the crema, and done well, is one of the worlds greatest coffee-induced joys. If you've had a sip of crema from the top of a great shot of espresso, and you don't like it, the odds are you don't actually like cofee at all. (No shame in that; some people don't.)

You pour that into a warmed cup. Sometimes, warming it with the water from the blank shot is sufficient; sometimes you need to fill the cup halfway with boiling water to get it hot enough. Ceramic mugs take a lot of heat out of your drinks! Anyway: whichever way you do this, make sure you remember to dump the water out of the mug before adding the coffee. Yes, you'll make this mistake at least once, probably with that perfect doubleshot of espresso that you couldn't wait to drink... but I have to warn you anyway.

Then steam the milk. You'll need a steaming pitcher, kept cold (or at least room temperature), and fill it no more than half-way with milk. You expect the milk to double in size, you see... filling it more than halfway means foam getting spilled. Skim milk is easier to make foam, which is why we true snobs always use whole milk.

No, not really. I actually use whole milk because of my stint with Atkins. Fat is not this horrible, despicable toxin that exists to make us overweight and out of shape. It's food. And as calories go, it's more filling than sugar and starches, and sugar can make your blood glucose level fluctuate, which can lead to hunger pangs when you aren't really hungry. Plus, I think whole milk feels better and fuller when steamed.

But you can use skim milk, or 1% or 2% if you like. The lower fat milks do foam up more easily, if you like lots of foam.

The secret to good steaming is to get the steam wand just underneath the surface of the milk, enough that the steam carries air into the milk to build up the foamy frothiness that you want. (If you don't want foamy frothiness, you could just heat it in a saucepan.) Too low, and you get no foam; too high, and you get milk splattering everywhere. Just right, and you'll quickly have a pitcher full of hot, foamy milk. How hot? Well, the ideal temperature is between 150 to 170 degrees farenheit (65-75 C). You can use your finger on the side of the pitcher to time it; when it's hot enough to cause a full-thickness burn in about 4-5 seconds, it's hot enough.

(In other words, yes, you can tell by touch - but you have to touch, and let go, *quickly*. Full thickness = third degree = horrible pain and expensive medical bills.)

Then, pour the steamed milk into your cup, and drink.

What's that? You say you didn't hear me mention adding sugar? Well, even with a sweet tooth, I'm finding that a good latte is better without sweetener. The only time you need sweetener is when the latte isn't made really well, at least in my opinion.

Some people use sugar, turbinado sugar, honey, other sweeteners, or even flavoring syrups, and if that's what you want, hey, I'm open-minded. But if you need any sweetener, if you can't just take a sip, and taste coffee flavor, a silky, almost sweet, flavor from the milk, and no bitterness, then there's something wrong with how the latte was made.

Just one hint: if you're going to use flavoring syrups, waste a bit, learning how to mix them with the milk prior to steaming the milk. (And clean the steam wand extra carefully afterwards!) You'll need less flavoring, and it'll mix through the drink better.

[User Picture]From: kightp
2006-08-28 12:55 am (UTC)
Damn. This is downright pornographic ... especially to an unrepentent addict.

I wish I'd had you here to dose me with espresso this morning (I only got about four hours of sleep last night myself); as it was, I drove through Dutch Bros. on the way to the art fair I was staffing.
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