back to school

Since things haven’t been going so well in my never-ending quest to produce even a passable example of latte art, I figured it was time to take another class. So I spent a couple hours today with the good folks at Vigilante Coffee in Hyattsville, MD.

I signed up for the Latte Art Basics class. I would happily take the home espresso class at Counter Culture again, but this one promised to focus solely on the milk arts, and it didn’t hurt that it cost significantly less.

Seven of us met in the cafe’s coffee lab, along with our instructors, Pablo and Ashley, and Harold, the company CEO.

say hello to Harold. he enjoys having his belly rubbed, like most CEOs.

The lab is a big, bright, airy space. Brick wall, lots of windows to the street, plenty of room. There’s a small coffee roaster (Vigilante roasts their own, and also supplies local shops such as Car Wash Coffee), and a bar set up with three Mahlkonig grinders, a Curtis drip coffee brewer, and a La Marzocco Linea PB, with scales and shot timers built into the drip tray.

While we waited for everyone to show, we were each given a cup of coffee from the Curtis (drip coffee is still not really my thing), and the chance to taste a coffee cherry from a small potted coffee plant, and examine the seeds. I’ve never tasted a coffee cherry before, it wasn’t too bad, not too sweet.

After quick introductions we went through a brief slide presentation on coffee basics: history, processing, the roasting process, types of drinks, etc. After that Pablo and Ashley demonstrated some techniques, and then we spent the rest of the time going hands-on to work on steaming and pouring.

It would have been fun to draw a shot on the Linea, but Pablo and Ashley handled the espresso end of things. Probably for the best, since it would have slowed us down and distracted us, particularly as we had only the one machine and seven of us.

I was interested to see that Vigilante’s basic recipe for espresso is based on a consistent amount of ground coffee and the brewing time. They do have a range of acceptable output volume, but they are guided strictly by the time and not the ratio of ground coffee to coffee beverage, which many cafes follow.

For our first round Pablo and Ashley not only drew the shots but also steamed the milk, to let us focus first on pouring. Here’s my effort:

Okay, certainly better than the usual horrid efforts at home. It helped having a better understanding of the proper pour technique.

Round two, we steamed the milk as well. It was fun to use the Linea’s steam wand, which is a hell of a lot stronger than the one on my Breville at home. No surprise for a commercial machine that probably costs 20 to 30 times more than mine does.

Here’s attempt number two:

Probably had a chance to form a heart, but the finish was off. Ashley said “Up and across!” a million times during the class, but my nerves got the best of me.

We then finished with a friendly tournament among the students to see who could make the best looking drink. We did our own steaming and pouring, with a little less coaching this time. I got knocked out on my first try, it wasn’t the strongest effort:

All in all I had fun, learned a lot more about technique and what I’ve been doing wrong, made some progress. But man, I really need a lot of practice.

I highly recommend a visit to the shop, even if not to take a class. The lab is across the hall from the main cafe space, which is in what looks to be a converted garage. Big, open, lots of seating, you can watch them operating the main roaster out on the floor. Coffee is superb, staff is friendly. The food options are limited, but if you’re there just for coffee you’ve definitely come to the right place. Vigilante has a second location in College Park, near the University of Maryland, which is also very good.

ETA One final note. Not only is the class affordable, but at the end you’re given a parting gift of a bag of Vigilante coffee beans (and some Vigilante stickers!), plus you get a 15% discount on merchandise in the shop before you leave, making it an even better value.

One thought on “back to school”

  1. Maybe you are simply working in a modern style with your foam art. I see some Picasso influences in there.

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