“Want a coffee?” This has to be one of the most used sentences in the Australian vernacular.
Whether it’s a work meeting, catching up with an old acquaintance, perched in the kitchen at home, or to accompany a late night movie session, a cup of coffee is an essential part of our everyday life. Amongst many of the challenges that 2020 has thrown our way is restricted access to the cafés and coffee shops that we love. But there is nothing that can separate Australia from its obsession with coffee and subsequently, more and more of us are investing in coffee machines for the home.
A very brief history of coffee
With every origin story there’s usually a legend attached to it, and this is certainly the case with coffee’s humble beginnings. One of these mythic tales centres around an ancient Ethiopian goat herder who discovers that his animals are buzzing after consuming coffee shrubs. The full potential of the energising tonic is unlocked when he tries the red berries for himself.
While accounts differ, it’s widely accepted that coffee beans were being roasted by the 13th century, with cultivation in Arabia’s Yemen province some 200 years later. The seemingly mystical powers of the coffee bean were ardently guarded until this highly-prized elixir was leaked by pilgrims travelling to Mecca, who took the beans back to India and Africa and, before too long, Europe. By the end of the 17th century, coffee houses could be found from Italy to England and from France to Germany.
The canny Dutch spied an opportunity (the word coffee comes from the Dutch word koffie) and established plantations in Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) and then Java to fuel the beverage’s growing popularity. Before long, the French, British and Spanish staked a claim. In the New World, the 1773 Boston Tea Party ended the dominance of British tea, increasing demand for coffee, and by the middle of the 19th century, practically every part of the world was obsessed with the drink. Today, the coffee industry is worth over $100 billion a year and is the world’s second most sought after commodity.
What is coffee?
There are many different types of coffee tree but only two varieties are used for commercial coffee productions: Arabica and Robusta. The flowers on a coffee tree take around 30 to 35 weeks to turn into small green fruits known as coffee cherries. Trees will yield quality product around four years of age and will continue to produce suitable cherries for up to 20 years. When the green cherry turns bright red, it’s ready to harvest. Once harvested, the seed or bean as we know it is separated from the cherry and then roasted to a specific blend. The resulting roasted beans are what we grind to make coffee.
Australia’s coffee story
We don’t just like coffee in Australia, we love it, and for many of us, it’s a necessary part of our daily routine. Australian coffee is among the best in the world and it’s fons et origo is an interesting story in itself. The First Fleet brought coffee seeds and plants it had acquired in Rio de Janeiro on the voyage to Terra Australis, but these failed to grow. Expensive to both import and buy, up until the 1930s, when the very first espresso machines arrived, filtered coffee had been the popular choice. A post-war immigration boom from Italy and Greece brought the coffee skills, tools and culture to Australia in the late ‘40s and by the 1960s, the coffee lounges, shops and cafes were being adopted by a new generation of Australians. Gradual gentrification of the inner-city suburbs in the 1980s paved the way for the ubiquitous café culture we hold so dear today.
Every country has its own unique take on classic coffee creations, but do you know your way around Australia’s most popular coffee types?
Latte – One or two shots of espresso make up a third of the cup, while the other two thirds are filled with steamed milk, topped off with around a centimetre of velvety frothed milk.
Cappuccino – The larger cup of the cappuccino contains equal parts espresso and steamed and frothed milk.
Flat White – Traditionally created with a double shot of espresso, the flat white shares many similarities to the latte but is served in a smaller cup with less froth.
Espresso/Short Black – Simply a shot of espresso served in a demi-tasse cup.
Long Black – A shot of espresso topped up with hot water. Often served with the water in a separate jug.
Macchiato – Think latte but with more espresso and less milk.
Mocha – One part espresso and two parts milk with a dash of chocolate powder or syrup to finish it off.
We spoke with barista Corinne Miller and asked her for five hot tips for the perfect cup of coffee.
#1 The Good Stuff
Always use good quality coffee beans. Everyone’s taste is different: some people like bitter coffee, some like smooth coffee, so always read the notes to the coffee to cater to your liking. It’s often likened to wine tasting.
#2 The Perfect Grind
Make sure you have the right grind so that your coffee runs through evenly and smoothly with an amazing colour and smell. You should extract 40-50ml of coffee for a double shot in 26-32 seconds. If the coffee runs too slow or too quick, the colour will be too dark or too pale, so the grind of the coffee will need to be adjusted. Every bag of coffee you buy will be different as each coffee roaster has their own grind. If you’re just starting out and not too sure what coffee to buy, head down to your favourite café and buy a bag directly from them; they will be able to help you out with your grind settings.
#3 Sexy Smooth Milk
Creating the perfect spin to achieve smooth textured milk is absolutely essential. To achieve this, you need to bring the jug down to add air into the milk while keeping the milk spinning like a whirlpool. The best temperature is 65 degrees; this will ensure the milk stays sweet and creamy.
#4 Bin the Artistry
Don’t get too fancy with the latte froth art – it doesn’t make your coffee taste any better.
#5 Keep it Clean
Make it a priority to always clean your machine. You can have the best beans in the business, your coffee dialled in perfectly and beautifully textured milk, but a dirty machine can ruin it all.
Ready to take the plunge at home?
These are the three most popular choices:
In terms of ease of use, you can’t go past the capsule machine. The coffee is contained in small measured capsules or pods that come in a huge variety of different roasts and flavours. You pop in the capsule, press a button and out comes the coffee. Many capsule machines come with an in-built milk frother, or you can buy one separately. Easy to operate and clean, capsule machines are well suited for busy lifestyles or parents who need that quick boost.
Like it says on the box, automatic coffee machines grind the beans, brew the coffee to a selection of pre-set types, and froth the milk – all at the touch of a button. Quick and practically foolproof, some models even offer a self-cleaning function.
If you fancy yourself as a barista, the manual machine is what you’re looking for. Here you have full control over the coffee-making process, from grinding the beans to frothing the milk. This more hands-on approach demands a little more knowledge of coffee preparation, but the payoff is a deep rich flavour similar to what you would get from a professional barista-brewed cup.