I love lattes!
Ever since my daughter was born 2 years ago, my daily ‘commute’ to work has consisted of revving up my Silvia espresso machine and my Rocky grinder and pulling a couple fresh Verve Streetlevel espresso shots. I’ve got a decent handle on frothing microfoam, but for some reason, all my best efforts at producing latte art have resulted, at best, in what appear to be a series of lewd cleavage shots rendered in milk.
Today I had the pleasure of spending a few hours at Verve Coffee Roaster’s headquarters in Santa Cruz under the tutelage of Mark Rozell, an expert in the field who occasionally judges barista competitions, learning how to pull shots and render latte art from a pro.
Brewing espresso on the Aurelia II competition model espresso machine was akin to hopping into a Ferrari when I’m used to thrill rides in my 70’s classic Beemer. Mark walked me through how to taste the difference between a ‘salty’ shot and a ‘bitter’ one and where the sweet spot is to render a sip of caffeinated delight.
Once we got the espresso recipe straight (yup, they call it a recipe), with the right proportion of grams of espresso into the portafilter, time pouring through the espresso machine, and grams of resulting espresso, then we moved to milk texturing.
Mark illustrated on a whiteboard how milk texturing really works and how the goal is to heat and thereby denaturing milk proteins such that they bind to tiny air bubbles. And then to blend those bubbles back into the milk. I must admit, I didn’t expect to get into chemistry, but as soon as he said “casein protein”, i knew i was getting my money’s worth.
Once we got the milk texture down, we entered into a 2 hour cycle of producing ugly but delicious lattes and throwing them down the drain. But let’s be honest here, I had a sip of nearly every one. And by the time I had to head home, I was verging on the edge atrial fibrillation and had to fight the urge to call everyone I know and ramble about the effects of caffeine on the illusion of free will and nature of self control.
I entered into this adventure with a relatively open mind. But I must admit that after 2+ years of making lattes at home, I had a suspicion that there might be one overarching ‘aha’ moment. Indeed that moment arrived when Mark explained to me exactly why whole milk is by far the best for latte art. Now I know and knowing is half the battle.
This concludes another episode on my bucketlist. Barista training 101 mission complete. Now to spend the rest of my life practicing the zen of pulling shots and pouring foam.