Coffee: Gavin Gam

These days, coffee snobbery is rife. Regardless of your state, it’s unlikely you’re far from a passionate barista, to who a coffee’s character and flavour profile is of the utmost importance. Irini Cavalliotis catches up with brewing expert Gavin Gam, the man behind Australia’s champion roaster, Aroma Coffee.

The Australian coffee palate, without a doubt, is becoming more sophisticated. Consumers who once stuck to flat whites and cappuccinos are now happy to yell out orders for “double shot macchiatos” or a “half-caff soy lattes”.

Gavin Gam is the managing director of Marrickville-based boutique coffee roaster, Aroma Coffee and, after more than 20 years in the game, he knows what constitutes a quality brew.

“Australia is leading the world charge on quality coffee. Our customers are so savvy – they know what’s good and if they think it’s bad, they won’t come back,” he says, acknowledging the quality of Sydney’s coffee offering in bakery businesses is getting better and better, particularly in high-end patisseries.

So what does it take to ensure your coffee is remembered for all the right reasons? For Gavin, developing a strong business relationship with a quality roaster is the best starting point.

“There are a lot of subtleties when it comes to roasting coffee and not everyone can do it well. Align yourself with someone who understands how heat transfer works so the character is consistent,” he said.

“Once that’s established the focus should be on the barista. Fresh ground coffee is crucial. Grind on demand! The biggest mistake you can make is stale, ground coffee.”

It might surprise some that stale could mean coffee that was ground 10-15 minutes ago. To get technical, the more roasted beans or grounds become oxidized, the faster the coffee’s essential oils and aromatic components will degrade. Of course, other factors such as heat and moisture can also make oxidization occur.

“This is why, when people ask me for tips on a coffee machine to purchase, I cannot over-stress the importance of a good grinder. In fact, I could make a better cup of coffee with a $200 machine and a $400 grinder than I can with a $4000 machine without a grinder,” says Gavin, whose drink of choice is a strong latte with no sugar.

“Cleaning your machine religiously is also very important. If not, oils start getting into the machine and, if not maintained, it will lead to a really bad coffee experience.”

GAVIN’S TAKE ON THE COFFEE CLASSICS

Long Black:

People used to take one shot of coffee and over-extract it, just keep running water through it. This is the worst thing you can do to a long black. Today, we pour the water into the cup and generally, pour a double shot over that water. You don’t want an over-extracted coffee, you want a short shot, extended with water. The best and sweetest part of the shot is the first 30ml of the shot, after that it becomes bitter and over-extracted.

Latte:

A latte is normally served in a glass, which varies anywhere between 6-9 ounces. It’s milkier than a cappuccino. As with any coffee, the basis of the latte is its shot of espresso. Piccolo lattes (baby lattes) are becoming very popular; a ristretto shot (15-20ml) topped with warm milk and served in a short, 100ml latte glass. The general rule is 7-14g for a single shot of coffee – so there’s quite a bit of give and take – and 25-30ml should take about 25-30 seconds. This is the basis for every coffee, including the macchiato and cappuccinos and so on.

Flat white:

Australia is still a flat white culture. But, it has really evolved from what it used to be. In the old days, people never used to have espresso machines, they just had boilers and steamers so they would make a coffee with instant coffee and top it up with milk. Today, flat whites are made by pouring microfoam over a double shot of espresso. Across all coffee types, but particularly with flat white consumers, we’re finding sugar is out. In fact, the sugar companies are coming and crying to me! Why? Our roasters are producing better, sweeter, less bitter coffee, plus people want to drink more in a day without the mounting calories.

The Basics

1. Get the right Beans

First things first, you need the right beans. Gavin says the best quality coffee beans are the ones that can be traced directly to the farmer.

“Great coffee begins with ethically sourced, sustainable coffee beans that are grown from love and passion,” he says.

“Making coffee is not just about money, it’s about giving back, paying a little extra and making sure that the people who are producing the coffee beans are living a sustainable life. If there’s love from origin you can taste it, that’s the most important thing.

“We source Aroma’s No. 1 Ruby Street roast from farmers in Ethiopia who we’ve spent many years developing relationships with. They know us and they know we’re not just there to make a profit. They know we care about them and their community.”

2. Visit your local roastery

The next step is to make sure the coffee is freshly roasted – but not too fresh! Your coffee will be at its best a week after roasting and will keep for up to two months.

Coffee that was roasted less than seven days ago hasn’t had time to develop its full flavour, while coffee roasted more than eight weeks ago will be stale and starting to lose its flavour. What you find in the supermarket is usually a couple of months old, which is well and truly beyond its peak. The best way to source freshly roasted coffee is to visit your local roastery.

“Throughout the roasting process it’s important to be true to the coffee, to be gentle to the bean, and to listen to how the coffee beans want to be roasted,” Gavin says.

“Creating the perfect coffee roast is like alchemy; you take the green beans and turn them into gold by combining modern heat transfer technology with traditional roasting practices.”

3. Grind as you go

Now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty: grinding. And, sorry time savers, Gavin says there’s no pre-grinding allowed if you want the best out of your beans. It has to be fresh.

“It’s better to buy a cheap grinder than to buy pre-ground coffee. It’s important to grind your coffee beans no more than five minutes before you’re making the coffee to preserve the form and flavour of the beans,” he says.

4. Let the water sit

From here on in, most people are familiar with the coffee making process, but says he still has a few tricks up his sleeve. Regardless of the kind of coffee you’re using, be it freshly roasted or instant, you should be using freshly filtered boiled water and let it sit for a minute or two before pouring. Boiling water will scald or burn your coffee and leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth. If you’re a black coffee drinker then you’re all done! But for those after a latte, there’s one last step: the milk.

5. Stretch the milk

There are two phases to heating your milk; stretching or heating. To stretch the milk properly you need to rest the spout of your milk jug up against the steam arm of your coffee machine, tilt the jug on a slight angle, then place your hand on the side of the jug and lower gradually to the point where the tip of the steam wand is just under the surface.

“You should only heat the milk to about 60°C so to avoid it burning. The second phase is creaming or rolling the milk, which involves rotating your jug in a circular motion to create micro lattice bubbles and remove any larger bubbles from the milk,” Gavin says.

And that’s it! Pour your perfect cup of coffee, sit back and relax. You’ve earned it.


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