Fit for the grind: Discerning the raw qualities of coffee

raw qualities of coffee

A remarkable coffee experience is contingent on the raw materials used. And for three-time Australian Barista Champion Craig Simon, there’s much joy to be had in the exploring of coffee.

“The flavours of coffee are so varied and unique, and sometimes you just have that truly amazing experience, which you wouldn’t have had without continuing to explore,” says Craig, who is also Head of the Australian Roaster’s Guild. “It’s the raw materials you’re essentially drinking. So, invest in a great piece of equipment and then spend the rest of your time exploring those great raw materials and how to get the best out of them in the coffee making process.”

Fully automatics lets home users focus on the quality of their beans rather than the coffee making process.

Craig, who is also the Coffee Ambassador for De’Longhi, points out that the fully automatic machines in De’Longhi’s range enable home users to do more exploring with coffee flavours as the equipment takes care of the coffee-making process for them.

“You want the mechanics of coffee making to be the same every time, but you still want to explore so that you can find your favourites and experience the full palate of what’s available,” he recommends. “The good news with the fully automatic is that you will get a barista-standard coffee without having to worry about all the parameters, which is a great outcome for coffee drinkers who want a quality cup of coffee without having to spend years perfecting the art form.”

Moreover, for domestic users trying to replicate the café experience in their home, Craig says the best place to start is local when it comes to beans.

“If you’re repeatedly going to the same café, find out what beans they’re using because you’re highly likely to enjoy them at home,” he advises. “What you’ll then get from a local roaster is freshness and quality. Knowing where the beans are sourced and when they were roasted is really important to the taste.”

The next step is establishing your preferences and choosing beans based on the flavour profiles you personally find appealing.

“Assuming that coffee roasting profiles are the same is tantamount to going to a restaurant and ordering food that has different degrees of cooking, but not informing the staff of your preferences,” says Craig. “Coffee is roasted at different degrees depending on the roaster’s personal preference and on their customers’ general expectations. It might be a lighter roast that promotes the origin flavours or a darker roast more in line with a traditional Italian style of coffee. Ultimately, if you don’t buy the style of coffee that you personally like, you’re not going to get a great experience no matter what else is involved.”

Craig Simon
Craig Simon is a three-time Australian Barista Champion, Head of the Australian Roaster’s Guild, and Coffee Ambassador for De’Longhi.

When it comes to choosing beans, De’Longhi Product Trainer Cheryl Bosworth echoes Craig’s advice. For example, Cheryl seeks out beans with flavour profiles of foods she enjoys such as chocolate and nuts.

“I love chocolate and really thick tasting coffee, so I’m always looking for the bolder, darker, chocolatey note in the tasting notes. And by looking for those notes, I’d say that 95 per cent of the time I’ll get a coffee that I love,” she says. “I don’t like fruity flavours so tend to steer clear of those. So, it’s a matter of looking at the tasting notes and experimenting!”

As to selecting a roaster, Cheryl was also quick to point out that each roaster will produce different tasting coffee, and the only way to really know was to keep trying and exploring, as Craig suggests. Both experts also agree that freshness is key.

“The minimal contact that there is between those beans and where they’re going from the roaster, the better,” Cheryl states. “You want beans that are as close to the roasting date as possible. Usually the beans from your local roaster will be much fresher than those you will find on the supermarket shelf, which may be imported and sitting there for many months.”

How long do beans stay fresh? There is no concise answer when it comes to timeframe although Craig advises people to only buy as much as they use in a week.

“Outside of four weeks from the roasting date, coffee starts to lose its fun. It never goes off, but it loses its vibrancy and flavour. Also, as soon as you open the bag of coffee it starts to age rapidly because it’s exposed to oxygen,” Craig clarifies. “It’s in its prime drinking time in that week-long window from opening the bag to finishing it.”

Craig says coffee is at its best within a month of being roasted and a week of the bag being opened.

vvCraig also advises home users to avoid putting all their beans into the grinder or hopper, but instead only add what will be used that day and keep the remaining beans in an airtight container.

After having sourced the right raw materials, the brew quality is then determined by the coffee-making process. And for domestic coffee enthusiasts, getting the extraction right is one of the biggest challenges. On this point Cheryl and Craig also concur.

“Extracting coffee correctly is fundamentally a chemistry experiment of solubility, which involves the roasted coffee – which has lots of compounds – and the hot water, and how the water pours through the coffee to grab the flavour. If it’s too fast or too slow, it will affect the taste,” Craig explains. “Grind and dose are pivotal to extraction and trickier in that they’re entirely inseparable in their influence. It’s like a matrix where effectively too much coffee and a suitably coarse grind will mean the particle size is too large and it’s a bland tasting coffee. And the opposite end is too little coffee and a fine grind, where the particle size is too small and it over extracts, giving you a bitter coffee.”

According to Cheryl there are six identifiable steps to making coffee – fresh beans, correct grind size, correct dosage, tamping, the right temperature, and pressure.

“When it comes to making that perfect espresso coffee, all of those steps must be in concert,” she explains. “You might have fresh beans, you might have the right grind and dose, but you don’t have a machine that is providing you with consistent temperature or pressure, or you’re not tamping correctly. All of the variables that comes with each of those steps can change the flavour of your coffee – and what most people at home are aiming for is consistency.”

That’s why the fully automatic machines are probably the best fit for domestic coffee users looking to get that barista tasting coffee in the home, without having to “go down the rabbit hole” as Craig says, in trying to perfect the manual art form.

“The number one factor with a fully automatic machine is that you are getting a personal barista inside the machine that’s making sure everything is going to occur correctly and the same way every time,” Cheryl says. “So the main thing that you’ve got to change is the grind and the way you set it to suit the beans, but then the machine is dosing, tamping, and giving you the right temperature and pressure, so you’ve got that consistency in every cup.”

To learn more about how De’Longhi fully automatic machines can create barista style coffees in your home, click HERE.

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