Miles
06/09/2022
8 mins read

It’s just a coffee, right? A chat with Bob Holman.

The Food Gallery, located in the heart of Marlborough, Wiltshire, is a truly family run establishment serving home made food, and coffee to be proud of. Opened in 2006 by Bob & Nikki Holman, The Food Gallery is now run by their children; brother & sister team, Rich & Kat. 

Passion, love and care for the produce they serve runs throughout the Holman family philosophy, firstly & foremost their coffee offering, with beans sourced from another family company, the Bristol based Wogan Coffee.

Below, Bob outlines his coffee routine so read on for an insightful guide to getting it right. 

It’s just a coffee, right?

Well – yes, and no. You can have ‘just a coffee’. Or you can have a coffee that’s been made with a great deal of love.

I know which one I’d prefer.

The following explains how EVERY coffee we serve at The Food Gallery in Marlborough, Wiltshire is as delicious as we can possibly make it.

The bean

We serve our own bespoke fusion of carefully blended East African and South American beans.  We had a very clear idea of what we wanted, and it took over six months of talking and listening to coffee suppliers before we finally discovered one roaster who understood our keenness and desire to make fabulous coffee. He started roasting for us, and only then did we open for business. That’s how seriously we take coffee. That was back in 2006; and we still use the same roaster (Wogan), the same beans and the same roasting process today.

The roast

Our roasting partner consistently and uniquely roasts our beans to perfection, in time for every single three-week delivery to us.

Storage

We only store our beans at room temperature, in a vacuum-packed container, in a dark stockroom.

The grind

Early each morning, we tweak the grinder settings to ensure a precise match of beans to our espresso machine. This process varies every day because the match is dependent on ambient temperature and humidity and is a critical part of every good coffee maker’s skill. Why? To ensure the most efficient and complete extraction of the flavour from the bean. It’s also important that the grinding plates are maintained regularly, so that they grind the beans to the correct size (according to the atmospheric conditions) each day.  We’ve invested many thousands of pounds in our quality grinder to ensure it does the task we demand of it; we also have a separate quality grinder for our bespoke decaffeinated coffee. That’s an indication of how seriously we take this vital equipment.

How much to grind

Flavour starts to diminish pretty quickly once beans are ground, so having a huge pile of unused grounds means they’ll probably ‘go off’ and taste horrid.  Instead, we only grind our beans for each coffee we make. Next time you visit a coffee shop, take a look at the level of ground beans stored up, check how busy they are, and make your own judgement! You’ll hear our grinders operating little and often.

How much coffee (or shots) in a cup of coffee?

This is a very subjective issue and causes huge debate in the industry. In simple terms our answer is ‘enough to make a fantastic cup of coffee’. It’s nothing to do with ‘shots’. You simply need to have a great bean, roasted properly, ground correctly and placed in your ‘portafilter’ (the removable metal filter where the grounds sit) at whatever amount will give your customers a fabulous coffee. This has to be done consistently, for every serving. And – the amount of coffee MUST exactly match the size of cup in which you serve your coffee.

Tamping

Once the beans are ground, and put in the portafilter, they need to be compacted. Why? To ensure the heated water flows at the correct speed through the grounds. If you have too fine a ground, the water won’t pass through at all. Too coarse a ground, and the water passes through too fast, without collecting enough flavour. Machines are available which can tamp precisely and consistently, but a true barista will ‘feel’ the exact pressure needed – 30lbs is about right. You’ll see coffee makers using a brass ‘tamper’ to manually ‘flatten out’ the grounds just before being inserted into the espresso machine. At this point one can ‘spin’ the tamper on top of the tamped grounds – a method called polishing. Some say it’s cosmetic and not necessary, but we say it helps even out the flow of water across the grounds, hence making a fuller and consistent flavour.

Ensure your group holder is brass based

Why? To cope with the massive pressure of the heated water as it’s forced through the grounds. Our machine produces a whopping 9 BAR or 135 PSI. Non-brass holders mean that the machine is not capable of making the pressure needed, and the coffee will consequently be suspect in flavour. Additionally, brass is used as it retains temperature better than other metals.

How hot should the water be?

Never at boiling point! Boiling water produces a bitter coffee taste – which would never do. The espresso machine should be regulated to heat the water and deliver it to the correctly ground beans at 200°F (93.3°C).

Should your espresso machine be connected to an excellent water softener?

