Tried adding orange to your Aeropress or ice to your cafetière? As the capital starts coffee hacking, Susannah Butter calls time on the cappuccino
SUSANNAH BUTTER Wednesday 13 August 2014 10:50 BST
Londoners in need of a caffeine hit have never had it so good. Or so complicated. It’s no longer as simple as choosing between frothy and bracingly black. It doesn’t even end with flat white or cold drip. Coffee connoisseurs are taking brewing into their own hands and shaking up traditional methods, customising grinders and improvising with slices of orange instead of paper filters. London has begun coffee hacking.
Discerning drinkers are tearing up the rulebook because they won’t let anything come between them and a perfect brew.
“There is a lot of invention at the moment,” says founder of Curators Coffee, Catherine Seay, who recently opened a second branch in Marylebone and runs home-brewing classes. “As more people are understanding what actually goes on when you make a drink they are coming up with new ways to make something delicious. There are no rules as long as it tastes good.”
It’s all to do with extraction, says Seay. “The taste is affected by how you dissolve the soluble coffee. Double filtering is popular, putting two filters on top of each other to remove more coffee oils and give a different feel.” Every time Seay goes on holiday, she says, “I have to hack the equipment in hotel rooms doing things like using a paper towel as a filter.”
Tim Williams, director of operations at Workshop Coffee, says: “The variety of adjustments is remarkable. At the Aeropress Championships, one guy wrapped a beer cooler around the aeropress for a higher brewing temperature. Another person used a brush with a puffer on the end to blow out light-coloured particles in the coffee grind. The result was cleaner, sweeter more focused coffee.”
At Pact coffee subscription service, they make cold brew in a cafetière overnight in the fridge and then double filter it with a V60 percolator. Will Corby, head of coffee there, says: “Filtering it through metal and then paper improves the clarity of the cup. You want a crisp, clear flavour like you might get from a chardonnay, so you can guess all the flavour notes.”
Corby says the number of people ordering beans as opposed to ground coffee has increased. “Once you are buying fresh coffee, the best thing you can do to increase the quality is grind it yourself and then you can try new things like using a slice of orange as a filter for a citrus blend.” It’s common to hack grinders to make beans exactly the right consistency.
Meanwhile, the professionals at Vagabond café use an aeropress for the cold brew. They weigh ingredients then aeropress them into an iced jug.
Polly Barker, a producer, says she learnt her trade from a barista friend and it’s now trickled down into her everyday routine. She roasts her own beans in a popcorn machine then uses them to make cold brew, mixing beans with cold water in the cafetière, putting the plunger on but not pushing it down and leaving it for 12 hours in the fridge. Then, finally, she filters and drinks straight up.
Coffee blogs are full of good advice on how to do popcorn machine coffee roasting. Try adding a thermometer, for example, and experimenting with light and darker roasts.
Coffee doesn’t have to be 100 per cent bean. Some take the edge off the bitterness by adding salt when they store it, while racier drinkers have invented the Dirty Aeropress. They are divided as to whether adding rum or vodka gives a better kick and whether to put it in before filtering. Timberyard go further by using coffee equipment to make tea – for them a Chemex is the perfect peppermint tea vessel.
So next time you offer a coffee, think about your tactics. Do you have citrus fruit and machinery to hand? If not, your reputation could be on the line.