T H E A R T O F T H E B R E W
At a little before 1pm on Thursday of this week, I found myself wandering through an industrial estate over in East London, trying to sniff out a good cup of coffee. You see, I’d been invited along to spend the afternoon learning about the art of coffee making at Union’s roastery, and had been promised that I’d be able to smell the aroma almost as soon as I left the station.
My eyes were glued to the map on my phone as I walked past shipping company warehouses and anonymous grey-fronted offices, and I began to doubt whether I’d even left the station via the correct exit.
But, as promised, a waft of coffee drifted across my path just at the right moment, and led me straight to the Union headquarters!
T H E ‘ S N I F F ‘ T E S T .
Our masterclass began with a lesson in ‘cupping’, or, in layman’s terms, ‘the art of tasting coffee’!
Set out on the table in front of us were an array of glass cups, each filled with an inch of so of ground coffee. Before getting stuck into the coffee itself, we learnt a little about Union’s passion for their beans.
This passion was what struck me the most during the day with Union, and encompasses everything from dedication to creating a working relationship with their growers that goes beyond a fair trade stamp, and instead is something more reciprocal and evolved, to their assurance that every bag of beans they sell has been hand roasted to bring out the coffee’s nuances and idiosyncrasies.
Every person we met was so passionate about their work, and I have to say, it was infectious!
Our first task was to breathe in the aroma of the dry roasted coffee grounds, and see if we could identify any of the ‘notes’. They each smelled so very different- one was dark and chocolatey, another reminded me of the tobacco my Grandpa used to smoke, and the next was fruity and sweet.
Once we’d had chance to smell them each in turn, next came the brewing! And the tasting too, but we’ll get to that a little later…
Water, heated to a precise temperature just below the boil and measured out to an exact quantity, was poured into each cup, and the coffee then was allowed to brew for four minutes exactly.
Are you beginning to see a pattern of precision, here? Who ever knew coffee could be so very exacting!
You’d not believe how amazing the smell was, as we ‘broke the shell’ of each cup of coffee and put our noses to its surface.
Everything I love most about a lazy Sunday morning, all contained within one heady hit of aroma!
We then set about tasting each cup in turn, sucking tiny spoonfuls of coffee across our teeth (it aerates the coffee and helps bring out its flavour, so we were told!) and talked a little about its flavour characteristics. Was it bitter, like the peel of a lemon? Dark, like cocoa, or sweet like raspberries and cherries?
I’ll tell you though, this whole thing about being able to identify different flavour notes? It’s harder than it sounds!
It sort of reminded me of wine tasting, except instead of getting more and more light-headed, you get more and more jittery and wind up with your heart pounding up against your ribcage as though it might burst out any moment ;)
I regretted not having had a bigger breakfast, I can tell you!
E S P R E S S O .
My favourite part of the afternoon came next- time to brew up espresso!
Now, I’d been pretty happy with my at-home coffee brewing set up, up until we made (or rather, ‘extracted’, as is the term!) espresso using that spectacular machine you see in the photos here. Isn’t she a beauty?
I just can never quite get my espresso at home to be as rich and thick as the kind we made at Union. How much coffee do you reckon I’d need to drink for a top of the range espresso machine to become a justifiable expense? ;)
^ ^ T A M P I T ! ^ ^
Barista trainer Geoff taught us about the correct ratios for a cup of espresso (roughly 1 part coffee grounds to two parts water), and about the importance of cleaning out the ‘basket’ (where the coffee grounds get packed into) so as not to mess with the flavour of each cup.
There’s something so therapeutic about watching an espresso pour, isn’t there? And would you look at that beautiful golden crema?
^^ Taste test. ^^ The verdict? Delicious, of course!
Next came a form of coffee brewing I’ve had no experience in whatsoever- pour over brewing.
That fancy looking piece of glassware above, the darling of the Instagram world, is a Chemex, and the team at Union told us that it makes the loveliest coffee to serve at the end of a dinner party!
I suggested using it as a vase for flowers in between times, and the idea didn’t go down all that well, I can tell you…;)
The coffee drips through slowly the paper filter, and the result was some of the most delicate and light coffee I’ve ever had.
You can pick up a Chemex for around £40, which seems so reasonable a price for making fantastic coffee at home!
Our final, and most anticipated lesson for the day was in everyone’s favourite- latte art!
And I feel like now’s the time for me to tell you that I’m actually giving up blogging and becoming a full time latte art professional instead, because I absolutely *nailed* it.
Okay fine, that’s not true in the slightest. But it really is harder than you’d imagine!
Espresso was made, and milk heated just so in order to get a glossy, ‘stable’ foam. Geoff had given us a demonstration of how it’s done, and I felt confident that it didn’t seem all that tricky. (Oh Rosie, what were you thinking?)
I carefully began to pour right into the centre of the espresso, and then as the thicker foam started to flow, brought the jug right to the surface of the coffee and then pulled the milk ‘through’ the white dot that had formed to make…
Okay okay, what I actually did was wind up with milk spilling over the sides of my cup (because for some reason the pressure got to me and I forgot how to pour a liquid like a competent adult), and was left without so much as a hint of a heart shape on the top of my coffee.
Dan, who is Union’s resident latte art pro, made that beautiful swan design above. Isn’t it spectacular?
The afternoon really was such a fun one, and had I not already been a diehard coffee lover, Union’s infectious love for their craft would have convinced me for certain that coffee is where it’s at!
And what’s really exciting is that for those of us who like our coffee made easy, Union are launching a their very own subscription service on Tuesday 3rd November, delivering roasted to order coffee right to your front door!
If you love the idea as much as I do, you can claim £3 off your first order using the code ‘ROSIE’! Pretty great, hey?
I’ll be sharing the link to the Union’s CoffeeClub site when it goes live this coming Tuesday, so keep your eyes peeled on my Twitter and Instagram accounts!
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Thank you to Union for sponsoring this post.