Yes. Hard water ruins good coffee. Simple.

Rich & Kat Holman

Ensure your cup is already hot

There’s no point in going to all the trouble of making a fabulous extraction of coffee if you’re going to put it in a cold china cup! By the time it reaches your customer the coffee will be cold. Keeping cups on top of our (very hot) espresso machine, under a clean towel (to trap the heat) ensures we serve coffee to our customers at a great temperature.

Milk (this is possibly one of the most important parts)

Start with very cold milk when heating it up. Why? The colder the milk, the more time you have to ‘work’ it and to ‘stretch’ the milk molecules into a lovely, velvety smooth texture. This aspect of coffee making separates the good barista from the bad. A good one will stretch full fat, skinny, semi-skimmed, soya, almond and coconut  milk to the same consistency, each and every time. It’s the proteins in the milk which make great foam; the fat adds viscosity and sweetness, which is why full fat milk will generally produce a sweeter tasting drink. A good barista uses all their senses when steaming/stretching milk. They’ll listen for the pitch – for temperature control; watch for large bubbles – and the ‘swirl’ of the milk to ensure the molecules are stretched correctly; look at the placement of the steam tip – ensuring correct heat application; constantly keeping hold on the side of the jug to ensure the milk is at the correct temperature, at the correct time; and start the espresso extraction before the milk is steamed – for optimum drink preparation.

How hot should the milk be?

A good barista will achieve a final serving temperature of your drink at between 150°F-160°F (65.5°C-71°C). Really good ones will achieve this by their educated hands, and you will see good baristas holding the milk jug in both hands, to gauge the temperature. Many coffee shops will place a thermometer into the milk to try to achieve the correct temperature. Be aware that thermometers are notoriously inaccurate and have a ‘lag’ in their measurements. As a result your milk will either end up scalded and burnt or worse, too cold. Neither of which is likely to make a pleasurable coffee drinking experience. All our baristas hold the milk jug in both their hands.

How often should you clean your espresso machine?

Every day! When done correctly, it takes about 40 minutes at the end of each day. What is correctly? The ‘portafilters’ are submerged into a special solution to dissolve the day’s coffee stains and leftover coffee. The same is done for the group holder. These are both left in this solution overnight. The end of each steam wand is ‘purged’ into a diluted cleaning fluid, to ensure that any excess milk is removed. Then the brewing group (which holds the group holder) is ‘back-washed’ in a cleansing solution. This clears out hidden old grounds and clears the waste pipes of any debris. (The process is not dissimilar to that of a good publican cleaning out his beer pipes regularly). Then the inside of each brewing group is brushed out by hand (to remove excess grounds) and then manually ‘dragged’ with a clean cloth (to get the very hidden grounds). Finally, the outside of the machine is given a good wipe down and polish, to be ready for the next day’s work.

Flavour your group holders and portafilters

When? Every morning! These items have been sitting in a high concentrate cleaning solution overnight and so must be thoroughly washed through with clean water before they can be used. Once this is done the portafilters and group heads need to be ‘flavoured’ before the start of business. Why? To get rid of the slightly ‘metallic’ type taste that can accrue from an espresso machine that has been cleaned. We do this ‘flavouring’ by repeatedly making coffee until the crema looks amazing. Old grounds, left over from yesterday, could be used for this. If there aren’t any left, you should use new ones. Under no circumstances do we allow one coffee to be served until this ritual is completed. If you’re an early bird and tend to visit the shop just after opening time (or you’re so keen, before we officially open), you’ll no doubt have witnessed Bob, Rich or Kat, or one of our other baristas during this “test phase” – eyes closed with intense concentration, tiny glasses of espresso lined up in readiness for the taste test, perfect amounts of crema atop each one. Joking aside, it’s incredibly important for us to maintain the quality of our espresso – it’s our benchmark of excellence. Bob’s procedures are carried out at the start of every single day. In fact, he’s kept customers waiting until he’s satisfied to serve their coffee of choice.

Taste continually!

Maybe it’s one of the reasons our baristas are a little weird/wired! Throughout the day we check the performance of the machine, tasting the coffee, tweaking and adjusting the grinder, for perfection to be maintained. We believe it pays off, and, according to your feedback, so do you.

So, it’s just a coffee – right?

No.  It’s a whole lot more important than that!

© 2022 Bob Holman

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