The art of making coffee: the Röststätte Barista Academy
The Röststätte not only prepares good coffee in its cafés. It also teaches others. Both amateurs and professionals learn how to make coffee at the Barista Academy. We were there for a workshop
When it comes to coffee, I’ve been wasting my life so far, it seems. That's the bitter realization that the author of these lines is carrying away from his barista workshop. Until now, I had appreciated coffee primarily as a pick-me-up. I had not paid too much attention to the taste, apart from stays in Italy.
Even though coffee consumption in Germany is rising, to almost four cups per capita per day, most people know little about the coffee plant, its processing and preparation. Same with me. And that was about to change.
Photo right: The professional tasting of different sorts of coffee is called „cupping”.
The Röststätte promises help. The Berlin-based company has been dedicated to spreading coffee culture for 20 years. In two cafés in Mitte, one of them in the first courtyard of Hackesche Höfe, it offers so-called "specialty coffees." The beans are purchased directly from selected producers. Origin and high quality are thus guaranteed. The coffee is roasted, as the name suggests, by the Röststätte in Berlin.
Photo left: The Röststätte Café in the first yard of the Hackesche Höfe
The Röststätte regularly offers barista workshops on its premises for both home cooks and professionals. Here, trained instructors impart their knowledge. If you're lucky, you might even catch a course with Ivo Weller himself, head of the Röststätte and "Chef-Diplom Kaffeesommelier".
I’ve booked the two-hour beginners' course. There is also a choice of courses in "Latte Art" – the art of conjuring up patterns in the cup with frothed milk. A compact course combines the contents of the beginners' course with "Latte Art." And fans of filter coffee can also learn more about their method.
On a Friday afternoon, the time has come: My course begins. Next to me, seven participants between 30 and 50 have gathered: three women, four men, three couples. All of them have either recently acquired a portafilter machine or are planning to do so.
The feel of the rooms in the back of the café is high-end and minimalist: Matching the product, the walls are black and gray, black furniture fronts, and brightly polished grinders and portafilter machines lined up on oak countertops.
June, the lively course instructor, got behind the café counter via a job during her studies. She caught fire for coffee, was temporarily responsible for training the next generation at the Röststätte, and successfully participated in international barista championships.
June's passionate enthusiasm for her subject is not dampened by the initially somewhat reticent participants. In the course of the afternoon, June and the tasting of various self-brewed espressos raise the energy level.
Photo left: Course instructor June presents portafilters.
And off we go: By way of introduction, we learn about the essential characteristics of the two main coffee varieties, "Robusta" and "Arabica," and the three main coffee-growing regions: Africa, South America and Asia. I learn that there are seven roasting levels – and that I have a bad taste in coffee: The strongly roasted coffee I prefer leaves the least of the coffee bean's magnificent richness of flavor. I need to work on myself.
Photo right: Coffee beans at different levels of roasting
With the "extraction curve" we enter the realm of science: It describes which flavor components are released by the coffee powder at which stage of the brewing process in each case. The curve is the basis for creating a "brewing recipe."
Brewing recipes are not universally valid: They must be adapted to the particular type of coffee and the individual taste of the user. The essential components are the amount of coffee, the amount of water, and the extraction time. But getting the grind degree right also plays an important role.
Photo left: The "extraction curve" – depending on the extraction time the beans release different flavours.
When it comes to trying out brewing recipes in various gradations of the different parameters with the equipment provided, the male participants perk up.
The grind and quantity have to be adjusted, and after grinding, the coffee portion has to be weighed again on a precision scale. Once in the portafilter, the coffee is not just pressed down. No, first a "leveller" ensures a perfectly even surface. Only then does the "tamper" come into play, compressing the powder in the portafilter.
Among baristas, "channeling" is feared – tiny cracks and distortions underneath that impair the even extraction of the coffee and thus the taste experience.
Shop talk picks up speed. Question from the audience: Is it a problem if coffee crumbs still remain on the inside of the portafilter above the surface of the coffee powder?
The differences in taste that result from varying measurements, grind degrees and extraction times pretty much escape me during the tasting. But I’m keeping that to myself, of course.
Finally, I am robbed of another illusion: Berlin's supposedly very good tap water is useless for making coffee. In addition to a high-quality grinder, a scale and a high-quality portafilter, the connoisseur must also purchase a separate tap with a filter cartridge.
Photo right: June checks the amount of water.
Learning to appreciate coffee
Overcaffeinated, I stagger back out into the fresh air after June has said goodbye: It's impressive what has to come together to make a good cup of coffee, I think to myself on the way home. I plan to deepen my newly gained knowledge by visiting the Röststätte more often and learning to appreciate the experience of perfectly prepared specialty coffees. For the time being, however, I will continue to prepare my own coffee with my fully automatic machine. Which leaves me more time for drinking coffee.
You can enjoy the Röststätte's specialty coffees in the café of the same name in Hof 1 of the Hackesche Höfe. Information about the Röststätte workshops can be found here.
Photo left: A sight like in a lab – the Röststätte cafés offer a great variety of specialty coffees.