I’ve been reading a lot about coffee lately. You know, those corny but oh-so-funny Instagram jokes like ‘Depresso: That feeling you get when you’ve run out of coffee’ and ‘I can’t stop drinking the coffee. If I stop drinking the coffee, I stop doing the standing and the walking and the words-putting-into-sentence doing’. Those type of coffee things. So when I got invited by Zomato South Africa to attend a coffee workshop at Truth Coffee and learn something real about the tasty bean, the foodie (coffee-ie?) in me could not say no.
So there I was very sleepy in the morning, ready to sip some yummy Truth coffee while sitting back and watching some demonstrations, but, alas, there was no coffee yet and there were no simple demonstrations. Instead, we were greeted by some refreshments and got taken on an intensive journey through the world of coffee – from identifying good coffee, the cupping process, barista training, and then, three hours later, we got to see those demonstrations and experiment with the coffee machine – and actually sip some yummy Truth. Needless to say, this was so much more than what I had expected, and I felt all coffee knowledgeable after. So, turning to my trusty notes, I’ll try to share some of that morning with you.
David Donde, owner of Truth, led the talk and introduced us to the concept of good coffee. We all generally know when a coffee is good or bad, but when David asked us (“the class”) to explain what this means, we all looked at each other nervously like students who hadn’t been listening. No idea. Turns out, there are numerous reasons why coffee can be good or bad, and it seems to be an enormously complex process, with each link in the chain having to be perfect to end up with the perfect cup of coffee.
Of course, this all starts with the coffee bean. But since we didn’t go into this much I won’t pretend that I know it all. The only thing I can say for sure is that each bean has a very distinct taste, and some are fruity and fresh, others incredibly sweet, and, again, others more bitter, depending on where the bean is from. This is what we learnt in the cupping process, where we got to slurp different pure coffees that Truth uses in their final coffee blend. Green beans will stay fresh for about a year, but roasted beans lose their flavour relatively quickly within the first month, and the only taste generally remaining is one of bitterness. Ground coffee loses its flavour within minutes. So, when it comes to those beans, the fresher, the better!
Next step is the actual roasting, which is unbelievably complex, but basically boils down to the action of flavonoids in the coffee, which will determine how long or short the coffee ought to be roasted to achieve the best taste. But since there are a gazillion flavonoids, each with their own peak, this is a tremendously complicated process, and seems to be much of a guessing game, even for coffee experts. Coffee beans undergo two cracking processes. At the first crack, the beans develop into ‘coffee’, and no one really knows what happens at the second crack. I’m not sounding very smart here, so I think it’s best that we leave the actual roasting to those in the know, like Truth, and move on to the next step, which I’m sure will be of most use to the everyday coffee drinker.
The part that we, as coffee drinkers and baristas, can actually influence is the coffee extraction, most notably in one of those fancy machines. In a nutshell, a coffee can be under-extracted if the water used is too cold, the coffee is too compressed, or it is left in the machine for too short a duration, and then it will generally taste a little sour. If the coffee is over-extracted it will taste bitter, and this occurs if the water used is too hot, it is left in the machine for too long, or the coffee itself is too fine. We can identify whether coffee is under- or over-extracted by the crema (that brownish stuff on top). Pale crema denotes under-extracted coffee, black or dark crema denotes burnt or over-extracted coffee, and the golden honey-coloured crema is the perfect one.
The next thing that makes or breaks the coffee is the milk, especially when enjoying a cappuccino or flat white. According to David, cappuccinos should always be enjoyed with full cream milk, and it is best served in a micro-textured style. The days of mountain-rising froth are largely gone, and overly frothy foam or bubbly milk denotes a badly-made coffee. The thing to look out for is the smooth texture of the milk with a glossy finish, which denotes the perfect frothing. If the milk is perfectly micro-textured between 70 and 80 degrees (it still tastes cold at 70 degrees but is already burnt at 80), then it’ll have that beautiful sweetish taste that is so familiar to those that regularly enjoy a good cup of coffee.
So, there it is, an extreme compression of three informative hours at Truth. I can in no way do David’s teachings justice and I certainly can’t make a good cup of coffee. I even took his plunger advice and tried to make the perfect plunger coffee at home, but it came out mediocre at best. The one thing I have learnt is that coffee is way more complex than I had ever thought, and I’m more than happy to leave it to the experts and run to Truth to get my caffeine fix.
To get your fix, you can visit any of the establishments that sell Truth coffee, though I’d recommend heading to the original store at 36 Buitenkant Street, open seven days a week. Also visit the Truth website for more information on the store, their coffee, and the barista school.
Review Date: September 2015