From Seed To Cup Coffee
Everyone in this industry would love to open their own little coffee corner,” says Elisabet Sereno, National Coordinator of Spain for the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE). “But it’s not easy.” Elisabet has recently opened True Artisan Café coffee shop in Barcelona, just steps from the Arc de Triomf. Having formed a partnership with the La Marzocco brand of high-end Italian espresso machines, True Artisan Café is an espresso machine showroom, a SCAE-certified coffee education and training centre and, of course, a great place to enjoy some carefully-roasted and expertly-prepared coffee.
“Growing and processing coffee is a very labour intensive process,” Elisabet says, “so to not respect the beans during the roasting, grinding and brewing process would be to not respect the long journey which the beans have taken, or the hard work that has gone into their production. The (La Marzocco) machines truly respect the coffee.”
It takes an entire year for a coffee plant to produce one kilogramme of green coffee beans, which lose 15-20 percent of their weight during the roasting process. In the end, one kilogramme of roasted coffee yields between 120 and 140 cups of brewed coffee only; a lot of work for a product that is often mistreated in the final steps of its journey from seed to cup.
“However,” Elisabet continues, “it is just so difficult to get the permits to open your own coffee shop or coffee roasting business in Barcelona that many people would just rather go to London.” There are two reasons why there are so few ‘speciality coffee’ shops in this city. First, there is a scarcity of coffee education and knowledge among the coffee-drinking public. Second, there is a severe lack of assistance to entrepreneurs from the Spanish government.
Currently, an individual applying for a permit to open a coffee shop in Barcelona is forced to apply for the same type of costly permit required of someone interested in opening a bar; there is no ‘coffee shop’ category. David Abrahamovitch, co-founder of the extremely popular East London coffee shop Shoreditch Grind, sums it up perfectly; “All you need (in London) is a coffee machine!” Even so, coffee culture here has ridden various waves over the centuries and continues to become ever more focused on quality, both in business practices and in the cup. Little by little, the ‘Third Wave’ of coffee culture is dawning in Spain.
The ‘First Wave’ of coffee culture upheld the Italian tradition of mixed beans of unknown provenance which have filled cups since Caffè Florian—the first coffeehouse in Europe—was opened in Venice, Italy in 1720. Starbucks ushered in the ‘Second Wave’ during the 1970s and 1980s, as the first large coffee company to bring ‘coffee origin’ to the awareness of the consumer. Now, the ‘Third Wave’ is here, focused not only on coffee bean origin but dedicated to full transparency in the sourcing process and ultimate freshness of the roasted beans. As a result, the new generation coffee houses are dedicated to propagating their respect and love for coffee to the masses. People want to know everything about the coffee, including who roasted it and when. True Artisan Café serves coffee from a different artisan roaster each month.
So what accounts for the disconnect between the ‘romantic’ idea of a Barcelona coffee shop and the reality that most of the coffee served in the city is a bit lacking in character? Ever wondered why the café con leche (espresso with steamed milk) is so popular here? The answer, aside from lack of properly trained baristas in all but the most progressive establishments, is an unpleasant remnant of Spanish coffee’s past: torrefacto.
Torrefacto is a process of roasting coffee beans with sugar, creating a shiny glaze on the bean that acts as a means of preservation and yields a dark, slightly bitter brew requiring the addition of milk and sugar to be palatable. Initially used by coffee importers and distributors in the early 20th century to keep their beans from going stale, torrefacto became indispensable in the era that followed the Spanish Civil War.
Coffee shortages after the war were balanced by this roasting process, giving the sensation of a strong cup while using less coffee. Roasters adding sugar weight to coffee maximised profits (up to 15 percent in weight could be sugar) and masked the flavour of inferior quality coffee beans. Out of all the coffee that Spain currently imports, 70 percent of the beans are of the inferior Robusta species, which is easier to grow and has a noticeably more bitter taste. Using cheap Robusta instead of higher-quality Arabica beans was masked by the torrefacto process for years. During the Franco era, coffee came in three distinct levels of quality only: Popular, Regular, and Superior, the last being the best. Imports were strictly regulated by the government, and the coffee options were few.
