Latte Art Pt. 1

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I love latte art. You probably love seeing latte art too. I believe that we eat with our eyes before anything is consumed, and that goes for coffee as well. When I see a beautiful design poured into my cup, it makes me appreciate the drink more, and I feel like it tastes better. As my love for coffee grows, and my understanding of what is happening through extraction, and steaming milk deepens, I have been able to develop some opinions about latte art.

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I think it’s important to know what is going on with the milk that forms your latte art. This information is very basic, and the chemistry of milk is way more complex than what I will be sharing. A good steam wand from an espresso machine should produce a dry steam that doesn’t release a lot of water. The steam will heat up the milk, making the natural sugars, specifically lactose, dissolve in the milk, making it sweeter. I also believe that when sugars are heated, they caramelize, and the sweetness is more pronounced. Air is also being introduced into the milk with a lot of force, and this is called “stretching.” This produces bubbles, hopefully micro-bubbles, that will make the milk texture velvety, and taste richer. Once a milk texture that is similar to wet paint (yummy!) is achieved, the milk and coffee is emulsified, and when poured, the milk will lay on top, and a beautifully defined pattern will form. I like to say that this is the ideal situation. But what can go wrong?

 

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A massively under stretched cappuccino.

If the milk is under-stretched, and not enough air is introduced into the milk, the texture will be too thin, and a rich, delicious mouthfeel is absent from the drink. A pattern will not form, or a loose, out of control pattern will be displayed in your cup.

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An over-stretched latte is a sad latte. 

I have some opinions about over-stretched milk that I have not researched, and hopefully someone can verify if I am correct or if my assumptions are inaccurate. I believe that when you add an overabundance of heat, this causes the proteins in milk to denature, and the milk splits. Also adding too much air will create large bubbles instead of small, beautiful, delicious micro-foam. What I have seen and experienced is that a heavy layer of protein rich foam will rest on top in the milk pitcher, while the sugary, fatty (fat is good) milk is left at the bottom. Typically, this will cause your latte art to look “blobby”, absent of those incredibly defined lines. This leads to the important question: does good latte art make a good cup of coffee?

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Yes, and No. The basic rule is: if good coffee is not used, then no amount of latte art will save that drink. That being said, if a beautiful coffee is being used, whether a blend or single origin, then I believe latte art can be a signal that the cortado, cappuccino, or latte will be delicious. It signifies that the texture will be rich, and that the emulsification of delicious sugary, fatty milk, and coffee was done well. We will return to this topic in the future.

Coffee Spots: Copa Vida

Los Angeles is one of the most heavily saturated cities with coffee shops. There are the positives and negatives to this, as you have a lot of choices which exposes you to a lot of coffees, but you also have the potential to make the wrong coffee choice for yourself. I love coffee, because it has personality and character, and roasters and baristas have the ability to pull out the characteristics that she/he desires. This can be problematic for consumers, because a shop’s taste can differ from yours. Let me talk about flavor for a brief moment.

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Coffee comes from the processed seed of a cherry fruit. Because of it’s nature, coffee can exhibit fruity flavors, along with more complex chocolaty, nutty, herby, tea-like, and other complex flavor profiles. It’s important to know what you like, but also pursue coffee with an open mind, because it can always surprise you, and you might find your new favorite coffee. I enjoy the fruity flavors that coffees can offer. I love it when my palate gets washed over with blueberry, cherry, grapefruit, and other citrus notes, or as I like to say “fruity pebbles.” Since these are flavors I am looking for, and I have an idea of which coffees express these characteristics, I can go to shops and order with a purpose.

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One of my favorite coffee shops is Copa Vida, located in Pasadena. Owned by Steve Chang, Copa Vida is a breath of fresh air, as the staff is welcoming, and the seating is abundant. The menu is full of amazing coffee, tea, and food options, but it doesn’t feel overbearing. I love that they roast their own coffee, and they always have their Grace Espresso blend, and a Single Origin option for your favorite coffee beverage. Single Origin is a term used to show that the coffee bean is coming from a single region, and farm. Typically, the Single Origin option is a little more expensive, but it allows you to really taste what the coffee bean has to offer, rather than experience a general “coffee” flavor.

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Copa Vida streamlines the ordering process by breaking down their coffee menu into three tiers: “Go”, “Enjoy”, and “Experience.” Their “Go” options allows you to have a coffee that is easy to drink, but fits the average cup of coffee flavor spectrum. When selecting an “Enjoy” coffee, the flavors become more complex, causing you to really think about what you are tasting, but still invites you to have more. Copa Vida had recently released their first “Experience” coffee. They were serving an Ethiopian Chelchele under their “Experience” line. Currently, Copa is offering a natural processed Ethiopian Wamena. Try it. Let me know what you think.
One of my favorite features of the shop is that they separated their seating space into two areas. One side is painted white, and it creates an ambiance that is lively, fresh, and you get to people watch through their large glass windows. The other side, the “Experience Bar,”  has a warm, intimate feel, that allows people to just bunker down to work, or study. It is almost like having two coffee shops in one space.
Many of you probably have visited Copa Vida already. Hopefully you continue to explore what they have to offer. If you haven’t visited, take some time and grab a beautifully brewed cup of coffee and let me know what you think. Maybe you will see me there. #CopaEra

70 S. Raymond Ave. Pasadena, CA 91105

What is Third Wave Coffee?

One of the most common topics of discussion I have with people is: what is third wave coffee? Is it a specific type of coffee? Is it the coffee shop defines third wave coffee? The definition of third wave coffee can vary between individuals, but the overarching theme is the same. I think to really understand third wave coffee, we need to take a step back, and understand what the first, and second wave were.

