Home Brewer Series: Chapter 4

We’re back, and this time, we have Amir, a coffee lover who have his own espresso set up at home. Having an espresso set up at home is definitely one of our dream so thank you Amir for sharing the insights wit us!

Perspective of a non-professional home espresso brewer

I am a creature of habit.

There’s a certain routine I like to follow when the day breaks. For instance, checking my phone for notifications, as soon as my eyes open (hey, I didn’t say my routines were healthy).

But there’s one routine I never want to miss: walking out of the bedroom, switching on the espresso machine as I make my way to the bathroom for the morning wash.

Every day is coffee day, one way or another, milk-based espresso when I can, black, instant coffee for when I can’t.

The ritual of making coffee, at least for me, is as important as the drinking.

There’s just something cathartic in the entire process of freshly grinding some beans and all the steps in between before sipping a smooth latte.

Perhaps in some ways the process is a metaphor to life: go through the grind, work through the process, and celebrate a joyous end.

Every day is coffee day, one way or another,

Maybe it’s something about being in the zone, early in the day before getting on with the daily grind.

Who knows, maybe I enjoy it for no other reason other than just running through a familiar routine, day in, day out – a subconscious superstition of sorts.

It wasn’t always like this for me though. In the early days, maybe a decade ago, coffee would be something I would drink routinely, but not for enjoyment. I’d drink coffee for the sole purpose of getting a hit of caffeine, so that I’d be able to focus more on my work.

The only caffeinated beverage I would drink at work came from the vending type, automatic machines in the pantry. I assume, at best, whatever the machine conjured came from the three-in-on instant coffee mixes. It always made me one kind of weird (gassy, perhaps), but you could say that I never associated drinking coffee with a positive experience.

The turning point came when a friend of mine told me that a new coffee place just opened nearby, serving -if I recall the words correctly – a robust, and bold blend of Colombian coffee, with hints of a chocolatey after taste. At the time, these were pretty big words to use just for describing a gastric discomfort inducing, caffeinated concoction.

Safe to say, I took a shot (ha!), visited this establishment that was recommended by said friend, and ordered a latte. I must say, that the coffee there really, at the time, blow my mind. I would even go as far as say that the experience opened me up to the idea that coffee could actually be enjoyable – not just a beverage you would drink because you needed to stay awake, or because you were hanging out with a friend, and you’d order one because that’s what people would do – I mean, it could still be all that, but now it could also be good!

From then on, I would go from restaurants, to cafes, and I’d compare their lattes. It would always be a latte, it became the benchmark I would use, because again, I am a creature of habit, and lattes are, to me, a safe choice (also because I’m basic). With each drink, I would begin ranking them against each other, how they tasted, if the milk was good, if the beans were burnt, any arbitrary categories I could think of. After a while, I built up a list of preferred coffee places.

I’m not going to bore you with the rest of the story, but I hope that the previous passages gave a little bit of a pretext to my affinity, or attachment to milk-based espresso, instead of slow brew, filter coffee – which I only came to know about further down the road.

Somewhere along my journey, I figured I’d learn to make my own lattes, and see if I could produce something I’d be able to enjoy at home too.

When I decided to go into home brewing, particularly espresso, through countless hours of Youtube videos (particularly Seattle Coffee Gear, Chris Baca and a Whole Latte Love), I knew that home brewing needed to be a full-blown hobby. What I mean by this, and I say this to all my friends who are thinking of home brewing, is that making coffee at home, using more specialized methods, requires a lot of learning, before achieving the desired results. In other words, it is very much about the journey as it is about the destination – and perseverance is key.

I was fascinated by just how consideration you must put into producing a good cuppa latte. There were brew ratios to consider, coffee freshness, milk types, tamping pressure, coffee distribution, and even at one point: ambient temperature and humidity!! Throughout my journey, Youtube continued to be main resource. I’d sit through hours of tutorials on how to steam milk, how to tamp, how to dial in my grinder, how to create beautiful latte art (something I’m still hopeless at, so I won’t even try anymore). I’ve also been lucky enough to have attended some introductory courses that are offered around the Klang Valley.

There’s obviously so much more to learn, and this endless list of things worth knowing will keep home brewing interesting for years to come.

Generally, the consensus on brew ratio is 1:2, but what I found works for me is a brew ratio of 1:1.5. To me at least, at this brew ratio, the espresso seems to taste the sweetest – add milk to it, and somehow the sweetness intensifies. I can’t really explain my liking for coffees with sweeter notes, perhaps it’s because realizing that coffee can come out sweet without having to add sugar blew my mind or maybe it’s my Peninsula East Coast genetics subconsciously causing me to gravitate towards those kinds of coffee.

