Interview With A Barista

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All good and decent people love coffee. There’s something about the atmosphere of a coffee shop that makes you feel like you’re being productive while sipping scalding black jet fuel in front of your ancient laptop. It can also wear a bit on the wallet. So I’ve spent a little time with a young barista, lovingly called ‘Rat’ for reasons she will not explain. She’s going to tell us how to get close to coffee shop flavors at home, without the thousand dollar espresso machine that you probably don’t have and can’t get. Author’s note: I’m quoting Rat here. I considered cleaning up her occasionally mildly foul mouth, but decided against it. She agreed to be interviewed, so I’m quoting her properly.

First, here’s a link about how to get something like espresso from an inexpensive french press. I am obligated to add that Rat is a little horrified by this, but Rat has access to a proper espresso press. These instructions include a personal coffee grinder. You decide how much you want to invest. Here’s a link to the cheapest espresso grind I could find. I tried it. It’s ok. Spend what you can afford.

Now, on to the interview.

What’s the easiest coffee drink to begin with?

Lattes.

Ok. If I go to my local coffee shop and ask for a latte, what am I getting?

However many shots of espresso they use, and steamed milk.

Do you have to have steamed milk?

I mean, I’ve never done it without it. I don’t want to say yes, because you probably could do it without, but it wouldn’t be as good without it.

What’s the difference?

Unsteamed milk is going to be…milk, while steamed milk is…frothier.

What about sugar?

If you want it. Most of the time if you get a latte, you’re going to get some kind of syrup in it. What I gave you is just a straight latte. You can buy flavored syrup, or even just use Hershey’s chocolate syrup, but you have to add that to the espresso while it’s hot, or you’ll have chocolate sitting at the bottom. So put the espresso in the cup, then syrup or sugar and stir it. Then the steamed milk. If you care about technique, pour the milk in at an angle. But that’s mostly for art.

So what’s a cappuccino?

Same thing, but more froth. (Here she said a lot of things about precise temperatures, and different preferences. I’m sort of in awe of her knowledge of milk temperatures. This is barista stuff, not home at 3AM and I want cappuccino stuff. I feel like if you’re this into your coffee, you should probably save up for the cappuccino maker. Or just hit your local coffee shop. And that’s fine.)

Let’s talk cold drinks.

If you want those drinks cold, put ice in them. Or just stick it in the fridge, but if you’re making an iced latte, skip the steaming step. If you’re doing it at home, make the espresso and add the syrup and mix. Then put ice in it. Then add the cold milk. Good to note, you can do any of this with any kind of milk. If you are using an alternative to milk, it won’t steam the same way. Just substitute it. If you burn it, you’ll know. It’ll smell bad and taste bad.

What’s a frappuccino?

It is a blended ice drink. The only problem with doing that at home is that you need a base drink of some kind. You can buy the Torani frap base, a 32 oz bag of it for $5.20. You do need a blender or something like it. You’re gonna take ice, your coffee or espresso, and then you put it in a blender, some milk, your base, and then your syrup of choice if you want it. Shove it all in the blender and blend it. That shit all goes in a blender together. Add whipped cream if you’re feeling fancy. I suggest looking up the ratios, and you can find tons of recipes online.

So how close is it to the real thing?

Here’s the thing: It depends on how big a coffee snob you are. If you really know your coffee, you might find this pathetic. A lot of it comes down to the beans you’re using. If you buy instant coffee, you can’t expect it to be anything but instant coffee. But if you’re up at 3AM, it’ll probably be good for you at that moment. It will be pretty damn close to what we do in our shop. If you got hot milk, you’re probably going to be ok.

In short, quality matters, but so does budget. If you want to treat yourself to a delicious experience, patronize your local coffee shop, and sit and think deep thoughts in the afternoon sun. If you want to try something a little less expensive, give some of this a shot. Rat says it’s worth trying.

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