A user's guide to modern coffee: Know your long blacks from your flat whites

 

Our obsession with coffee shows no signs of abating: 85 per cent of us will visit a coffee shop in the next seven days. And it's independent coffee shops – which now account for two-thirds of the country's outlets – that are winning big against the branded chains.

Characterised by exposed brick walls, brushed copper counters, and designer filaments in low-hanging lightbulbs, these cafes are popping up around the country at a hyper-caffeinated rate. They are the temples at which the hooked come for their daily flat whites and long blacks, brewed from coffee grown at very precise altitudes on single farms in particular regions of Bolivia.

This modern coffee-drinking lark is an experience marked by more strictures than Catholic Mass.

"What beans are you using? Which brew methods? If I go in a shop, I'm asking: what have you got on filter? Who's it roasted by? Where are the beans from?" says Dan Hobson of Flat White, in London's Soho. "Then I'll get a bit nerdier and ask for tasting notes. I'm a real geek."

Ladies and gentlemen, next time you order your morning coffee, please make sure you are well-prepared...

Taste test #1: How to 'cup'

1. Grind up your coffee beans coarsely. Place 12-14g of the grounds in a small bowl.

2. Pour over nearly boiling water (95 °C).

3. Allow grinds to infuse for around 3-4 minutes.

4. Break the crust of the grinds with the back of the spoon.

5. Inhale.

6. Gently stir and allow crusts to sink to the bottom.

7. Slurp infusion from a deep spoon. The noisier the better – you get more 'vapour'.

8. Roll coffee around mouth and refer to flavour wheel.

French presses are so passé: Four new wave ways to brew

Aeropress

The Aeropress is similar to a cafetiere, with coffee forced through hot water. A vacuum in the top compartment increases pressure, meaning higher oil (and flavour) extraction levels.

Cold-drip

After grinding, coffee is steeped in room temperature or cold water for an extended period, usually 12 hours or more, before being filtered, resulting in a sweet concentrate.

Vacuum pot

Water is boiled and forced into the top chamber with the grinds. As the mixture cools, it drips back into the bottom through a filter. Artisan Roast in Edinburgh charge £10 for coffee for two.

Chemex

A pour-over method using a thick filter. "You get a lot of body and a really clean cup. It's a great way to bring out the subtler notes," says Darryl Doherty of Artisan.

Taste test #2: The flavour wheel

 
The coffee flavour wheel is used by buyers, roasters and cuppers to spot flavour taints as well as positive aromas. Use it to befriend your barista – 'yum, onion!' – with a little help from John Thompson, master buyer and cupper at Coffee Nexus:

1. "Cucumber is a fragrance I would get when smelling unroasted green coffee."

2. "When you start getting tobacco-like aromas, it tends to be something that's roasted a little fuller. It's not necessarily a taint: it's down to preference."

3. "Dark chocolate, spice and caramel have tended to be the crowd-pleasers but there's been a real fragmentation of people's tastes in the last five years."

4. "Part of the third wave has been a move towards lighter roasts where you can really taste the flavour profiles of the individual farms. You see a lot more brighter citrus and floral aromatics"

5. "Medicinal flavours indicate the coffee is defective. One bean could give a strong iodine flavour and kill a whole cup."

And the global capitals of third wave coffee are...

From Zweig, Klimt and Trotsky supping the stuff in Vienna's wood-panelled coffee houses, to white cup-toting Seattleites taking over the world, coffee's previous incarnations have all started somewhere. And for the truly clued-up aficionado, it's important to note that the third wave came from down under.

Speciality coffee shops have done a roaring trade in Australia and New Zealand since the late-80s. The movement became an obsession and in 2014 the average Aussie drinks 14 cups of coffee a week and the country as a whole parts with US$3bn a year for their daily fix.

Now, the antipodean upstarts are showing the rest of us a thing or two about making the perfect brew.

"Everyone goes out for their coffee every day in New Zealand," says Agnes Potter of Allpress Espresso which, having traded in New Zealand for 26 years, opened its first UK branch in 2010. "Our founder saw what was happening and that there was a huge opportunity to bring the speciality scene over here."

In perhaps the most tell-tale sign of third wave coffee culture being dyed in the countries' wool, Starbucks closed 61 of its 85 Aussie outlets in 2008. Despite having toiled over a speciality blend, designed for the nation's demanding palate.

Meet the barista: Estelle Bright, Caravan, King's Cross London

Estelle Bright has been a barista for over nine years (Sam Barnes) Estelle Bright has been a barista for over nine years (Sam Barnes)
“There was a small, independent coffee chain back in Wales. They opened in my hometown and I got a job there at 18, without even liking coffee. I’ve been a barista for over nine years now and I’m still learning. It’s not just about putting coffee in a machine and pushing the button. You have to think about everything: the grind size, the amount of water, and timings. We change things for each coffee we use.

"If you pulled water through 18 grams of coarse coffee, it would pour right through, but if you have a grind that’s superfine, it’s going to take some time and make a thicker, treacly shot. To be a good barista, you have to be patient, calm and have a passion. Also, it’s important not to be arrogant. There’s too much of that out there. You’re customer-facing and for some people getting their morning coffee, you’re the first person they speak to that day.”

Meet the roaster: Steve Leighton, Has Bean Coffee, Stafford

"I couldn't get the coffee I wanted, so I began roasting it myself 11 years ago. I used a small 2-kilo roaster in my garage and it just grew from there. We roast to order, only what we need, always in small batches. Each bean will need a slightly different approach: typically, a shortened roast can make it livelier while dragging the roast out can reduce the acidity.

"It's a creative job, I have to constantly take a different approach, varying the temperature, the speed of the roast and temperature changes, such as increasing heat towards the end, if you're slowing down you're going to bring out sugars and sweetness."

Where to go

Nine UK third wave coffee shops to try (those with baristas competing in today's UK Barista Championship semi-finals in brackets)

Colonna & Smalls, 6 Chapel Row, Bath BA1 1HN (Maxwell Colonna Dashwood)

Caravan, 11-13 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QD (Estelle Bright)

Allpress Espresso, 58 Redchurch Street, Shoreditch, London E2 7DP

Flat Cap, 13 Ridley Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle NE1 8JQ (Joe Meagher)

Artisan Roast, 57 Broughton Street, Edinburgh EH1 3RJ (Darryl Docherty)

Six Eight Kafe, 6/8 Temple Row, Birmingham B2 5HG (Imogen Ludman)

Small Batch Coffee Company, 17 Jubilee Street, Brighton BN1 1GE

Devon Coffee, 88 Queen Street, Devon, Exeter, EX4 3RP

Prufrock Coffee, 23-25 Leather Lane, London, EC1N 7TE

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