SCA Barista Skills Professional: Three Days Full of Coffee Geekery
What happens in SCA Barista Skills Professional course? Couple months ago I completed the SCA Barista Skills Module with its' last level: Professional. I spent three days in Amsterdam geeking the hell out of coffee, water and milk. My trainers were Onna and Florian from Stooker Coffee Roasting Co. This is what we did during the two training days and exam day.
Day 1: Coffee
The training started with Onna talking a little about coffee origins, varieties, processing methods, roasting, grinders and how decaf is made. Along the presentation I had two cuppings; one with different processing methods and another one where we had to taste the odd cup from three cups. The odd cup had too much of sweetness, acidity or bitterness or it was brewed from too old coffee. That was really hard because Onna brewed all the coffees the same way and made the odd cups by adding the flavour from a capsule. Super interesting to challenge yourself!
We also talked about work flow and how a café should be planned so that it’s suitable for the baristas and customers. Onna asked us to draw our dream café and then we discussed what could be pros and cons with layout.
Then we moved into the main topics of the day one: Espresso Brewing Formula, TDS, Extraction Yield % and perfect taste of espresso. Let’s define them first:
Espresso Brewing Formula = The ratio between your coffee and water = strength
TDS = Total Dissolved Solids, in other words how strong your coffee is. TDS reading shows how many % of your coffee is coffee particles (espresso 8-12%) and how many % water (espresso 92-88%). TDS can be read with a refractometer.
Extraction Yield % = How many % from your dry coffee ends up into your cup. Good extraction should be between 18-22%. If you have less than 18% = under-extracted, more than 22% = over-extracted
Perfect taste of espresso = harmony between mouthfeel, acidity, sweetness and bitterness
I can’t remember last time when being so excited! There's so many things that you can change and explore. We started first by dialing in a basic recipe: 19 g in, 40 g out, in 26 sec. Then we took TDS from the espresso and calculated the Extraction Yield %.
After that we started to play around. What happens to extraction yield % and TDS if we increase the yield and brew time? TDS drops (= weaker coffee) but extraction yield % increases (--> too much extraction = bitterness). What about pressure profiling? Same recipe but first low pressure, then high/normal pressure and end with low pressure again. And of course we were tasting all of these espressos so it was close that I did get caffeine overdoze. These experiments took us the whole afternoon and here you can see some of my notes:
Day 2: Water & Milk
Day two started with different milks (whole, skinny, lactose-free, double whole, oat, almond) and we discussed what makes a good milk for steaming and flavour. Also we had few pours and talked a bit about latte art. I didn’t spend too much time with the milks because all of us were pretty good with milk texturing and latte art so we saved most of the time for water.
So did we just drink water for the rest of day? No we didn’t. We analysed different waters (yes, they are different, read more from Karkki’s blog) and Onna told what makes water suitable for coffee brewing. After analysing Amsterdam’s and Iceland’s tap waters and Evian’s bottled water, we started manipulating the water. How do you manipulate? You either add calcium and magnesium (soft water) or buffers (hard water) to get your water in balance so that it takes all the wonderful flavours from the coffee to your cup.
Day 3: EXAMS!
After two days of training and a day-off it was time for the exams! All SCA course modules include an exam in the end where you need to show that you can handle all the things included in the course. The exams are always divided into two parts: written and practical.
The written part of the exam consisted of 35 difficult questions from the course. One has to get 80% of the questions right to pass the exam. I had gone through the materials the previous evening and most the questions were quite familiar stuff for me so I got 34/35 right. Although there were some questions that I really needed to concentrate on so the exam wasn’t eaaasy peasy.
After the warmup (= written part) it got really serious because it was the time for the practical exam. My hands were shaking a bit even though I knew that I know all the stuff but it’s always the same when I have to prove something! The exam was divided into three parts: espresso extraction, latte art & service and tasting. Without giving away too much of the exam, I have to say that it was nerve-racking at parts! Of course I caught a little flu while I was in Amsterdam so basically I didn’t have any sense of taste. Sense of taste is kind of important when tasting so I needed to pretty much go with my chemesthesis (read about it from Karkki’s blog) and guessing.
Good thing that I got a bit lucky and got 12/20 points from the part even though the challenges :) After the tasting was the most nerve-racking part; the results whether would I pass or not?! I DID! With really good points also so I’m going to tap myself in my shoulder right now :D
I would like to thank Onna and Florian from Stooker Roasting Co. for amazing and really geeky three days. Those two guys really know their coffee and it was absolute pleasure to have the training in their place. Keep up the good work guys!