THE DOG BREW BLOG
What’s On the Menu?
Issue No. 3, Ethan Cullingworth
What Am I Even Drinking?
Most of us have a favourite cup of coffee we order just about every day. Creatures of habit with most items we are often particular about how we receive them. That being said, occasionally when attempting to order our usual at a different spot we encounter a confused barista asking what exactly we’re looking for, or ‘Well, we serve..’ undoubtably at Black Dog, too.
Without wanting to offend I’m going to try and explain a bit of hidden reason to this madness, and apparent lack of consistency, by giving the current definitions of a few of the most popular items found on a coffee house menu.
Sometimes ordering at a café can be scary. We don’t know where to look for what we want or if they serve our usual, we’re trying to figure out prices, and we’re having to talk to a stranger behind the bar to figure it all out. Or just stand in awkward silence, I’ve encountered a lot of that, seems to be a go to. Having faced this dilemma on the receiving end I’ve had to figure out how to get people what they want. Here’s a few questions I ask to get there, and if you ask yourself these before ordering it might help: What size do I want? Hot or cold? Sweet or not? Alternative milk? Do I want caffeine?
These may seem obvious, but no menu is exactly the same, and narrowing down the parameters of your drink make the process much easier.
Milk and Coffee
Macchiato, breve, cappuccino, cortado, what does any of that actually mean? Put simply they are all variations of a latte. All of these are milk based drinks, often a double shot of espresso incorporated with a varying amount of steamed milk.
Now, just adding steamed milk to coffee doesn’t always equal a variation of a latte. It would be a café au lai if it were drip coffee and steamed milk or cream. Generally, in order for it to qualify as a latte it needs to be milk with espresso.
Italy gets a lot of credit for creating the menu we have today, most of the drinks on there have Italian names after all. Like most things, the names of these drinks often give clues as to what they might be like. Below I’ll list some drinks and a simple definition:
An Italian word, it roughly translates to a variation of ‘marked with milk’ in English. A double shot of espresso, with a tiny bit of steamed milk added, creating a small white dot in the middle. No, it’s not the 16oz caramel/vanilla drink Starbucks makes. I’m aware that they have three variations of a macchiato, though I’d be hesitant to use that term for anything but the drink I described.
The technical definition of this drink is that it is 6oz, 1/3 espresso, 1/3 milk, and 1/3 foam. If it’s bigger than 6oz it’s a latte.
Also known as a Gibraltar, this is a 4oz latte, about half espresso half steamed milk; the milk is steamed considerably less, closer to 120F, so as to leave the milk a bit less denatured letting the espresso present clearer. A personal favorite, if you dare to try one and mention the blog I’ll take 20% off.
A fancy term for cream. Add half and half to an espresso based drink and it’s a breve.
Why does my latte taste better when there’s art?
Ever been to a cafe, ordered a latte and got a really hot, watery, cup with a bit of see-through foam on it? Compared to a latte with a pretty design that is full bodied, not too hot to sip, and one texture, it’s not a hard choice deciding which is better. Why? Here’s some info to sip on:
- Properly steamed milk will contrast with espresso, meaning well steamed milk has the capacity for a design
- Well steamed milk is never above 160F; above that and it’s losing sweetness and texture, much hotter and it won’t contrast as nicely and starts to burn.
- Well steamed milk integrates with espresso very well, creating that texture we love.
So, we find that latte art is simply a pretty by-product of well steamed milk. Latte art is ‘important’ because it means your barista is well trained in steaming milk, and crafting delicious coffee drinks, showing the true colors of the coffee.
Small, Medium, Tall, Dark and Handsome
There’s those who like milk with coffee and those who prefer the dark side of the cup. I tend to find myself on the dark side, personally. Sort of, I don’t drink dark roast if that’s what you’re thinking. In fact we don’t serve any dark roast at Black Dog. This is a topic I’ll cover in the next issue, so in the meanwhile, here’s a brief description of a few milk free coffee drinks:
Espresso is essentially really concentrated coffee. Generally dosed at a 1 to 2 ratio of dry coffee vs wet coffee. So if I dose 18g of coffee (dry) in my portafilter (the basket with a handle we attach to the machine) chances are my shot will end up tasting good at around 36g worth of espresso (wet). But, that’s just a general guideline. No espresso handles exactly the same and not even the same espresso the next day will taste like it did the day before, after being ‘dialed in’. There are many factors to consider when dialing in espresso which I’ll dive into extensively elsewhere. For now I’ll say say it’s a bit of chemistry. Each morning we taste however many shots we have to, changing the recipe until it tastes good before serving it. Sometimes that process is quick, other times you have to give up or suffer from the jitters all day...
The quality of espresso will make or break a coffee house. Whether it’s darker, heavy and full bodied; or light, floral and juicy - if it’s not roasted well, rested and dialed in, it’s not worth your money. But if it’s on? Go back and try it tomorrow; it’ll taste as good but slightly different, giving you a new experience.
Drip hardly needs much explaining — most of us make a pot of coffee at home. You grind your coffee, put it in the filtered basket, and press a button. Same for us at Black Dog. That being said we have a wonderful brewing machine that we program a recipe into, and make sure to dial in our drip here making sure each batch taste as good as the last.
The comforting clasp of a hand over a warm coffee mug full of freshly brewed coffee is unbeatable. Degree’s get finished, businesses start and simple, soul comforting journal entries are all completed with the help of the mighty but gentle drip.
Pour overs are a delight on the palate. Essentially the same brew method as drip, the main differences being we hand pour each cup individually. Why bother? Well, because we control the water temp, when we pour and how much, and can adjust the recipe to suit whatever coffee being used, it crafts a much more delicate and intriguing cup — often showcasing a different side of the flavour profile than found on drip or espresso.
Single origins absolutely shine and the right blend will hit you somewhere different when hand crafted. Chemex, v60, Kalita and others — all will bring a slightly different cup to the table. All are worth visiting often.
That Being Said...
That was quite a bit of info. Having drug you through some new terms — and perhaps challenged your current idea of coffee — there’s one last thing I would like to add: the absolute best cup of coffee out there is the one that brings you joy. We could go back and forth over what makes coffee ‘good’, but in the end taste is rather subjective. I tend to enjoy my espresso slightly under - extracted, a lot of people don’t. A shot of espresso I find delightful another might find very unsatisfactory. We have these parameters discussed above partly for consistency, partly because of tradition, and partly because the coffee world has decided this is where coffee tastes the best (for now). Having this common ground and lingo makes navigating the world of coffee easier, and finding that perfect cup very possible.