I had the privilege of seeing behind the scenes at Pablo and Rusty’s Coffee Roasters with Chris Tate. I have now discovered that making the perfect cup of coffee is a mix of skill, art, hard work, high standards, and a strong social conscience.

Pablo And Rustys
Pablo And Rustys

I have long known that cappuccinos need to have milk between 60° and 65°C. I knew the grind was important and the amount of water used to extract the coffee. This is the range of variables that are in the control of the barista and in my control on my home coffee machine.

But unlike my $200 machine, a professional machine has control over so much more including time down to the second and water temperature. So perfection is about controlling as much of the process as possible.

And in theory every coffee outlet should be doing that. Of course many of them will rely on the factory defaults. So the perfect cup of coffee ends in store with the barista.

But it was what goes on before all of this that was a real eye opener. It turns out that coffee is like wine. There are different varieties, but varieties differ from region to region, year to year, and even throughout the season.

And then like wine, the processing has a huge impact as well. For wine it’s about the fermentation process, the storage, the age etc (“etc” actually means “I really have no idea” so if anyone would like to volunteer to take me through the winemaking process I would love to go).

For coffee, it’s about the roasting. And it’s not just about bunging it in an oven for a couple of hours. It’s about the heat, the time, and the amount of movement.

But even then, we tried two batches of coffee that were meant to be the same, but they weren’t because there are still enough variables to make every batch unique.

Chris then took the group through the process of testing coffee. It wasn’t just a quick quaff and giving it a score out of 10. It’s testing that is done from the careful weighing and grinding of the coffee, testing of multiple cups (just in case one has a bad bean in it), testing of aroma and flavours, and testing of flavours as they change with the cooling of the coffee.

Like wine we were picking up the flavours of so many other things. To be picking up the flavour of apricot from a cup of coffee was really…odd…but it was there.

Armed with this information is the decision on how to blend the beans, and then start the testing again. The goal is to make a cup of coffee that is great from start to finish.

Then the bomb was dropped – milk hides so many of the subtle flavours. So it looks like all of us cappuccino and latte sipping heathens are missing out on the true flavours of the perfect coffee.

So here’s a tip for finding the better cafés  – they need to have different beans for black and white coffee. The white blend needs to be taking the milk into account. It’s very unlikely that the ideal black coffee will make the ideal latte. If the café has a “one size fits all” approach to beans, then walk away.

But that still wasn’t the end of the story. We took another step back and looked at the various green beans and the quality of the beans. At still stage this is where Pablo And Rusty’s have the benefit of not having to supply half of Australia with coffee. They can be fussy with what they buy. Of course being fussy comes with a price tag, but Chris would rather pay more for good beans and keep the quality high, then compromise the perfect cup of coffee.

But wait, there’s more. For Chris it doesn’t finish with the bag of green beans, but goes all the way back to the grower. It’s about the care and standards that the grower has, and it’s about the ethical practices that they have. You can’t have the perfect cup of coffee if children are being exploited to make it.

So what’s required to make the perfect cup of coffee? Definitely skill and hard work with a balance of artistry, high standards, and a strong social conscience.

So thank you to Chris Tate and Pablo and Rusty’s Coffee Roasters for the insight. Check out http://www.pabloandrustys.com.au/ for more information about their store locations and experience the perfect coffee for yourself.

And be game, go black.