Coffee is part of almost everyone’s life. Some people drink one cup a day just to get their caffeine fix, while others need more than one to keep them going throughout the day.
This so-called brain juice is loved for many reasons but for those who work with the beverage every day, the love affair goes deeper – and technical.
When we got to speak with Philippine Barista Champion Kevin Israel Fortu and ask how to appreciate coffee for what it truly is, we learned that it takes some technique and a little bit of knowledge about the complex beverage that has become a way of life and pleasure for many of us.
Fortu, who doesn’t necessarily label himself a coffee expert, but rather just thinks of himself as someone who loves coffee, said that the aromatic deep brown drink really is more of a lifestyle.
The barista champion says that just like wine, different kinds of coffee have different characteristics that contribute different and distinct flavors in your cup, which is brought about by varied roast profiles, brewing techniques, and more.
So, when we asked Fortu how to be your own barista at home, these are the tips he had for us.
Five tips on how to taste coffee like a pro
Get a home brewing kit
A home brewing kit consists of a good hand grinder, a digital weighing scale, a timer, and a drip coffee maker, or a french press, or even an aeropress.
The simplicity of an aeropress makes it great for newbies and for the adventurous (both in coffee and life). It is also Fortu’s favorite.
Know your coffee
Before you start making some coffee magic, you have to know your coffee first. If you have a bag of ground coffee, look at its packaging label and check for the following:
- Origin – e.g. Ethiopia
- Variety – e.g. Mixed Variety
- Process – e.g. Washed
- Elevation – e.g. 1800-2000 masl
- Roast – e.g. Medium Roast
- Roast Date – e.g. March 4, 2020
- Flavor Notes – e.g. Floral jasmine, mandarin orange, dark chocolate
Fortu encourages you to familiarize yourself with these every time you encounter new and different types of coffee.
Then grind the coffee depending on the brewer and filter you’ll be using.
For example, if you’ll be using an aeropress for fine or medium fine grinds, the ideal brewing time is around 30-60seconds.
Any brewer with a paper filter such as a Hario V60, Kalita Wave, or Origami can be used on medium to medium coarse grinds with the ideal brewing time at two to three and a half minutes.
Brewers with mesh filters like the french press can be used on coarse grinds with an ideal brewing time of around four minutes.
Make sure to use “good” water
Distilled water is not recommended as it has no minerals. Water needs to have enough mineral content for the solubles of the coffee to be extracted, according to Fortu.
However, you can experiment with different types of water or even check the internet for barista recommendations. Fortu shares that there are still studies being done to find out what type of water is best suitable for coffee.
Your water also needs to be at a temperature of 92-96 C. You can swirl the water around the coffee grounds as you pour for better extraction.
For the brewing process, Fortu says to brew at a ratio of 1:15 coffee to water (e.g. 12g of coffee to 180ml of water) — You can add more or less depending on how weak or strong you want your coffee to be.
Smell, taste, and enjoy
According to Fortu, “you should have a pleasant aroma, balanced acidity, sweetness, and bitterness, [as well as] nice body to your coffee and a lingering finish.” At this point, you should also see if you’re able to pick up on the flavor notes indicated on the coffee label.
Fortu said that the quality of these attributes will depend on how good the condition of the green coffee beans was prior to roasting. If the raw green coffee beans were good, you’ll end up with a good cup of coffee — even if you mess up a step.
Explore other kinds of coffee
Now that you’ve got the basics down, you can explore more of what’s available in your area. You can do this by speaking to your local barista, whether that be at a Starbucks near your house or at a small neighborhood cafe. You can ask them for more tips, and coffee recommendations that they may have and would like you to try.
Fortu says that Ethiopian coffee was what opened his palate to exploring coffee of different origins. However, the barista champion does encourage us to try our local coffee as well.
While coffee can get technical, Fortu’s tips tell us that anyone can do it, even at the comfort of their home. You just need to have the right materials, and of course, the right coffee.