Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Techniques: How to make cafe-quality coffee at home

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Rachel Grunwell gets the coffee lowdown from Antoinette Mudford. Photo / Doug Sherring
Rachel Grunwell gets the coffee lowdown from Antoinette Mudford. Photo / Doug Sherring

"You can get cafe-quality coffee at home," promises barista trainer Antoinette Mudford. "You just have to know how".

We're at her work, the Altezano Coffee Roasting Company in Mt Eden. The back-room is full of coffee beans, piled up in brown sacks, freshly shipped from places as diverse as El Salvador and Vanuatu. For a serious coffee-lover, it's heaven on earth.

At the front of the building is a commercial machine, on which Mudford teaches people how to make coffee like a professional. She'll teach anyone: trainee baristas, teenagers wanting skills to get a job in the hospitality industry or coffee geeks wanting to navigate the new fancy espresso machines they've just bought.

Normally, Mudford charges $200 for four hours' instruction, split over two days. But she gives me a 90-minute condensed version to share with readers.

First, she shows me how to expel water from the head before inserting the handle - this will get rid of any old coffee grounds that could enter the fresh extraction of coffee. Likewise, purge the steam wand before use, to get rid of milk residue. A clean machine is essential.

Under the coffee maestro's watchful eye, I overfill the clean, dry and warmed basket with fresh and good quality coffee grounds, sweep off the excess and then use a "tamper" to press down hard on the grains so they are firm, flat and even. This gives a consistent amount of coffee. It's important to tap away any coffee grinds on the rim of the coffee basket, too.

It takes 25-30 seconds to extract the coffee, double and single shots. The dark-brown liquid should drip out slowly, then flow continuously. Stop it before the liquid becomes yellowish, thin and not pouring straight. When the water starts curving inwards, or flickering about, it's done, she says. "All the body and flavours from the coffee will already be in the cup."

Ta-da! It's the perfect short black.

If you want to transform this liquid gold into a flat white, prepare the milk. First, make sure the steam wand is clean. Then pour the correct amount of milk in your steel jug and place the tip of the steam wand slightly below the surface of the top of the milk. The wand should also be on an angle to make the milk whirlpool - this heats and thickens it evenly.

After a few seconds, lower the jug so the wand is near the top of the jug and froth the milk for a few seconds while it is whirlpooling. If you hear a hissing sound, that's good; if it sounds like "an old broken-down TV" that's bad - too much air is going in and will form soapsud-size bubbles.

Hold a palm on the jug to feel when it is warm enough, then fully submerge the wand in the milk and continue the whirlpool. It's important not to let any more air into the milk at this point so you keep avoiding the "soapsud bubbles".

To get the heat right, use the two-second touch rule: if your palm feels hot after two seconds then the milk is primo.

Tap the jug to blitz any big surface bubbles and then swirl the milk until it's finely textured and silky, ready to pour into a cup.

Hold the spout of the jug low to the cup as you pour. For flat white and lattes, pour directly into the middle of the cup, using a teaspoon to control the amount of foam flowing in. (Do not hold the spoon directly on the jug spout: it restricts any foam from going to the cup, creating a hard-to-carry, thin and wobbly coffee. Conversely, if you unleash too much foam, you will create a very foamy cappuccino.

For a flat white and latte, aim for 1-2cm of foam. For cappuccinos and thicker coffees, go for a third of the cup. And if you are after that extra magic touch, just as the milk is near the level of the rim of the cup, flick the jug towards the opposite side of the cup to create an apple or heart-shape pattern on the top. "If it flicks the other way it will look like an onion," laughs Mudford.

Now, tell your partner to wake up and smell the coffee!

- Herald on Sunday

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