Sunday, April 17, 2011

Becoming a Coffee Expert

You gotta love Twitter sometimes. There I was, awash with post-Aussie blues, scouring the net for anything vaguely life-changing, nuggets of cheap entertainment, or heck, anything to inspire even the teeniest chuckle. Up pops a little tweet from @TimeOutKL saying retweet by 3pm to win an Illy Coffee Journey. Free coffee? Off my tweet went into the Twittersphere, and out of my memory within the next minute.

And oh, the excitement and rapture when I found I was a winner! And it wasn't just free coffee, but a taster of Illy's Coffee Expert course in the Universita del Caffe (UDC), where I could bring a friend. There was a coffee university in KL?!

Malaysians love coffee like everyone else. The typical local way would be to have a  Kopi-O - a strong, tobacco scented bean with a touch of bitter, drunk black, sometimes sweetened with condensed milk. KL in particular has fallen victim to the Starbucks infiltration, and we all know it's overpriced coffee flavoured milk. So when it comes to appreciating a European style cuppa, it would be fair to say the majority may not be entirely au fait with the finer details. Little me included, as it turned out after this experience.

Illy's UDC opened last year, with the mission to spread the love and appreciation of coffee, Italian style of course, to KL and beyond. If you've always wanted to be a barista, this is the place to come. Best friend KL and myself sat in a stylish, white and red classroom with 12 others, sipping introductory lattes whilst waiting for the fun to begin.

In full powerpoint glory, trainer Evelyn starts off by introducing the school, and quickly moving onto how to spot the perfect espresso. Illy uses 100% Arabica beans, regarded as the highest quality for aroma, taste and body. Generally, a well extracted coffee "honey" produces an elegant, caramel crema, the beige residue that sits on top of the darker liquid. An under-extracted bean doesn't produce a crema, and an over-extracted one can taste sour. We are strongly encouraged to reject any espressos that fall outside these guidelines to keep standards high. Hmmm...I imagine that being a source of fun. 

The real fun starts with a practical demonstration and chance to play with the fancy looking equipment, facilitated by head barista Keith. What a character.

"Why we drink espresso in the morning?" [Why do you like drinking espresso the morning?]
"Cos it's kow kow ah?" [Because it's strong]
"Ahhhh, now you understand, understand, understand?" (Whilst pointing at individuals around the room) [Do you understand?]

Despite the heavy Manglish (Malaysian-English) conversation and goofy demeanour, this man knew his stuff. He explained why full fat milk is the one to go for when making cappucinos or lattes (a higher fat content gives you a puffier yet rich foam) and skimmed milk is great for iced coffees. He was very keen for us to understand how temperature was crucial in getting the best flavour, and conducted endless demonstrations in "balancing" milk with the steaming nozzle to get an even distribution of foam. 

"Bad" foam looks like egg whites, good foam gets distributed evenly and has a glossy shine

At times I felt my head would implode from too much new information. The taster is a watered down version of something an aspiring barista would want to qualify in, and Evelyn and Keith looked like they could talk about any technical detail for days. It's nonetheless very interesting, fun and unless you are already friends with a barista, a great chance to try your own hand at making a perfect espresso. The actual courses are a pretty penny - the full 2 day Coffee Expert qualification for an enthusiast is at RM1500. Perhaps enter a competition on Twitter first!

Universita Del Caffe
Block B, Unit 901
9th Floor, Phileo Damansara 2
Jalan 16/11, Off Jalan Damansara
46350 PJ, Selangor
Tel: +603 7960 3808


Cinnamon and Truffle said...

Wah KL has a coffee university?!

Very informative post - thanks for sharing. I unfortunately can't drink coffee, but what I've learned here will enable me to, on behalf of my friends and family, turn down a cup with bad foam and imperfect crema!


Amanda said...

Lucky you - congrats on your win! Here in Australia most people are very fond of good coffee and are pretty fussy about it. My husband goes to great lengths to get decent coffee. I don't touch the stuff. For some reason I went off it during my last pregnancy and am a dedicated tea girl now!

Hungry Female said...

@Truffle: Thanks for spreading the knowledge! Don't settle for bad espresso!
@Amanda: Yes I gathered the Aussies were coffeenoisseurs:-) I was happy to see glimmers of this in KL.

Upcoming posts will feature Thai coffee! HF

chopinandmysaucepan said...

I'm not a coffee drinker but can understand how people are drawn to the aromas of great coffee.