Good Coffee as Explained by a Barista

Good coffee as explained by a barista

Today’s guest post author is barista, blogger and fashionista Lindsey of The Filipino Grigio. Lindsey is, among many things, a wonderfully creative soul. A true artist, smart, vivacious and adventurous. She writes, dances, does theatre, has impeccable fashion and oh she knows how to make really good coffee. I went on my first coffee crawl with Lindsey and we’ve shared many deep conversations over a cup. When it comes to the question of what is “good coffee,” naturally I turned to Lindsey to break it down for us. So without further ado I present: Good Coffee as Explained by a Barista.

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In a world What is “good” coffee? You might know us by our exterior signaling: the minimalist café spaces, impossibly attractive tattooed baristas, and of course latte art.  But what makes the coffee sold in these aesthetically pleasing establishments so special (and expensive)?  Is it flavored?  Magical?  Blessed by the holy breath of a Buddhist monk?  And why can’t I get caramel in my latte anyway?

Well it turns out, the coffee industry has developed in waves.  Much like the waves of feminism, coffee made significant leaps and bounds in three distinct periods.  Let me give you the SparkNotes version.  The first wave was the idea that coffee could be a drinkable, commodifiable beverage at all–much like the Folgers that your great aunt makes for Bible study (you know it’s true).  The second wave was the development of commercial, “specialty coffee”, i.e. Starbucks.  Coffee houses developed into a social experience and with that came an expanded, individualized vocabulary for coffee (latte, cappuccino, americano, etc).

Good coffee as explained by a barista

“Good Coffee”, as Explained by a Barista

So then what’s third wave?  Essentially “third wave coffee” is a corner of the coffee industry that pays meticulous attention to the farming, buying, roasting, and preparation of coffee.  The idea behind this is that coffee can be enjoyed for its natural properties.  

A third wave shop essentially takes out most of the marketing-forward individualization of coffee and lets the bean speak for itself.  It’s why a third wave shop will likely incorporate a vanilla latte on their menu but stop short of carrying caramel or hazelnut–their intention is to get you to enjoy the bean for the sake of itself. It’s sometimes compared to the wine industry.  Wine connoisseurs enjoy wine for it’s nuanced tastes and develop palates that can taste the difference between a grenache and a bordeaux.  Like wine, coffee is grown all over the world and has endless different varietals–all with unique flavor profiles.  

For example, Ethiopian coffees grown from the heirloom varietal are famous for having delicate, floral tasting notes with a light, tea-like mouthfeel. I know, it all sounds very intimidating, but there’s absolutely no harm in asking!  That’s what baristas like me are there for.  Ask any third wave barista what their favorite coffee brewing method is and if it’s not busy, you’ll probably spark an informative debate behind the counter on whether the Chemex or Kalita is better for pour-overs (pffb, it’s the Kalita).  

Third wave baristas love to nerd out over their product knowledge–you’ve just got to push the right buttons.  🙂

Good coffee as explained by a barista

BONUS: A crash course in milk-drinks So I bet you’ve got your Starbucks lingo down to a science.  Triple shot soy milk venti mocha extra hot with an extra pump of chocolate?  I feel you dude.  However, third wave shops–on top of having intimidating, minimalist vibes–tend to have a shockingly distilled menu.  It’s cause for confusion–much like when Netflix decides to take all your favorite TV shows off and replace them with original comedy specials.  Just as good, but the language’s a bit different.  So here’s a crash course in milk drinks, as typically defined by third wave coffee.

Espresso – 30g of face-melting goodness.  Confusingly enough, when ordering “a shot of espresso”, know you are asking for a double shot, which forms the base of all milk drinks below.

Macchiato – a shot of espresso with just enough steamed milk added to fill a demitasse cup (roughly 4.5oz).

Cortado (or Gibraltar) – equal parts espresso and steamed milk.  Served at a slightly cooler temperature than a cappuccino and in a 5oz gibraltar glass.  Legend goes that Blue Bottle baristas invented these as a way of knocking back ‘spro on the fly behind the counter, hence the cooler temp.

Cappuccino – A six-ounce milk drink of espresso and steamed milk.  NOTE: traditionally, a cap is defined as ⅓ espresso, ⅓ steamed milk and ⅓ foam in a 6oz vessel.  However, the milk used in specialty shops today is specifically engineered to give a dense, thin layer of foam instead of a fluffy pillow-foam, so that ratio is being used less and less often.  Besides, less bubbly-foam just means more latte art.

Latte – espresso and steamed milk served in a vessel over 8oz.

Flat white – Traditionally, a cappuccino or latte served without fluffy pillow-foam.  Wildly popular in Australia.  Today: cappuccinos and flat whites are generally one and the same, much to the delight of many an Aussie tourist.

Americano – espresso diluted with water (can be any size).  Roughly the strength of a 12oz cup of coffee.  Called a “long black” in Australia.  

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You can connect with Lindsey at The Filipino Grigio and on Instagram: @filipino.grigio

Now that you versed on the finer points of third wave coffee, read this post to plan out your own ultimate coffee crawl!

Good coffee as explained by a barista

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