The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday December 5th

Canvas

Trying her hands at the espresso machine

I was immediately surrounded by the aroma of caffeine when I walked into Open Eye Cafe in Carrboro that day — it hit me while I walked through the front door, and it seeped through me as I walked into the secret back room.

The room I’m referring to is tucked in the back area of Open Eye Café — and the Carrboro Coffee Roasters’ scheduled workshops are held here. The back room contained the treasures precious to the caffeine addicted — bags upon bags of coffee beans, freshly ground coffee and three giant espresso machines warm and ready to brew.

As the workshop started that Saturday morning, I came out of my stupor determined to become the world’s next Simon Cowell of espresso brewing. The workshop was like any other learning process, with people taking notes and raising their hands to ask our 26-year-old super-hip barista extraordinaire Miles Murray questions. It was pretty simple: he lectured and I listened. Before taking the workshop, I considered myself pretty knowledgeable on the topic of coffee, but as I listened it became clearer that I was not the authority on coffee as Murray was — I actually knew nothing. By the end, though, I combined all of the information I learned into key concepts:

  1. Good quality machines yield the best results. No exceptions. Coffee enthusiasts, this is for you. Even if it seems pricey, remember that like anything else, a good espresso machine is an investment. More specifically, it’s an investment towards your level of happiness in the mornings.
  2. Use freshly ground coffee. Coffee only stays fresh for five to seven days. If you use pre-ground coffee, the quality of your brew decreases. After 14 days, the coffee starts deteriorating completely.
  3. Clean water is a must. If you don’t like the taste of your tap water, you shouldn’t be using it in your brew. Instead look to alternatives such as bottled water or consider using a filter. Your water serves to compliment your coffee.
  4. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Play around with how fine you ground your coffee. Use milk, or don’t. You don’t have to settle for the first shot of espresso that comes out. Take a sip and adjust.

Like any lesson, there’s a lecture and then application. One by one, the eight of us took a turn brewing our own espresso shot, noting how different they each turned out. Eventually it was my turn, and I was ready to do everything perfectly. I filled the portafilter with the coffee, packed it down with pressure, locked it into the group head (the part that holds the portafilter), and started the brew. Unfortunately I made an error in my timing and let it brew a second and a half too long. This resulted in a rougher body in the espresso. Aside from that, though, it had enjoyable hints of chocolate, caramel, and dark cherry to it.

After we each had a turn, we realized there were a wide variety of flavors in the espresso shots we tasted — ranging from tomato tasting to bitter chocolate — even though we had used the same coffee beans.

“There’s a lot of human energy that goes into it,” Murray said.

It made sense. There were some larger men that could have applied more pressure than me when packing the coffee. There was one woman who brewed hers a second too soon and I had brewed mine too long which had affected to body, which proved that there were many factors at play while brewing the espresso, including levels of knowledge. These were the variables that Miles told us to keep in mind from the very beginning.

Rongrach Sombusanasin, 48, said he’s been drinking espresso for more than 10 years, but has never been to a workshop or any training for making espresso until this one.

“How those factors impact flavor I can’t know for myself. I need someone to tell me,” Sombusanasin said.

When the workshop was nearly over, I asked Miles what it was he likes about espresso-making.

“Teaching the classes give you the opportunity to meet the people you are making coffee for, and I really like meeting people,” Murray said.

arts@dailytarheel.com

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