People are always looking to improve the quality of the espresso shots they pull. Everything from adjusting the grinder to ensuring the extraction time is just right, we try to control as many of the variables as possible. One of these techniques that is up for debate is the espresso distribution tool.
An espresso distribution tool (EDT) evens out espresso grinds, preventing different levels of compression and reducing channeling when extracting a shot. When you place espresso in the portafilter, espresso grinds tend to fall randomly in place. When you tamp these grinds incorrectly channeling is more likely to occur. Channeling is when water meanders through cracks and small gaps in your portafilter after you tamp them down causing an uneven extraction. The EDT helps prevent that by evening out the grinds before tamping, allowing for a more consistent pull of espresso.
The debate arises when coffee lovers ask if this tool helps pull a better espresso shot. I don't have any scientific evidence and I am sure it's out there somewhere, so if you have it please share. My experience is that the EDT helps preserve consistency in the shots I pull, especially when I am using a new blend I haven't tasted or worked with before.
For beginners, this is a great tool and you should use it. This will make it easier for you to learn while gaining skills and urge you to practice more, perfecting your craft. The EDT isn't the magical tool to add in your toolbox to get you barista superstar status only time and experience can help you get there. When you are ready try pulling shots without using the EDT. The best espresso I have ever had in the world by far was in Italy, made by a barista who didn't use anything other than a tamper and since that day I have been pursuing the perfect shot ever since.
Matcha has emerged on the coffee scene and became a favorite choice for latte lovers. Coming from Japan, matcha is stoneground tea leaves that come in a powdered form that you drink when you add water. The benefits of drinking matcha this way is that you get more antioxidants than any other tea. Matcha is a great source of caffeine and unlike coffee and other caffeine drinks, matcha contains L-theanine, which helps you maintain a prolonged calm and alert state of mind without the caffeine crash. Matcha is known to fight cancer help with heart disease and improve brain health. Some even claim that it helps them multitask a lot better.
Most of us have been introduced to this health wonder when enjoying a matcha latte at our local coffee shop. They simply replace your espresso with matcha and add the milk of your choice. Something to remember is that when you add milk to matcha, you absorb far less of the nutrients because milk binds easily with antioxidants, thus neutralizing a lot of the benefits.
The caffe latte is the most customizable espresso drink of all time. They come in so many flavors and seasonal options that the choices seem endless. Well known favorites are lavender, pumpkin spice, caramel, vanilla, and you see what I mean. What makes a great flavored latte is the process and quality ingredients.
Most coffee shops use commercially made syrups and powders in their lattes. I get it, it's hard to mass-produce the same drink in multiple locations and most people care about the espresso. Beans aside, using the right ingredients is important. Between syrup and powders, matcha excluded, homemade organic syrups are the preferred way to add flavor to your latte. When made this way, the flavor comes through beautifully and tends not to have a sugary or artificial taste. Lavender and turmeric are great examples of when added correctly, they accent your latte instead of taking over with a sugary tsunami of flavor.
The process of making a flavored latte is fairly standard. Most cafe's place the syrup at the bottom of the cup, add warm milk and espresso, and there you go. I prefer two alternative ways. The first is to place the flavor in the milk and warm them up together. The advantage of this is that while the milk is warming up, the flavor is being mixed throughout the pitcher and is heating at the same time, making your milk truly flavored milk. This isn't and economical if you have a massive line of clients, yet the flavor is amazing.
The other method is to mix your flavor in with the espresso shot. This is much less popular yet I recommend you try this at least once, especially with powdered drinks if you sift the powder into smaller pieces. Place the powder in the small espresso pitcher and pull your espresso shot. Then whisk them together. This does two things: First, the sifted powder mixes well with the hot espresso because it's finer and the whisking aerates the espresso creating a more smooth and round shot with less bitterness and more of a creamy taste. If you want your espresso to bite you, then don't use a whisk.
Note: You should be using powder when making a matcha latte.
Simply put, an Americano is a shot of espresso with water, hot or cold your choice. This is traditionally served hot. How it got its name seems to be connected to the US. When American soldiers were in Italy during the second world war, they would order coffee and when they received espresso, it was too strong and would dilute it with water. This "dirty water" (any diluted espresso according to Italians) became the Americano as we know it.
The key to making an Americano is the amount of water added to your drink and how you put it together. About 3 to 4 oz of water is added per shot.
For an iced Americano, use ice-cold water with ice before you pull and pour the shot. Using a whisk or handheld frother will slightly cool down and smooth out the espresso, yet is not necessary. If you like your shot to maintain its strong character, then pour it directly into the cup.
Some will consider a long black (popular in Australia and New Zealand) the same as an Americano and others believe they are different. We will cover that at another time.
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