Editor's note: Serious Eater Rachel Felder chimes in to tell us about her experience at Universita Del Caffe last week. Take it away, coffee newbie-turned-expert Rachel! —Erin
The last time I drank six back-to-back espressos in the name of education, it was to get through an entire Thomas Pynchon novel the night before an English Literature final. But I found myself knocking back that many demi-tasses last week as a student at the Universita Del Caffe, an intensive coffee course at the International Culinary Center.
Aimed primarily at professional baristas, the two-day session was taught mostly by two professors from Trieste, Italy, "the port that 40 percent of Italy's coffee comes through," according to my scrawled notes. The class was chock full of tips on how to make a perfect espresso and cappuccino; how coffee beans are grown, harvested, and roasted; and how to choose the right equipment.
The class was made up mostly of pros, from Per Se to the coffee bars at Food Emporium, with some civilian espressoholics like me thrown in for good measure. That meant a few of the tidbits we learned, like how much of your three kilogram bean tub to grind each morning before the customers arrive, went a little over my head, but mostly the class was extremely informative.
I confess that I've got an inordinate amount of coffee makers at home (French press, electric espresso, stovetop Moka, and more) but now I know I've been using each slightly incorrectly.
One of the best tips taught: remove your Moka (also known as a Bialetti) from the stove with 20 percent of the brewing cycle left to go. Like so much cooking, the residual heat in the pot will complete the process even when it's away from the flame. The instructor who gave me this advice was nice enough to point out that many Italian households botch this up too.
A highlight of the class: the Italian teachers. Moreno Faina, who talks about coffee as if he were reciting a classic love poem, and Giorgio Milos, a former World Barista Champ, couldn't help but look a little disgusted at the mention of American inventions like soy cappuccino and lattes, made with half-and-half.
The passion of these guys was palpable and contagious, sort of like the deliciously caffeinated coffee aroma in the classroom, which, possibly psychosomatically, kept me up all night after both class sessions. Both professors are from Trieste, where the Universita Del Caffe is based. This was the school's second intensive course in New York, with another planned for June.
It's worth noting that the Universita is sponsored by illy, so there was a bit more brand discussion than some students might have liked. But since so many restaurants and coffee bars carry illy coffee—and it happens to be delicious—I really didn't mind. Plus, I happily left with an illy cupping spoon—which we used during the course's many taste tests—tucked surreptitiously in my pocket. Clearly I had no problems with the alliance.
And, I have to add, the best cameo: chef Wylie Dufresne of wd-50 wandered in for a few minutes during the first day's lunch break. Although I now understand why decaf tastes watery and how many factors go into making a perfectly rich crema, Dufresne's brief hello remains a mystery.