A proper cup of coffee

Thu 01 Jul 2010 @ 16:45
Author Jamie Oliver

When Jamie was in Australia recently, he discovered a great café in Melbourne. Proud Mary is run by Nolan Hirte, a man with a serious passion for coffee. Here, Jamie asks Nolan a few questions over a cup or two of faultlessly prepared flat white…

Jamie: For all the people out there who consistently buy cheap coffee, how would you convince them to buy something special?

Nolan: Convincing people that your coffee is special is something that cannot be done by mere words. It is definitely something that people need to experience themselves first-hand. I would often offer something to my customers, like the 'cold-drip', 'syphon' or 'clover' coffee, to challenge them with something different. Having an intimate knowledge of my product means I am able to talk my customers through what they can expect from each particular coffee on offer. I often compare coffee to wine as it is almost a direct parallel and should be treated in the same light.

It's obvious you put your life and soul and cash into this - what was your philosophy about making the food fit with such mega-serious coffee?

Like my coffee I want the food to be accessible to everybody not just the hardcore, I like the idea of having a menu that celebrates seasonal produce and simple flavours that work well together. At the end of the day like food, good coffee really comes down to the farmers, how well it was processed, each crop, the terroir. If we are doing our job right we should be able to taste and determine the quality of what the produce is offering whether it be food or coffee.

If I were going to buy coffee beans in a supermarket what should I look out for?

The first thing I would look for is where is it roasted. Locally roasted coffee is crucial, once coffee is roasted it doesn’t travel well at all. It is at its best between 6-12 days after its roast date; from there it will rapidly start to lose flavour, body and becomes thin and stale. It can be a real challenge to find locally roasted and fresh coffee from the supermarket – however it does exist. If not at the supermarket there will be a local cafe somewhere nearby using a locally roasted product, and a good chance they will know the roast date and be happy to sell you some.

Is instant coffee your enemy? And if you had to choose one brand of instant coffee to drink, which one would you say is the best?

Although instant coffee goes directly against what I believe in, I wouldn't say it was my enemy as we don't seem to cross paths very often. In some ways, mass-produced products like instant coffee can help highlight how special boutique coffee can be in comparison. Really they are two different things. It’s like comparing tailormade cigarettes to rolling tobacco – one is highly processed and has all sort of chemicals added to it, the other is much purer and more faithful to the original plant. If I had to chose a brand I would have to say Mocconna as that is what mum drinks!

What's the oddest thing you've ever had coffee in that was genius? Have you ever tried fresh ricotta, with honey and pounded coffee on top? I think it is amazing. Do you have any combos I should know about?

One drink comes to mind. I call it ‘the pancake’ and used it for a signature drink in a barista competition. It involves stem ginger and maple syrup for sweetness, fresh cream for body, and and a slice of lemon for acidity.

Here's how to make it:

Use a shot glass that holds approximately 60ml liquid. Place one piece of stem ginger in the bottom of the glass, including about 5ml of the sweet ginger syrup. Next pour 10ml of maple syrup gently on top of the stem ginger, creating the first layer. Then we need an espresso shot of about 30mls poured directly into the glass; we should now have three distinct layers. Then cut a lemon in half and rub the lemon flesh over the rim of the glass as if you were making a margarita. To finish, gently pour a small dollop of fresh runny cream on top of the espresso foam using a spoon to break the fall. Slam it down like it is an oyster shooter and enjoy the explosion of flavours in the mouth, the acidity and smack on the lips from the lemon, and the rounded sweetness from the maple and ginger on the finish.

Is it true that coffee is a laxative?

From what I understand coffee can be used to prevent constipation, and can increase bowel movements and works somewhat as a muscle relaxant. I used to hold a record for drinking seven double ristrettos in a row for three years. Then a chef came along to challenge my title and she smashed ten straight up. I couldn’t be beaten by a girl, so I had 11 straight! Serious stomach cramps, and some weird noises coming from both of us, definitely made me question whether coffee was a laxative! Please do not try this at home or at work.

Of all the methods you have of making coffee, which one is your favourite to drink?

Nothing is quite as satisfying as drinking a good syphon coffee. It can have amazing subtleties that can be missed in other brewing techniques. It compares to a fine wine. The mouthfeel and balance of acidity and sweetness and that lingering aftertaste that make you want to keep going back for more. This has to be one of the best ways to really appreciate what the coffee is offering - just like wine it is determined by altitude, rainfall, soil and its processing techniques. Lighter roast profiles will achieve the best results for this style of brewing, leaving more fruit and acidity in the cup.

Please give a concise explanation of the methods you use and your coffee philosophy.

My coffee philosophy is quite simple, my focus is not on the bottom line it is on the quality of the product and how I can improve that quality to make my customers the best coffee I possibly can. I have always believed if you put the quality of the product first the rest will follow, I may not make as much profit per cup but I can guarantee I will sell more coffee if I make it better.

As for methods, let's take them one by one…

Espresso:
This is where we get a little crazy, with six group Hydra-Synesso and five custom Mazzer/Roburs for grinders. The first in the world! individual groups for three origins on offer and two blends. This allows me not only to season the groups with the individual coffees but also adjust the temperature to suit each different coffee. I really want to showcase coffee in all its glory and I needed this ridiculous amount of equipment to try and help do it justice.

