If you’re like me, you rarely go a day without coffee. It’s not a need, per se. I’ve kicked the habit for months at a time but the fact is, I love the taste of well-made coffee. The problem is I rarely make a cup of coffee well. I can make a mediocre cup, or even a good cup, but never a great cup of joe. So you can imagine the emotional and monetary cost of buying and brewing my own beans in the morning only to head out for something better in the afternoon. A coffee education was way overdue.
When I looked up local roaster Barismo in December after stopping by their table at the Somerville Winter Farmers Market, I was thrilled to see that the Mass Ave-based roastery offers monthly classes! It wasn’t until February that I signed myself up for a Sunday night study of espresso basics.
The Barismo home at 171 Mass Ave is split down the center by the milk and sugar counter, roasting on one side and coffeebar on the other. My class started at 5 as the shop was closing. Each class runs 2 hours and is limited to five students. We had a brief introduction to brewing and then huddled behind the counter to try out the machine. The espresso machine. That big hunk of metal that somehow manages to look like it’s from 1965 and 2035 at the same time? Well, we were going to be working on that. “Pulling shots” is the correct terminology.
Espresso has been my preferred home brewing method lately (most likely because if I screw it up, it’s easy to gulp down quickly.) I use a moka pot that sits on the stove. Water goes in the bottom and ground coffee goes in the middle. When I feel fancy, I froth milk. Five minutes into my espresso class, I quickly realized that Barismo meant business. They meant espresso espresso and I was way out of my league.
About five minutes after that, I realized I shouldn’t worry. Even though I don’t have a bona fide espresso machine, I learned a lot about brewing coffee. Our instructor was patient and informative and here’s what I walked away with.
1. Pulling espresso shots, or making coffee of any kind, is a science. That means minimizing variables. Water temperature, size of your grounds, weight, and time are things you can control and if you don’t, you may get a phenomenal coffee but never be able to replicate it.
(I finally got into “Breaking Bad” on Netflix so I understood this completely. I even started thinking of a spinoff “Brewing Bad” where Walt makes it big as a barista and things go much better for the White family.)
2. It’s all about the grinder. Having a great grinder is the first step to having a great espresso. Splurge there and save later. When you can ensure consistency in your particle size, you can eliminate the grind as a variable.
Other variables for espresso include the distribution of your grind in your portafilter (the little cup that fits into the espresso machine) and the tamp (the fun but surprisingly difficult tool that presses down the grinds into the portafilter before brewing.) The tamp was the hardest part. You want to use your body weight to compress the grounds but shouldn’t feel any wrist pressure. I watched four other espresso students pull shots before my chance at the machine.
I’ve been to a lot of coffeebars and honestly, it was just so cool to be using the machine. I felt like my hipness factor went right through the roof. Our instructor coached me through and I pulled an espresso shot that was almost, maybe drinkable.
The Barismo folk are set to expand in the spring with a roastery coming to Somerville by the Brooklyn Boulders. Add a neighboring brewery and Tyler Street has suddenly become the hottest block this side of Boston. The great news is that the new space will allow for more classes and workshops. If you’re at all interested in coffee and how it’s made, play the part of Mr. Rogers and step behind the coffeebar for a class or two. Coffee can be a lifelong study and Barismo has a lot to teach us. My brew has already improved.
171 Mass Ave
East Arlington, MA