No ordinary cup of Joe

ba•ri•sta

Noun: A person who makes and serves coffee and espresso

 

Seattle is the undisputed coffee capital of the United
States, with coffee shops seemingly on every corner. It’s no big surprise then
that Seattleite Erin Hulbert’s first job was in a coffee shop.

“I know; it’s so cliché,” says the young barista.

For many, a job in a coffee shop is just a stop along the way
to bigger and better things. For Erin, it was the beginning of a career. Four
years into that career, she had the good fortune of working and learning with
one of the industry’s best.

“I worked at a great coffee shop called Espresso Vivace,
which is owned by David Schomer, one of the top coffee gurus of the 90s,” she
says. “He has some amazing shops in Seattle.”

What Erin learned wasn’t how to make coffee like that served
in Starbucks or other chain shops.

“That’s what I’d call second wave coffee; it’s specialty
coffee, but not artisan,” she said, adding that the artisan, or third wave
coffee, takes the beverage to much higher levels.

She really didn’t understand the significance of what she
was learning at first, Erin says.

“In Seattle, coffee is a way of life. It wasn’t until when I
moved to New York about four years ago that I realised I had learned something
really special.”

In New York, which she says didn’t really embrace coffee
until the last five years, Erin teaches, consults and writes about coffee, and
of course, makes it.

“I also work at private and public cuppings, which are like
wine tastings, but with coffee,” she says.

Erin compares being a barista to being a sommelier, only
with a different beverage. Like a sommelier with wine, her knowledge of coffee
includes all the intricacies, including history, chemistry, taste profiles and
the flair for espresso and latte art.

 

Misconceptions

As with wine, there are a lot of misconceptions about
coffee, Erin says.

“Everyone thinks that larger is stronger, when in fact
smaller is stronger,” she says. “The difference [between large and small] is
just more warm water.”

Most people also think there is more caffeine in espresso
than in coffee brewed from a drip coffee maker. Not so, says Erin.

Another big misconception is about how coffee should be
stored.

“Most people have walked in to a specialty food shop and
seen roasted coffee beans spilling out of a burlap sack and thought that was a
good way to store coffee,” she says. “Actually, it’s the worst environment
possible.”

Coffee loses its flavour when exposed to air, light, heat or
moisture, Erin says.

“The best way to keep coffee is in a opaque bag, completely
sealed on a dark shelf,” she says, adding that people shouldn’t keep coffee in
their freezer either.

“Not unless you want your freezer to smell like coffee.”

Erin says that contrary to popular belief, there is some
caffeine in decaf – about four milligrams per cup – and not all decaf tastes
bad.

“There are actually some beautiful decaf coffees out there,
if it’s prepared properly.”

 

Brasserie

Erin first came to the Cayman Islands to train four staff
members on how to use the La Marzocco GB5 espresso machine that was installed
in the Brasserie Market soon after it opened. The coffee has been such a hit,
Brasserie owners King and Lisa Flowers decided to bring in a smaller La
Marzocco GS3 for the Brasserie Restaurant, and Erin returned to Cayman in late
May to train more staff members.

The intense, two-week training courses are designed to teach
the staff members the basics, but their coffee education is just starting.

“When I train here, I relate it to karate,” she says. “It’s
like you get your first belt.”

Although the coffee menu at the Market reflects Cayman, it
holds true to the ideals of American artisan coffee making, Erin says.

The Brasserie uses smaller cup sizes and no Starbucks-like
syrup additives.

“From a foodie perspective, we use minimal ingredients,”
Erin says. “We let the coffee speak for itself.”

When it comes to coffee, Erin falls in the camp that
believes the best coffee methods come from Italy.

“Italians are much more true to coffee being all about that
shot of espresso,” she says, noting that in places like Milan, “super short
shots” of espresso are the norm.

There are marked differences, however, between coffee
philosophy in Italy from that of America, and by extension, at the Brasserie.

Erin says that in Italy, there’s a tendency to not clean
espresso machines very often, partially because some think by not doing so, it
‘seasons’ the machine, much like a chef seasons certain cooking vessels.

“Here at the Market, we clean the machine every hour on the
hour,” she says. “We don’t want to impose our impression on the coffee. We want
the guest to taste the coffee.”

 

For that reason, the Market and Brasserie also use what is
known as a bottomless filter, Erin says. Most espresso filters have spouts at
the bottom, whereas the bottomless filters allow coffee to flow more directly
into the cup.

“It cuts down on the surface area that the coffee comes in
contact with,” she says, adding that even short contact with any material can
change the taste of coffee.

In addition to the right equipment, having knowledgeable
professionals preparing coffee makes a big difference in taste, Erin says.  Delivering the whole taste package takes
commitment from the business owner.

“Lisa [Flowers] is extremely dedicated to having the best of
the best offered at her establishments,” she says. “The fact that she flies me
down about twice a year is a testament to that alone. Lisa is by far my
favourite client because she gets it; she understands what the necessary
investment is for top quality and she wants nothing less. This is why the
Market and Brasserie have the best, most artisan coffee on the Island, a very
specific style of coffee, you can’t find anywhere else in Cayman.” 

 

 

The future

The horizons of coffee are expanding, Erin says.

New machines are coming out that create even better tasting
coffee.

One American-made, paddle machine, called The Slayer,
particularly impresses Erin.

“What it is doing is breaking boundaries of where we are
today for the ability of the barista to have control over the flavours of the
coffee,” she says. “I believe it’s the beginning of the fourth wave of coffee.
It’s a very, very cool machine.”

And it costs a cool $20,000, which is why there’s only one
of them in New York City – at RBC Coffee – right now.

There might not be a Slayer at the Market and the Brasserie,
but with two La Marzocco espresso makers and a staff of trained baristas,
Cayman Islands residents don’t have to travel to New York or Seattle to get a
great cup of coffee.

 

Baristas

Baristas Kristine Duron, right, and Elizabeth Rollorata serve up great coffee at the Market.

erin_hulbert

Barista Erin Hulbert serves up a cup of latte.

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