I walked into Bear Coast Coffee feeling terribly nervous.
Jeffrey Clinard, owner of Bear Coast Coffee in San Clemente, C.A., had reached out to me a while back to inform me of the latest at Bear Coast - intimate espresso training classes. And he wanted me to participate and share with you guys. He first wrote in an email:
"My goal is to help people learn the professional barista skills they have asked for in a 1 hour tutoring course," he says. "Letting them pull shots and pour drinks with our Mazzer Kold grinder, Matte Black Gb5. And then my favorite part: We will have a latte art competition every couple months for everyone who has taken the class. To essentially have a "amateur" latte art TNT season on our bar.
We will call this tournament the Bear Coast PRO AM, the throw downs will have armatures pouring, but the baristas from my staff will be the "pros" coaching and helping to make sure everyone is having fun.
I want our bar to be something that is INCLUSIVE. Something that brings more and more consumers into our community."
I liked that word inclusive, and I liked that I got the feeling - hey, you won't be judged.
Now, I am going to let you all in on a little secret. And it’s probably not really a secret if you really look at my content but, I have never been behind the coffee bar. Jaw dropping news? Not really, but just a little shared insecurity with you all.
Anyway, I have never been a barista. I’d like to think that is why I am constantly curious about coffee because I’m that person that is on the outside looking in. I am so used to telling other people's stories, I never really considered being in the story. Now, as a pretend barista, I get to be a small part of coffee's story. I just smiled to myself. I like to think that there’s a lot of us out there who maybe haven’t pulled a shot off a Matte Black Gb5, but still have a deep passion for coffee.
Bear Coast Coffee is a small space shared with a wine and cheese shop (or as I like to call it, All-the-things-I-love-in-one-spot-Heaven). And I felt like it was my first day of school. But this time it was barista school - a very, very, very short barista school.
But instantly Jeff made me feel okay. He shook my hand and said he’d be right with me and that he was just finishing up a class. He returns to the espresso machine to attend to his class; two girls. From the looks of it, they could have been a mother and a daughter.
I was delighted. I couldn’t believe that the class would just be me and one other student and Jeff. Talk about student-teacher ratio and more importantly - less pressure.
They began to wrap up their lesson, with several mugs lined up on the counter with their latte art.
Jeff began our class, which really felt more like a private session, with a quick background to coffee’s history.
He then demonstrated coffee science with visuals: he placed a tea bag in hot and cold and dove into a little chemistry lesson. He then placed large pebbles and sand in a sifter and water going through to demonstrate on a macro level what goes on when water is pressurized to flow through grounds when pulling an espresso shot. He emphasized the importance of the rate and which water can flow and how to ensure water needs to be dispersed evenly throughout out the grounds.
It looks like we were up to bat. Soon my other “classmate” joined me. We instantly both made it clear: we are nervous and have no idea what we are doing.
Once we had a quick intro to the basics, we were ready to get hands on. One student would man the espresso while the other would steam and pour the milk.
For the espresso, we would ground the beans to a specific grind and weigh them out to the ounce in the portafilter (the handle looking thing the espresso sits in). Then in order to even out the fresh ground we “tamped" the espresso (pictured below). This involved setting the portafilter on the edge of the counter and pressing down on the espresso with a hand tamp with your body parallel to the machine and your working elbow at a 90º position.
This was sadly the trickiest part for me. Every time I released the tamp, Jeff would inspect the tamp hand and see if it was level with the portafilter rim. And almost every time, it was slightly uneven. My classmate was able to nail it down every time.
We would then “purge" the machine, basically having warm water run through it to warm it up and cleanse it. Then we would lock the portafilter into place with the “group” and click a button. I loved getting to watch espresso pour in its own beautiful fashion.
One thing that was really neat was that Jeff showed us the importance of timing and how espresso actually is poured in three different segments that you can see and taste. The first to hit the cup (to the far left) is the most bitter and strong and then the more you get to the last of the espresso, you hit the softer, more delightful, "crema."
Once the espresso began to pour, it was time to get the milk going.
Now this was always tricky for me too. You would have to get the steam wand just right into your cup and listen to the sound of the steam of when to submerge the wand more into the cup and when to release. You were aiming for not a foam, but rather a microfoam. You can tell you gathered the right consistency if the milk stayed along the sides of the cup.
The entire process was a rhythm. You had to have good timing and anticipate the next step. I was falling in love with coffee all over again.
Finally came the latte art. At this point, my hands were shaking.
BARISTAS MAKE IT LOOK SO EASY. But I assure you, it’s anything but that.
Jeff would first help us out by guiding our pouring hand; start low to aim towards the middle of the espresso then carefully raise your little pitcher of micro-foamed milk without breaking your steady pour. And then he would say, “Are you ready? Are you ready? Go for it!” And you would dip back down and continue the flow and once the milk would begin to rise to the surface you would pull the cup through to draw the end of your heart.
In my case it was a blob, and then another blob, a bigger blob, and then, ehem, a fellatio-like image and then finally a sad little heart. But it was indeed - a heart!
Throughout the entire session, I found myself impressed with how Jeff spoke with us. He made things crystal clear, concise and entertaining all at once.
I would later learn that Jeffrey Clinard was once a comedian and for those that know him can argue he still is. But that was a career he left a long time ago to pursue coffee.
Part 2: Jeff's Story
When at Bear Coast during the Fall order a Pumpkin Latte, done the right way: (I swear, I think this is my favorite pumpkin latte to date)
Homemade syrup: caramelized pumpkin - (baked pumpkin caramelized in olive oil), fresh ginger, turbinado sugar, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg)
If you all have any unique coffee or latte creations, please share! Also, please let me know if you take one of these classes! I would love to hear about your experience!
And tell 'em The Coffee Nomad sent ya ;)
The Coffee Nomad