Over the decades, the people of Spain have grown accustomed to the flavour of this sugar-roasted coffee. However, there is no longer good reason for the torrefacto process to continue. In the end, this product has shaped Spain’s perception of what coffee should taste like, leading to the belief that if a coffee isn’t strong and dark, it isn’t ‘good’. It may be hard for people to appreciate the more delicate flavour of light and medium-roast coffee, but the fact that less-roasted coffee actually maintains more caffeine is an easy selling point.
So what makes a ‘good’ cup of coffee? At Nomad Coffee Productions—a coffee laboratory/roaster/coffee shop that has the whole city buzzing—founder Jordi Mestre loves sharing coffee knowledge with consumers, facilitating the spread of information and generating a more demanding coffee-drinking public. Every Friday, Nomad hosts a coffee ‘cupping’; a tasting of six different coffees, sampled in the professional coffee evaluation format. Jordi explains the origins, roasts and flavour profiles of each coffee, which are prepared simply by pouring hot water directly onto coarse-ground coffee in a glass cup, no filter. “We do (the cuppings) for our own education at Nomad,” says Jordi, “and invite other people to join in.” The cuppings are informative events lasting about an hour and costing €15 per person, with a bag of coffee included.
Jordi is a London coffee veteran who decided to move back to his native Barcelona and take his Nomad Coffee Cart business (founded in London in 2011) to the next level in February 2014 by opening Nomad Coffee Productions. A ‘concept store’, not a ‘coffee shop’, their main goal is coffee roasting and experimentation. Nomad offers four to five different coffees at any given time in their coffee shop/laboratory and they also supply many other shops and restaurants. However, the precise, expert final preparation found at places like Nomad and True Artisan Café is hard to match.
At True Artisan Café, Elisabet and head barista Ionut Bindila show how they grind and weigh the coffee on a digital scale every time a drink is ordered. For a double-shot of espresso, the ground coffee weighs from 16 to 19 grammes (depending on the desired outcome). The top-of-the-line La Marzocco Strada EP (Electric Paddle) machine that adorns their coffee bar costs as much as a new Volkswagen and gives the barista absolute control over the coffee extraction. Their precision, and the importance of everything from the fresh local milk to the filtered water, puts these professional coffeeshops in a whole other league than the ‘slap and tap’ espresso at the typical corner café.
At Nomad, Jordi offers some words of advice. To get the best cup of coffee without leaving the house, he ranks home ‘espresso machines’ and stovetop Moka pots as the worse options, for the former’s inadequacy compared to the real thing and the latter’s commonly bitter taste. At the opposite end of the spectrum he ranks ‘drip’ coffee (filter cones, Aeropress and the like) and French Press pots as the best bet for a pleasing cup in the comfort of your own home.
Jordi’s French Press coffee at home: 16 grammes of light roast coffee (coarse ground) and 230 ml of water at 94˚C degrees. Add the hot water to the press pot, stir, cover, and set a timer for four minutes. Finally, press the plunger down and decant the coffee to stop the brewing and avoid over-extraction. Enjoy.
Just as fine wine, craft beer and artisan cocktail advocates in Barcelona have fought to build an attitude of respect, recognition, and perceived value from the consumer, so goes the campaign to brew a new era of coffee drinking culture in Barcelona and beyond. As coffee lovers, it is our task to become educated in coffee’s impressive journey from far-off plantation to cup and saucer. As we become more informed and demanding, the better the coffee culture of Barcelona will be. I propose that everyone go out and try one of these ‘Third Wave’ coffee shops for themselves and discover the full potential and complexity found in the little beans, once revered, that have since been left for dregs. Go out, order a coffee, ask questions; help build Barcelona into a true coffee city, one sip at a time.
6 places to drink a great coffee in Barcelona
Nomad Coffee Productions: Passatge Sert 12
True Artisan Café: Passatge Sant Benet 6
Onna Café: Carrer de Santa Teresa 1
Skye Coffee Co.: Carrer de Pamplona 88
Satan’s Coffee Corner: Carrer de l’Arc de Sant Ramon del Call 11
Cafés El Magnífico: Carrer de l’Argenteria 64