Good Milk and Latte Art

good_perspectiveHow many times have you heard someone say, “It’s a great coffee shop! They have latte art!”? We hear it all too frequently, and so, here’s our case for the promotion of good milk vs. latte art. The ability to identify “good” milk will progress your journey towards becoming a coffee connoisseur and help you discern a good shop from a great one!

While we are advocates of latte art, good, properly steamed milk is where it all begins. If you are served latte art in your drink at a local shop it usually means that they know what they’re doing, but that’s not the whole story. When milk is steamed it goes through several processes making its way to what we call “micro-foam.” In the hands of the barista there is a period of time where air is introduced into the milk via the steam wand, which can create some larger sized bubbles. The baristas job is to use the steam wand as a tool to whip those larger bubbles down into a silky looking, thick micro-foam. Chemical changes are occurring in the milk as well. The lactose and proteins in the milk are changing into different structures, one being the well-known sucrose, which helps the milk taste sweeter. If the milk gets too hot, about 170F, these changes turn into more sulfuric compounds, causing the milk to taste ‘burnt’. Once the milk is steamed to the perfect temperature and the perfect consistency, the barista can use the foam developed in the steaming process to make something extra appealing on the top of your beverage. However, what you may not know is that if the micro-foam is thin the barista can still pull off some great art. Sometimes it’s even a little easier to make extra pretty designs out of ‘thin milk’ since the foam will be easier to manipulate for the artist pouring it.

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good

                                                                                                                                                                                                       Above: Notice the milk on the left is thinner, has less foam, but still has a good consistency. The milk on the right is what we refer to as good milk, it has a the consistency of micro-foam with the proper thickness. Smooth and sweet!

So now that you’re informed take a deeper look next time you’re at your favorite shop. Does the art look good? Great! The next level to look at is the thickness of the foam. Make sure it’s nice and thick. An easy gauge would be the thickness of your pinky finger. If it’s only as thick as a piece of cardboard they didn’t quite nail it. Did they serve it to you in a glass? That’s even better! They’re offering some transparency for you to delve into the quality yourself. Look through the side of your glass and check the thickness of the foam in addition to the art. Lastly, remember to always be nice to your barista, they’re often trying to perfect their craft. We just wanted you to have a tool to weed out the ‘looks good’ vs. ‘is good’. Now go drink coffee!

Origin Trip: Colombia

IMG_0070Recently Deeper Roots Coffee had the opportunity to visit Colombia as International Expertise for the Expoespeciales this year in Bogota as guests of Castle & Co., coffee importers based in California. We were honored to visit five coffee farms, cup coffees with the farmers who grew these coffees, attend lectures at the expo, and be guests of the FNC (Colombia Coffee Growers Federation) throughout the trip.

While in Tolima, there were two farms that really stuck out as uniquely different experiences. The first farm, owned by Jairo Lopez, was quite small as far as coffee farms are concerned. In Colombia, 95% of all coffee grown is grown on 5 hectares (12.36 acres) or less; Jairo’s farm was one of these. Jairo and his family take great pride in the product they grow and special care to produce specialty grade and even micro-lot quality coffee. Jairo trains his pickers to pick only the ripest cherries, which means visiting a single plant two to three times during peak harvest season. He also keeps a close watch on processing times, equipment cleanliness, and drying times and procedures. Jairo is known in his area for growing high quality coffee, it was truly an honor to meet him, cup coffees with him, and have lunch with him and his family.
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The second farm that peaked our attention was that of Daniel Melendro. Daniel’s farm was purchased by his family in 1896 and has been producing coffee since 1906, with Daniel working to improve the quality since taking over the operations of the farm. Daniel’s farm is 33 hectares (81.5 acres) which is a larger scale farm as far as Colombia is concerned. Daniel’s approach is different from Jairo’s. He produces much more coffee and he’s refining his picking and processing methods to obtain better coffee by the year. He has even been able to invest in satellite imagery of his farm to identify areas of biomass concentrations in order to help them apply fertilizers more strategically. We were able to spend some time with Daniel at his farm as well as at Jairo’s farm where we cupped their coffees side by side. It was humbling to see Daniel take notes on how Jairo was executing his processing in order to make suggestions to his employees to possibly obtain better coffee next season.

While at the expo we were also given the opportunity to meet the coffee farmer who grew the micro-lot we recently purchased through Castle & Co. Elver Guzman is a Tolima farmer who participated in the micro-lot project through the FNC for the first time this year. He purchased his farm in Planadas with his brother several years ago and started paying more attention to coffee processing when his brother placed in the Cup of Excellence competition. It inspired him to produce better coffee since he knew he was working with the same coffee varieties as his brother, on effectively the same land with the same processing equipment. Now, Elver is producing an amazing quality coffee from his four hectares (10 acres) that we’re proud to present in a just few weeks.

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Our host for the week, Henry Martinez from the FNC, taught us a lot about the organizational structure of coffee in Colombia. The FNC is a government affiliated non-profit and is the largest exporter of coffee from Colombia. It controls the quality standards for exportable coffee from the country whether it is exporting it or not. This means that they set the minimum standard for quality and if a coffee doesn’t meet that standard then it doesn’t leave the country and will be used in the internal marketplace. Local coffee committees help the FNC with the dissemination of information for farmers, promotion of the micro-lot project, and cupping the coffees from the surrounding farms. The co-ops in Colombia also serve a different function than ones we’re more familiar with a little north in Central America. The co-ops in Colombia do not process the coffee but serve as a resource for farmers to purchase equipment, fertilizers, etc. as well as act as a drop off point for already processed coffee. Almost every single farmer in Colombia has on-site processing and delivers parchment coffee (dried coffee with parchment still on) to drop off points and to co-ops any day of the year. The co-ops have a 100% purchase guarantee 365 days a year. This means that if a farmer has one bag of coffee to sell or 100 bags the coffee will be purchased. At the co-op when farmers drop off coffee the coffee is visually inspected and put into one of three categories if the coffee is not a specific micro-lot. The farmer is then paid based on the quality of coffee they produce. Micro-lots are different in that they are tracked and kept separate through the whole process and once the lot is purchased the farmer is handed a check for the premium that the coffee was sold for. The FNC is very excited about the micro-lot project, driving the quality of coffee in Colombia higher. The premiums go directly to the farmer with the FNC helping the farmer to get their high quality coffee into market.

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Our team learned a lot on this trip and is encouraged by the increasing quality of coffee in Colombia. We’re keeping an eye on emerging areas in Colombia that aren’t quite as popular as the well known Santa Marta, Huila and Tolima and constantly in contact with our friends there who are trying new and interesting things. Keep an eye out for the release of our Colombia Los Guayabos from Elver Guzman!