This morning I returned to the Counter Culture training center in DC. It was time to learn how to make a better espresso, and (hopefully) how to make some latte art. Not to mention the attraction of getting on a La Marzocco machine I could never hope to own.
I took the two hour Espresso at Home class. If my last visit was a little intimidating, this time around was nothing of the sort. There were 4 of us in the class, all coming from a similar level of knowledge and skill. Our instructor, Mike, could not have been nicer. He was incredibly knowledgeable but did a great job of soliciting our feedback, made things relatable without babying us, and was incredibly positive without being saccharine. It felt like he was genuinely happy to be with us and teaching us.
After a brief round of introductions (good to know I was not the only Northside Social fan in attendance), we began with a brief slide show. It started with a standard Counter Culture pitch on sustainability and quality, a little bit of background on coffee, and then shifted to the history and development of espresso machines and the essential elements of coffee brewing. While we may have been itching to get down to the fun stuff on the machine, those essentials were, well, essential when we shifted to making espresso.
We were working with a La Marzocco Linea Mini, which is probably the platinum standard for home espresso making. Glad I got to use it, because with a price tag in the $5K range, there’s a very real chance I will never sniff that model machine in my own abode. It was just a little detail, but it was fun to use a manual paddle to start and stop the brewing process instead of just pushing a button and sitting back.
Mike went through the process of making an espresso step by step and explained not just the finer points of what he was doing, but why he was doing it. Then we each got the chance to pull a shot.
The main differences from what I have been doing at home were paying a lot more attention to technique on things like tamping, even down to the grip on the tamper, monitoring the brewing time and weighing the resulting drink to find the right coffee/water ratio. I did notice a difference in the finished product, this should help me to increase the consistency and quality of my espresso.
Then we moved on to the thing I was most interested in, steaming the milk and pouring it to make latte art. Again, learned a lot more detail on the proper technique for steaming that should help.
I learned that I have been sending the milk right to the bottom of the cup because I was off on the pouring angle and too hesitant on the amount of milk flowing in. Only got to do it once, which was, well, judge for yourself, let’s say still lots of room to improve but it’s a start.
It was nice to be in a smaller group at the training center, which is a really beautiful space with all kinds of cool coffee gadgetry about. I also liked
using the little pitcher rinser set into the counter.
Probably the most beautiful piece of hardware in the center was a gorgeous commercial Linea, but they certainly weren’t letting the amateurs hop on that beauty.
We finished up with a primer on how to clean the machine, which was also very helpful, and got some tips on cleaning grinders as well.
So I’m really glad I went, and can’t wait to see if I can step up my game at home. The class certainly wasn’t cheap, but not a surprise considering it was on high end equipment at a center that usually educates professional baristas. We also got a complimentary home delivery subscription to the coffee blend we were using, Big Trouble.
Who knows, if I stick with it maybe one day I can match this beauty that Mike made for us. I was going to claim the earlier picture was my first effort and I got to this point by the end of the class, but c’mon, just look at that thing.