Considering this, when I shop for coffee, I tend to look for beans that originate from an African nation. Very often these beans would originate either Ethiopia or Rwanda. I have to say that recently I’ve been enjoying Rwandan coffee a lot, particularly for its heavier body and a grape juice-like finish at the end, when roasted well, the sweetness seems to linger on forever.

Because I am a creature of habit, I don’t stray too much from the two origins, so every now and then, for variety, I reach out to my coffee drinking friends once in a while to recommend me their favorite coffees. I must say that so far, I haven’t been disappointed. Always though, I would buy beans from local roasters. Purely from my righteous instinct on wanting to support homegrown roasters. I do believe that some of the roasters that we have here can go toe to toe with roasters overseas. My usual go-to roasters are, Aitch, Beam, Collective, The Roast Things, Ghostbird Coffee and Cloud Catcher.

When describing tasting notes, I’m pretty basic, I can roughly point out general notes, like if a coffee is acidic, sweet, fruity, or chocolatey. Anything more specific and I’d be totally out my depth. I’ve seen coffees with pretty radical notes like strawberry candy, or berry compote, and when I taste the drink, I’d feel like a real pretender because specific flavours are never apparent to me.

Despite my self-proclaimed basicness, I have no doubt that I can brew a latte that is enjoyable. How do I know? Well, if I can drink coffee outside at a reputable café, come home, whip up my own coffee and still love it, then I guess my coffee is not half bad. I’d never in a million years put my coffee up against a pro barista though – I know my limits, ha.

Flash forward to today, I’ve upgraded myself to a home setup which consists of one Profitec Pro 700, paired with an Expobar Zenith 65 E. To help me get the best out of my coffee, I complement my setup with an Acaia Pearl and a Lunar. The Pearl I use for weighing my coffee grounds (as well as some ad hoc baking stuff), whilst the Pearl I use for weighing and timing my shots.

For the longest time I’ve used the default double basket when pulling my shots – and I suppose, for the longest time as well, I felt like I was semi satisfied with the results. After having done a bit of research I recently upgraded to a precision basket. I was skeptical at first, I couldn’t imagine that by changing the basket, I’d have noticeable results. But, after assessing how the precision basket had a flatter bottom versus the funnel like shape of the default basket, I figured that I’d get a more even extraction – that on top of the obviously uniform perforations in the basket itself.

After all, if I had learnt anything during my espresso journey is that: any small change can have quite significant results.

I must say that after changing my filter basket, I did have to grind finer and, most importantly, I pulled shots that were way sweeter, way more concentrated in flavour. Now, I can’t say for certain whether the changes were real, or whether I’m just psyching up myself because I made the investment, but, I really think, in my humble opinion, the coffees that I’ve been pulling since have been pretty darn delicious.

I am a creature of habit.

Every day I do the same thing, I wake up, switch on my coffee machine, brush my teeth, wash my face, make my coffee. Showering is somewhere in this routine too, though not always near the top of the list (depends on whether I go to the office or not). Whether it’s the weekend or the weekday, I have at least two and at most n (where n is an integer larger than two and smaller than infinity). Every day, I gotta have my cup, else, the day just doesn’t feel right.

I love coffee. And I say this earnestly. I love drinking coffee, I love brewing coffee and I love sharing my love for coffee with other people. Nothing excites me more than being able to brew coffee for guests that come to my house, or to have a conversation with people telling them why I love coffee. I would love for people to love coffee, in their own way, even if it means they go to Starbucks and buy one of those syrup heavy drinks.

There are only a few things that come to you that you can say are life changing. To me, being introduced to coffee is certainly one of those things. Coffee has opened a new world, led me to new experiences and even introduced me to new friends. Despite being known for inducing anxieties, coffee has introduced an element of calm in all the chaos. Coffee time means slowing down from all the rush, to take a moment, to walk to the coffee shop, or to prep my coffee equipment – to be able to take a breather, a moment of joy, by yourself, or with people you care about.

I would love for people to love coffee, in their own way, even if it means they go to Starbucks and buy one of those syrup heavy drinks.

I guess I’ll stop now. I find that I have a tendency of prattling on endlessly when elaborating on something I passionately enjoy. I fear that on the subject of coffee, I won’t be able to stop myself.

Because after all, I’m a creature of habit.


One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s