We always grind coffee fresh on demand. The biggest downfall of old techniques was to fill the dosing chamber with ground coffee allowing it to go stale. A serious barista will always grind on demand.

When making espresso coffee I always take into consideration the following:

‘Doseage’ [amount of coffee in the portafilter];
‘Distribution’ of the coffee particles in the portafilter;
‘Grind’ size depending on the flow rate the coffee extracts from the espresso machine [think honey dripping from a spoon];
‘Temperature’ of the water, depending on how the coffee is tasting


Filter:
For this I use a product called a ‘Clever Dripper’ (approx A$30) which allows me to steep the coffee as long as I want. Different to pour over filter which is much more challenging to control. I use 22 grams of coffee to 300mls of water at 95 degrees and brew this for three minutes, the grind is coarse like a sand particle and the coffee has been roasted lighter to suit this style of coffee. This is an effective way to get the most out of your coffee and can have a bit more depth than a shorter brew time, but maybe be lacking in some of the subtleties the coffee can offer.

Clover:
The idea of the clover machine was made to be able to control the water temperature, amount of water and brew time. This is a great concept as coffees from different regions, varietals, or coffees grown at different altitudes and can react differently. The barista finally has an accurate tool in which to brew coffee to a recipe and be able to recreate it or tweak it as necessary.

After much trial and error we use about 35 grams of coffee to 300mls of water and brew it at 94 degrees for about 38 seconds, depending how it tastes we will adjust these parameters to try and extract as much body and sweetness as we can.

To me this is the modern day version of the syphon and has really helped push the coffee industry forward leaps and bounds. Especially for us in Australia as it has been 100% espresso based here for a long time. The ‘Clover’ was sold to Starbucks in 2008 making it unavailable to anybody but Starbucks, only 250 were sold in the world before Starbucks took the company over. I was lucky to get my hands on one in 2007 and started to push the brewed coffee scene at my first café ‘Liar Liar’ in Hawthorn Melbourne.


Syphon:
As I mentioned earlier, this method produces amazing results with coffee and dates right back to the 1830s. It seems it was somewhat forgotten about in the 1950s as espresso coffee was invented and started to take over. In Japan, they still serve a third of their coffee this way and take syphon coffee very seriously.

The syphon coffee maker works on vacuum and forces water up a stem into the top half of the unit, the water will consistently rise up at about 91-92C, creating a great temperature for brewing coffee. The ideal temperature when brewing coffee is between 90 to 96C.

There are a few things to get in place before brewing a syphon, I always make sure I have ready:

A timer with a 30 second countdown;
a bucket of icy cold water with small hand towels soaking in it;
coffee weighed out on scales. I would use 22 grams of coffee if it was fresh (one to three days after roast) or 24 grams as it is starting to de-gas a bit (4 to 6 days old);
A wooden stirring spoon in a glass of water;
A butane or gas burner.

When using water for the syphon I prefer to use water that has been boiled fresh from cold as this will have more oxygen in the water and create a better mouthfeel and body. Water from a boiler will be flat in comparison.

The bottom half of the syphon will be filled ¾ full of hot water then placed over a gas flame to bring the water up to the right heat.

When the water in the bottom half of the chamber is starting to bubble it is time to grind the coffee, always grind coffee fresh! Coffee stales very quickly once ground, the aromatics will start to go after about five minutes so timing is important. We now seal the top half of the syphon to the bottom half, it is now the air expanding in the bottom chamber from the heat that forces the water up the stem into the top half of the chamber. Just as the water is rising to the top half I will add the ground coffee, hit the timer and give it about four stirs as it fills up. As long as there is heat under the syphon the water will stay in the top half. As the 30 second timer goes off, I turn off the gas and give the coffee a final four stirs. I then place an icy cold towel around the bottom chamber cooling back down the air inside and allowing the brewed coffee to come back down into the bottom half. The coffee grinds are now left in the top half, thanks to the cloth filter. This cloth filter is one of the reasons why syphon coffee is so clean. The combination of glass and cloth filter also make it very easy to keep clean and free from any taints.

Final step is to remove the top half of the syphon and pour out our special brew. At the café I pour it straight into a cold tea pot to remove some of the heat as It is way too hot to drink, syphon coffee just gets better and comes to life as it cools down. When the coffee is at a better temperature to serve I pour the brew into stemless wineglass and place it on the table with tasting notes on the coffee including details of the farm and processes. Enjoy.

Cold drip:
This is as it sounds, one drip of cold water over ground coffee per second for approximately three hours. We use approximately 65 grams of coffee to about 300mls of cold water. With this technique a darker roast profile and beans that have been aged to at least 15 days after roast seem to achieve the best results. As it is only cold water that is being used and there is no heat applied there is no chance of over extracting. The result here is stunning, the natural sugars that are present in the coffee are released leaving you with a very sweet liquor like beverage served over ice, [we serve 60mls $A4.50] the perfect summer pick me up.

Will you come over here and do a coffee seminar for all our Jamie Mag readers?
Yes I would love to.

Why is your café called Proud Mary?
I grew up with Credence Clearwater Revival and my wife Shari is a big fan of Tina Turner so this is a name that made us both happy. To me, a name for a cafe should be strong and read well, and be easy to remember. I am also really proud of what we are doing and hope the big wheels keep turning.

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