I start each day with a power-walk & meditation followed by the most aromatic, delicious cup of café latté … I admit it, I’m hooked but I love it! I especially love indulging in the coffee at the iconic South Melbourne based StAli. I always assumed that the superior experience I have there is due to their choice of milk used in the latte, but it wasn’t until very recently that I happened to ask a few specific questions regarding the coffee itself that I understood that there’s so much dedication along the entire origin to consumption chain: growing the plants, harvesting, fermenting, drying, roasting, storing, grinding and brewing which all make a huge difference to the end quality in your cup. In the words of Lucy Ward, Procurement Officer at Sensory Lab Coffee Roasters, “All processing steps are imperative to the quality of the coffee and each step can go disastrously wrong very easily! This is why each cup of perfect coffee you are served is a little miracle in itself!”
Travelling to Colombia or even Indonesia, the origin of the coffee beans, was not an option for me. However, a visit to the Sensory Lab Roastery was an eye opener! Here are a few notes on what Lucy had to say:
Q. What do you look for when sourcing coffee beans for St Ali?
A. I essentially look for pleasing attributes that will be highlighted in the roast profile and brewing method it is chosen for.
Q. How long is the period between harvest and the beans landing in your Roastery?
A. This is dependent on the producing country, but it can take up to four or five months (often due to port congestion).
Q. How is the roasting process adjusted, depending on the unique profile of each batch of beans
A. Each region, variety and process imparts unique characteristics to the bean that can and will affect the application of heat. A skilled roaster will be able to take information available to them and use that to develop the perfect roast. A roaster will consider the factors of temperature and air flow and when to apply or remove these based on the type of coffee, the characteristics they want to develop and the brewing method it is intended for. It is a lot of juggling but a skilled roaster finds it to be almost second nature.
So, suppose the coffee plants are healthy and well taken care of, the fruit is perfectly harvested, fermented, washed and dried, packaged, shipped and then roasted. That still leaves the brewing and pairing with milk to the skill of the barista. And when it comes to brewing an espresso and creating the perfect latte, who could be more informative than Head Barista Leon Holdsworth of St Ali who creates up to 500 lattes a day, each one a delicious work of art! Here are a few notes on what Leon had to say:
Q. What do you check for between batches of roasted beans
A. The focus on our end is far more on recipe consistency, than roast differences. This is a combination of ageing sufficiently from roasted date (but not too much), monitoring equipment function and ware, and minimising human error. We have to provide the most consistent tasting product, shot to shot, day to day & week to week etc. So creating a same or very similar product regardless of batch differences is our focus.
Q. Why do you choose to use Demeter Milk in your white coffees?
A. Time and time again it is undeniably the best milk we can find for coffee. It has an amazing way of “carrying” espresso flavour with our coffee rather than masking or drastically altering it’s original profile.
The Bio-dynamic approach is quite clearly a major factor in the quality and we feel
connected to our product that little bit more knowing it’s complete origin.
Q. What’s the best way, in your opinion, to truly experience a coffee?
A. Black filtered coffee (pour over/drip etc.), is a simple method of coffee preparation and a somewhat ritualistic process that I find also forces you to savour the experience a bit more. Coffee, like most beverages, changes as it cools so you really get a chance to taste and learn a whole lot of what a coffee can offer.
Now I know for certain that not all coffee is the same and there is fine art to practically each and every stage of its process!
The conclusion of my investigation is that the reason each cup of coffee I savour at St Ali is so flavourful and aromatic is due to the combination of expert baristas, the quality of the beans, and the choice of quality milk used.