If you haven’t bean there: the lowdown on coffee

There are thousands of trained baristas in Cape Town.

I’m sitting at my desk at work and the smell of freshly ground coffee I bought from the specialist coffee shop downstairs from my office is so enticing I run back and get a freshly-made cuppa to take upstairs. It tastes as good as it smells.

The coffee shop is just one of hundreds that have sprouted in the last 10 years in and around Cape Town. The city together with its ’burbs and ’hoods is fast becoming a homing point for coffee.

These days the act of making coffee is far more than just adding a teaspoon of instant coffee to your mug of boiled water and stirring in sugar and milk. In fact, purist coffee aficionados, says they can no longer drink “instant” coffee.

And while the cost of “real” coffee is much higher than instant coffee, particularly that which contains chicory, the Mother City has undergone something of a coffee revolution. For every coffee shop that exists, there are as many trained baristas, to the extent that there is an annual barista competition and it’s a highly skilled art to get your cuppa just right and to make those pretty patterns in the froth.

My love of “proper” coffee goes back to circa 1978 Johannesburg. At my first job at the Star newspaper, close to where my bus dropped me off, was the Brazilian coffee bar, one of the few “real” coffee shops in the 1970s that was run by Italians. There your coffee order would be borne along on a conveyor belt as you perched at a counter on a bar stool.

A group of women stood in an open kitchen making the coffees to the hiss of the imported espresso machine and putting together paninis (Italian rolls) with either provolone cheese and mortadella or salami, or boiled egg slices and anchovies.

It was a loud and boisterous space, filled with the clang of cups and the noise of the milk frother and the grind of the beans, and short of being in a coffee bar in Rome or Florence, for me, it was the next best thing.

Today, there are dozens of ways to make coffee and hundreds of blends or single origin coffees that are currently available on the market.

In Northern News’ distribution area there are scores of coffee shops and virtually every neighbourhood centre these days offers a coffee bar or café where you can order a decent cuppa.

It’s your choice as to whether you want a cappuccino; an Americano to which hot water is added to the espresso shot; a flat white similar to a cappuccino but with less milk or a capuccino with cream instead of frothed milk or a single or double espresso.

Flavoured coffees are also de rigeur but many purists would not dream of tampering with their coffee taste with the addition of a flavour such as hazelnut; vanilla; cinnamon or chocolate where an essence is often subtly added to the coffee.Here are a few tips to buying coffee:

Buy the best coffee you can afford. The saying you get what you pay for is mostly true. If you can buy coffee at a dedicated coffee shop where it is freshly ground for you or, buy the beans and grind them at home so that you can have freshly ground coffee every morning, that’s even better.

A French press or a coffee plunger is these days reasonably priced but again, buy the best one you can afford and ensure it’s kept clean and rinsed and dried each time you use it. Of course there’s a massive business out there of domestic espresso coffee machines and automatic coffee machines where you put in the beans and voila, out comes you coffee and they can run into tens of thousands of rands, depending on your budget.

One of the simplest and cheapest ways to make coffee is to buy a plastic “pourover” coffee filter that you put on top of your mug and a paper filter that fits in. The drip system allows for the correct time for the coffee to filter through the paper into your cup.

When you make coffee, allow one heaped coffee measuring spoon per cup. Boil the water and allow it to stand for a minute or so before you pour it over your coffee grounds. When I make it in my plunger I stir the coffee gently and then allow it to steep a bit before gently pressing down the plunger. It’s adviseable to not reheat your coffee – it makes it bitter.

Some don’t add milk, I like a little bit of milk and no sugar. Some like it black with lots of sugar. But whatever way you take it: cheers and here’s to the coffee revolution.