The past few months in London have been lovely, because it has been like a revolving door of friends from Melbourne popping in and out. It’s been ridiculous actually – a lot of my spare time has been spent with friends from back home, whether they have moved here or are just passing through. My friend Namita has been on an epic Europe adventure on her own, and has been in and out of London over the past few months. She is heading back to Australia next week so we decided to go on a scone adventure as our last hurrah.
It was her first English scone, so I of course took her to my go-to when downtown, Gails Artisan Bakery. They toaster-press their scones, and they are moist and buttery, just like home. I have an issue with many British scones, in that they are too dry! But not these.
Second stop was a funky restaurant I had had my eye on for a while. sketch has a menu covering pretty much anything you could think of, and has supremely eclectic decor.
It kind of felt like a fancy boutique ‘Art Series’ hotel or something of the sort, complete with mildly snooty reception staff and crazy pod bathrooms. We kind of felt like we were entering one of those illusory mazes…
I had the scones, which were.. square? Very dense, I am starting to just think I am not a fan of English scones at all. I rarely find light and moist ones with a bit of crunch on the outside like we have back in Australia, and I really find those perfect. Just going to have to keep searching… These were served with a slightly musty tasting fig jam and a thick strawberry jam & cream. Namita had the hazelnut cake, which was very pretty.
Farewells were said, and it was time for me to get back to work. I have lots more writing to do for my book, and I had a one on one barista training and meeting with Dan, one of the roasters at Climpson & Sons in Broadway Market Mews, London Fields. Back to East London (I admit I felt a slight sense of relief – it certainly feels like home now), I rocked up bright and early in the morning for a day of learning about roasting, grinding, tamping, processing, milk frothing – you name it.
We talked a lot about cupping, the flavour profiles of different brews according to varietals and place of origin, and the way that Third Wave coffee roasters roast their coffee. Third Wave coffee refers to a new movement in coffee that returns to the idea of it as an artisanal product rather than a commodity.
Third Wave Roasters generally roast their coffees lightly, so that they can retain much of the flavour that comes from the place of origin and the varietal. We talked about the live reading graphs that have to be monitored to carefully control the roasting temperature, using a complex system of flames and hot air and massive dryers to ensure the beans are cooking exactly how the roasters want.
We talked about the layers of coffee and which ones were removed at what time according to which processing method is used. We discussed how delicious pulped natural coffees are, as they retain a lot of the sweetness and earthiness of the fruit as it is left on the bean for longer when drying.
We then churned out coffee after coffee after coffee, for me to perfect my technique. We over and under extracted shots, to taste the difference and I learnt that under-extracted coffee tastes like sour milk while over-extracted tastes tar-like and burnt. We split one shot into thirds, changing cups throughout extraction so we could taste what elements of the flavour profile appeared at what time during extraction.
I discovered the first two parts of an extraction are considered a Ristretto – an espresso shot without the blonding at the end. The first part, and the second to a degree, are very oily, strong, pungent. A lot of the aromatics are present in this portion of the shot, and Dan told me most people don’t enjoy this part on its own. I found it fruity and acidic, strong, rich with a lovely velvety mouthfeel. If I didn’t think I might have a heart attack from caffeine overdose, I might drink only this strong first part of an espresso shot. From darker to lighter, all three of these portions of an espresso shot bring a different flavour profile to the brew – this is where the balance of the cup is made or broken.
We talked about Quaker beans, and how they are present in most batches. But if there are too many in your batch, you have a low grade, low quality coffee. They cause weird peanutty flavours to a batch. What to look for: lighter, kind of yellowy beans. If there is more than a few, the batch is not of the best quality. Quaker means the fruit was picked when underdeveloped. If a bean makes it through, it won’t roast or be processed properly, leading to this light coloured oddity in the batch.
I seriously love my work! I keep complaining about having too much on but I am getting paid to learn everything there is to know about coffee. It is fabulous, and I am going to do my best not to take this for granted. I am so lucky – I will remember that every day.