Well I have been notable by my absence for the past few weeks due to pressure of work and events including a very high profile event with Marie Curie at the BADA Fair. It has seemed like endless long days, nights and weekend working in the lead up to the event last Thursday and so I was quite pleased to see that my chosen task for this week was from the Food and Drink category. Ah perhaps a nice meal was on the cards at some new restaurant? So there was a momentary sinking feeling to see that I wasn't going to be winding down, but doing a barista coffee workshop! London has many of these sorts of courses on offer now via all the quirky coffee bars popping up, but I chose one that was offered by my friends at Camino the lovely little Spanish chain of tapas bars. They have a relationship with Small Batch who are a boutique coffee roastery based in Hove. Now I am someone who famously doesn't even drink coffee that much – and so when I do, my friends head for cover in anticipation of the caffeine release. Hence I do tend to save this pleasure for special occasions! Well this is a morning when I was going to need a cup of coffee, as it was booked for the Saturday morning just after a long overdue night out to celebrate the success of the Marie Curie event. Appropriately I'd spent my Friday night eating tapas, drinking sherry and generally having a good time. Feeling somewhat jaded I decided to book myself a cab to get to Camino in time. As someone who spends their whole life organising people’s time, I was highly embarrassed to arrive what I thought was five minutes early for the course, but turned out to be 25 minutes late. Oh dear. As I looked through the windows at Camino my heart sank to see a group of eager would-be baristas all aproned up and mid demonstration. I sneaked in mumbling my apologies to the team who delightful and very quickly put me at ease saying I didn't have much to catch up on. They had in fact just started to do a latte demo, showing how to decorate the top with a heart shaped design. My closest comrades were two girls called Catherine and Charlotte who very quickly befriended me and told me not to worry they haven't done much at all. No sooner did I have my jacket off and barista apron on, when I was handed a cup of coffee to work on (sadly not to drink, yet). The first surprise to was that the cup was probably about 1/4 filled with coffee – is that it, the rest is milk? When I drink coffee it is all about the black Americano. One of the Small Batch guys handed me a small jug of hot milk and told me to swish it around to blend it. I think this was the part that I had missed at the beginning, but have since realised that after frothing, and creating a ‘microfoam’ the milk will initially be very liquid and will hardly mark the surface of the espresso. After about 10 to 20 seconds, it will thicken to the right point for creating a latte, so it’s a case of swishing and tapping (or something a bit more scientific I feel!). Thankfully our teacher took my hand with the coffee cup in it and directed me how to have it at the correct angle, and the other hand to show me how to pour the milk. It is poured from a height to start with, into the shallowest part of the coffee, and then, as the cup fills, you level out the cup and bring the nose of the jug right into the milk, placing a blob in the centre, and then quickly sweeping up and across to make the heart shape. I was quite pleased with the finished result below although I have to say it is probably beginners luck, when you look at the further attempts we tried.
We all had another attempt at this design before a nice short interlude involving a tray of pastries. This was probably the best way to work off a hangover after all, although I soon realised that drinking every cup of coffee we practised on was going to make me feel quite excitable resulting in a rapid loss of technique! Our next challenge was to do a tulip design. Again starting with the same type of technique, you find that shallow part of the coffee pouring the milk from a height, and quickly coming down, doing one blob, and then up again, and then a second blob, and once more to make a final little milky circle. Finishing off with the up and across sweep, with the resulting design we agreed looking a bit more like a pirate ship.
Our final design to attempt was the rosette (although once was demonstrated I think it looks more like a fern). He explained that this is sometimes easier for people because it involves wiggling your hand quite loosely across the top of the coffee, and with my lack of sleep and now caffeine injection I felt this was something which may come very naturally. I didn't find it quite so easy though, and in fact every time I attempted to do this, along with the now obligatory sweep across the top, I ended up pouring hot milk across our instructors hand. Along with many of the tasks I have undertaken in the Secret Life, this has shown me a new respect for people who are good at these niche skills. Whether it's graffiti spray painting, sewing, or seafood cooking, and now the art of the barista, they are so much more involved than you realise. If you look at the expert example versus mine you have to wonder why I look so happy with myself in this photo!
Finally as we wrapped up, we were each handed a lovely little touch of a totebag with a Small Batch coffee cup and some discount vouchers. This is was indeed a lovely morning, well worth the lost sleep, and in fact it wasn’t over yet. We were then invited to sit down in the Camino restaurant where we were presented with a cooked breakfast with a Spanish twist, with some nice fire roasted peppers, some morcilla, and Spanish sausage. There was definitely a buzz in the air as we compared notes, clearly a mix of excitement at our new found skill….combined with possibly too much caffeine!
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.