We recently sat down with master barista Giorgio Milos (yes, he is just as charismatic as his photo) at the opening of the new illy Caffe in San Francisco to pick his brain on all things coffee. We talked about the best things happening in coffee today (hint: It has to do with more cafés listening to their customers!) and the worst. He gave us some amazing recipes to up our espresso game and a simple method for the best cold brew you can make at home. But mostly we wanted to know what makes a great cup of coffee and what simple things we might be doing wrong without knowing it. Here are his five tips for the perfect cup, a simple home cold brew hack and one surprising confession.
1. It’s in the beans. Did you know there’s no such thing as “espresso beans?” Any kind of coffee bean can be used for any kind of brew. “Espresso” refers to the fine grind and not the bean or roast itself. As for storage, exposure to air can cause the flavors to dissipate, so it’s important to keep your beans sealed away from light and moisture. Giorgio recommends keeping your beans in the fridge rather than the freezer for long-term storage.
2. Control your temp. Boiling water makes bad coffee. Higher temperatures draw out more of the bitter compounds in the beans, which is why cold brews (recommended at 40 degrees Fahrenheit) are so surprisingly smooth. Aim for 205 degrees Fahrenheit for a perfect cup of joe. If you don’t have a thermometer or fancy temperature-controlled kettle, just let the water rest a minute after boiling before adding it to your grounds.
3. Be afraid of the dark. Roasting coffee is essential to develop its flavor, but over-roasting can mask poor-quality beans. Avoid beans that are super dark, shiny and oily and aim for medium-roasted beans to ensure you’re getting the best quality possible. Giorgio’s quick tip: “That amazing coffee smell in the grocery store actually means the beans are already degassing and deteriorating in quality.”
4. “Single Origin” may be ruining the coffee industry. By using only single origin beans, you need a lot more coffee to bring out all the natural flavors. When you blend beans from multiple sources, just like a vintner’s blend of wine, you’re able to carefully match and highlight different characteristics of different varieties. This means you need much less coffee to make the perfect cup. For example, the illy espresso we sampled used only 7.5 grams of grounds to make a one-ounce espresso. In other shops using single origin beans, that number can grow to 18 grams or more to extract the same flavor. Using more coffee means a greater strain on harvest, which could impact growers and the industry as a whole.
5. Stronger is not necessarily better. Now that you’ve got the keys to the perfect cup of coffee (the best beans, the proper temperature, the correct roast for your palate), don’t go ruining your brew by over-steeping it! While cold brews can take as long as 24 hours, an espresso takes only 30 seconds. And if you’re going the French press or siphon route, you risk leaving your beans in the water too long and drawing out those bitter notes we don’t want. Once you’ve achieved your ideal brew, remove the liquid by pouring it into a separate carafe to preserve your coffee at peak perfection.
Cold Brew Hack
Since cold brew is an essential for summer, we asked how to make the best cold brew to keep in the fridge at home. Turns out, it’s simpler than we thought! Here’s the only equation you need: 80 grams of medium-ground coffee plus one liter of water, chilled for 12 hours. And voila! Your new summer caffeine fix.
So how does a master barista take his morning coffee? You might be surprised! When pressed (get it?), Giorgio confessed that he gets his morning espresso from a machine — the illy Francis Francis X9 iperEspresso Machine ($279), to be precise. He explained that making his version of the perfect espresso first thing in the morning can take upwards of an hour. The machines need to be thoroughly cleaned and warmed up and the beans perfectly ground. That all takes time, so the routine is better suited to weekend enjoyment. On hectic mornings, he pops a capsule in the machine, and in seconds, he has a great (if not Giorgio-perfect) demitasse.
What’s your secret to a perfect cup of coffee? Share with us on Twitter @BritandCo.