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First wave can be defined as the point coffee made its way into homes. Think about Folgers. It WAS the best part of waking up. Emphasis on “was.” It focused on convenience, opening up the doors for home coffee brewers like Mr. Coffee to have a special spot on our kitchen counters. Once enough momentum built up, the second wave came upon us.

 

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Second wave coffee will always be connected to Starbucks. It gave consumers access to lattes, cappuccinos, french press coffee, and allowed people to find their social niche. I like to see the second wave as the pioneer that allowed coffee to be part of our culture, and daily lives. Beans were sourced with a purpose to allow customers to taste what various regions offered. Coffee became an everyday affair.

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Then the ideology that coffee is a craft allowed for more precision and care in farming, roasting, brewing, and serving. Roasteries, and cafes became more specific about what coffee farms they would source from. Farming practices became more efficient, technical, and specific in coaxing out the optimal flavor, and sweetness from a coffee cherry. Roasters had the technology to produce consistent flavor profiles. Baristas started to weigh their coffee doses, and extractions, allowing for another level of precision, and excellence. For me personally, third wave coffee is about the producers of coffee across the entire spectrum. There is a focus on hospitality, but third wave has selfish roots for baristas, roasters, owners, and farmers. I am using the word selfish with a positive connotation. This selfishness allows these individuals to work with amazing technology, and product, knowing that they are doing their very best, allowing them to have pride in their work. This leads to the question: what is the fourth wave? We will discuss that in the near future.

The World of Coffee, and You Pt.1

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This is a cappuccino

Cortado, macchiato, single origin, specialty coffee, third wave coffee? These terms are thrown around like a football tossed by Tim Tebow, and the average person has no chance catching them. I won’t be tackling all of this terminology in one post (I promise, this is the last football reference), but I will cover a few of them, and more as we move along.
Entering a new coffee shop that Yelp, or your caffeine addicted friend refers you to can be a sensory overloading experience with all that is going on in a coffee shop, and the intentions of wanting to fit in weighing on your shoulders. How often are we put on the hot seat, wanting to try something new, but not sure what these beverages are, but not wanting to sound ignorant, resulting in us saying “I’ll just have a coffee”? Let’s put some things to rest. Baristas are friendly. Yes, yes they are. They are there to serve, help, and educate you. If a barista doesn’t look like they want to answer your questions, or if you ask a question and they can’t answer it, then walk out of the shop.

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This is a cortado

I want to talk about my favorite espresso based drinks, and typically when I will order them. I don’t want to get into too much detail regarding espresso, because that would be a thesis in itself. I will talk in generalities for a moment. A cortado is typically a 4-5 oz beverage with 2 oz of espresso, and 2-3 oz of steamed and texturized milk. Texturized milk has the formation of microbubbles that provides a luscious mouthfeel, and a wonderful sheen that can be seen in the milk pitcher. Just looking at the ratio of a cortado, when done right, it is beautifully rich, subtly sweet, and well balanced. It’s not easy to do, but in the hands of a master, it is my favorite coffee beverage. A cortado is a drink that is quickly consumed. Don’t let it sit for 10-30 minutes. Get at it. Finish that cup in 30 seconds to 2 minutes. This is my go-to when I want to be in and out of a shop.
When I’m meeting with a friend, or hanging out in a coffee shop with my wife, I typically will order a cappuccino. I know that I will be occupying a seat for a while, and when I’m with someone else who has ordered a drink with more volume, I don’t want to just sit around with an empty cortado cup, so I will go with a cappuccino. This is becoming common knowledge, but for those that are new to specialty coffee, a cappuccino is typically a 5-8 oz beverage with about 2-3 oz of espresso and 3-5 oz of steamed and texturized milk. A latte is a giant milk bomb, but a good way to be introduced to the complexities of espresso. It is the same amount of coffee as a cortado, and cappuccino, but with 6+ ounces of milk. These ratios follow specialty coffee standards, and what you will generally see in coffee shops today. Now you are a little more equipped to order like a coffee junky, and again, don’t be afraid to talk to your baristas.

Why Coffee?

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Even as I am trying to jot down the right words for this first post,I am sipping on a cappuccino. Let’s get to the point. This is going to be all about coffee. This is going to be about how it is impacting my city of Los Angeles. This is going to be about how it is impacting me. Today, I want to talk about “why coffee?”. Why talk about something that is already being talked about? Why have someone who is not necessarily an expert, or an authority in the world of coffee write about something so complex? Because I want to.
I am obsessed with coffee. It is an understatement to say that I love coffee. My favorite things in the world: my wife, coffee, and pizza. I told my wife that I get excited to sleep, because I know when I wake up I will be able to make coffee. But it’s not just the beverage that is so compelling and exquisite. Coffee is part of Los Angeles culture, American culture, and our world’s culture. It draws people together. In Ethiopia, where coffee originated, there are coffee rituals to welcome new guests that establish friendships. I love that. I love being able to meet with friends at a local cafe, and talk about life over a beautifully brewed cup of coffee…or two.
I want to treat this blog like a coffee ritual. Get ready to read about where I love to have coffee, how I brew my own coffee, what goes well with coffee (yes, food!), basic information that will make you sound like a coffee expert without being pretentious, and all things good regarding coffee. Since coffee culture is supposed to be inviting, I will only be posting positive vibes. I am not going to tear a place or baristas apart if I didn’t like the shop or coffee. With that being said, I want to welcome you to join me on this new journey with me.