September 16, 2011

Giorgio Milos, the Answers

Credentials are not the same as qualifications, no matter how often the two are equated. Expertise is not easily quantified by titles, or even at all. Having said that, it's hard to argue with Giorgio Milos' resume.

He is  illycaffè's North American barista in residence, as well as an instructor at illy’s Università del Caffè. He is certified by the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe as a Master Barista and trainer. He writes about coffee for The Atlantic, and oh, won the Italian Barista Championships in 2008. 

I am certified by no one, mostly self trained, write only for this blog, and have never competed in (let alone won) a barista contest. Regardless, I was asked if I might have some questions for Giorgio, and if I might like to run his responses. As it turns out, I was interested. And so here we are, after a brief exchange. 

What makes a great barista?
Well tasting is the ultimate proof, but let me start from the beginning. If I can see behind the bar, I look at equipment quality -- everything, the machine, tamper, grinder -- and maybe even more important, how well that equipment appears to be maintained, and how clean and orderly the area is.  I'll watch the barista at work and see if the basics are being handled properly, especially the extraction time for espresso, which shouldn't exceed 30 seconds for a single shot. Of course, I'll ask what brand of coffee they use -- it doesn't have to be illy! -- and see if it is stored properly, if I can.  I look at presentation in the cup, where an unbroken, rich brown crema on top and a "clean cup," meaning no coffee running down the sides, I know there may be something good awaiting my palate.

What’s your favorite drink to make?
Oh, my favorite coffee drink is espresso…My everyday method is actually using illy's iperEspresso capsule system, because it creates perfect espresso in the cup every time in about 30 seconds.   Portion controlled systems are where equipment is headed at home, both at the lower end for brewed coffee and at the higher end for espresso. You can't argue with what they deliver in convenience, quality and consistency, and growing numbers of our on-premise accounts are using iperEspresso for those same reasons.  But I'm a traditionalist at heart, so when I have the time, I prefer grinding, tamping and pulling the old fashioned way.  On weekends, I like to use my Moka pot.  It reminds me of home!  In the summer, I like to also drink iced espresso. I don’t use milk.

What is it about coffee that makes it such a unique social beverage?
Coffee was the official drink of the Enlightenment and some of the most important artistic and cultural movements were born in the first coffee bars. This is why coffee is the perfect companion to culture and illycaffè for over twenty years has been choosing art, literature, and creativity as a whole to express its own values and its philosophy. The act of sharing a cup of coffee, the ritual behind creating it and interaction with the barista creates a social environment and encourages discussion.

Because these are topics on which I've endless interest - and because his answers are satisfying in terms of length and depth - I'm going to devote subsequent posts to examining each answer. But for now, I'll just thank Giorgio and illy both.

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