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Behind The Scenes... How I Learnt To Make A Great Cup Of Coffee

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In recent years there has been a surge in the popularity of coffee. Brits have come over all European, with foodie hipsters and coffee connoisseurs shunning high-street coffee chains faster than you can say "skinny soy milk latte with an extra shot".

Proof? The UK coffee shop market grew by 7.5% in 2012 with a turnover of £5.8 billion, according to Jeffrey S. Young founder of the annual charitable programme UK Coffee Week.

Suddenly, it seems everyone’s an expert - or at least they pretend to be - and I’m starting to feel a little left out. Sure, I enjoy drinking coffee but I haven't got a clue how to differentiate between a high-quality cup of coffee and a two-day old Americano that's been reheated in the microwave.

So, as I creep into my late twenties delving deeper into adulthood, I figure it's about time I get clued up.

Two men with their fingers firmly on London's caffeinated pulse are David Abrahamovitch, 28, and Kaz James, 31. Co-founders of popular coffee shop Shoreditch Grind - and, more recently-opened Soho Grind and Piccadilly Grind - they are well-placed to teach me all I need to know about coffee.

Kaz hails from Melbourne, 'the coffee capital of Australia' - owing in large part to its Italian immigrant population. When Kaz moved to the UK, he was appalled by the standard of coffee and sought to do something to change that.

“Coffee is a big part of our lives, most of us drink it everyday. We wanted to bring good-quality coffee to a fun environment,” Kaz tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle.

“We've taken coffee seriously so customers don't have to," adds David, Kaz's business partner. "All customers have to do is say what they want."

Everything, from blend to baristas, is heavily vetted. So when I meet their head barista George Cramer, who has been working with the group for two years, I know I’m in safe hands.

What strikes me about George is his passion for the job and attention to detail. Unlike the students at [insert high-street coffee chain here], he sees coffee making as a craft. And I soon learn that there's a lot more to a good cup of Joe than meets the eye.

coffee

(l-r) David, George and me

To my dismay, there is no perfect formula to making good coffee - it isn't a science, I'm told, but a finely-tuned instinct. There are so many factors at play, such as humidity, temperature, storage, and a good barista can read how coffee is behaving.

"If the door is left open in the coffee shop, the temperature will drop and this will affect the coffee," explains George. "We have to be mindful of that and monitor conditions so that the coffee stays at a high standard."

I'm surprised to hear that George checks conditions every five to six shots. Other coffee shops will check every hour - if you’re lucky. You don't have to take my word for it; watch next time you're in a coffee house.

So here's what I learnt from an afternoon spent behind the counter with George at Soho Grind.

Coffee beans

The key to a good coffee is to start at the beginning. There's no use spending hundreds of pounds on a fancy espresso machine if you haven't got the basics right.

Coffee beans are the key ingredient here, so invest in good raw materials. Ideally coffee shouldn't be stored for more than one month and, as there's no way of knowing how long a packet has been sat in the supermarket, it might be best to source your coffee from a local coffee shop who can tell you how old the beans are. Once you've got your beans home you can freeze them to extend their life.

Grain

The grain size of your coffee is hugely important. If the grain is too fine, the water will sit too long and burn the coffee; too big, the water will rush through and the grains will be under-extracted.

George says that you need 19g coffee (dry weight) for a good double espresso. By controlling the weight you are able to monitor the speed and therefore the grain size.

My first attempt is “muddy coffee water", instead of syrup-like consistency we're aiming for. But after a few tries I get the hang of it.

Water temperature

The last thing you want to do is burn the coffee. Soho Grind set their water temperature to around 96 degrees... so don't pour it straight in when boiling. Let it sit for a few seconds. This temperature will allow you to drink your coffee in about 5-10 minutes.

Milk

This is where it gets tricky... or at least arty. Latte art is very en trend, so if you want to wow your guests try making a basic heart (see video below).

Milk should be around 55-60 degrees centigrade, so far cooler than the water. You don't want the milk to burn.

Of course, it's not as easy as it seems. Here is my (pathetic) attempt at a heart-shaped coffee.

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