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The Truth about Making Cappuccino Part 2

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The first time I went to Telescope in rue Villedo near the Palais Royal about a year ago, it felt like an insiders’ club. No one greeted me. The only thing written on the blackboard was café, there was no menu and I had to ask someone if they could remove their books from the only available chair and table. When I asked for a cappuccino, I had the impression I had committed sacrilege.

Telescope 5 rue Villedo
Telescope 5 rue Villedo

However, after reading an article in Le Monde about the new coffee scene in Paris, I decided to give Telescope another chance. To quote Le Monde*, “Over the last few months, scores of coffee bars have appeared in Paris, to the great satisfaction of students and foreign tourists, delighted to be able to have a decent coffee at last, and not those horrible petits noirs with their bitter smell of soot that leave a taste of cold tobacco in your mouth”. Telescope was on the list.

Inside Télescope
Inside Télescope

It’s a beautiful sunny day, an unbelievable 24° after a terrible cold rainy spring. I see a couple of people sitting on the ledge outside. When I walk in, I can see some changes. The blackboard has acquired a few more entries, there are lots of cakes and the waitress greets me. I ask if I can have a latte and sit down.

Tom's signature cappuccinos

I watch what the barista is doing and he gives me a friendly smile. My latte is ready so I go to the counter to get it. “Bonjour“, I say, “I’m just wondering exactly what the difference is between a latte and a cappuccino”, I continue in French. He starts to answer and I hear his accent so I switch to English. “Oh, Australian”, he says. I laugh. “Kiwi then?” “No, Australian”.

Weighing out the coffee
Weighing out the coffee

He explains that lattes differ from one coffee bar to another and that the only thing that really has a definition is cappuccino. I’m relieved. What I encountered in Australia under the name of latte seemed to be what I had been ordering in Italy as a cappuccino. So, it has one shot of coffee and the rest is foamed milk. Lattes usually have more less milk.

Tom, it turns out, comes from Nambour, just north of Brisbane, so he’s a fellow Queenslander, who trained in Dublic as a barista and has been at Telescope for about six months. I start telling him about my espresso machine adventures.

Filtered ice coffee step 1
Filtered ice coffee step 1

Three people come in and order a filtered ice coffee and an espresso. I am surprised to see that Tom is weighing everything – the beans, then the ground coffee, and later the espresso itself. He explains it’s an exact science. So what happens if the weight of the final coffee (the “yield”) is wrong? He throws it out and starts again !

Filtered ice coffee step 2
Filtered ice coffee step 2

The filtered ice coffee is even more intriguing. The machine consists of a bottom scale and a top drip system whose coffee pot looks like an hourglass-shaped wine carafe. First he puts ice cubes in, checking their weight. Then he puts a filter in the neck of the carafe and adds the weighed ground coffee which is more concentrated than for an espresso.

Filtered ice coffee step 3
Filtered ice coffee step 3

The water starts dripping through the filter; the resulting coffee drips into the carafe and onto the ice cubes. Tom puts a weighed amount of ice in the two glasses, tips out any melted water then pours in the coffee, making sure that the ice cubes don’t escape. Ready to go! I’m intrigued. Do French people order that? No, just English speakers!

Pouring the iced coffee into the glasses
Pouring the iced coffee into the glasses

I ask whether there are any chances of a barista lesson and I am delighted to hear that several other people have also expressed there interest  and that when they have at least five, they’ll run a class on Sunday morning. All I have to do is “like” their facebook page and watch for the announcement.

I walk out entirely satisfied with my visit and eager for my first barista class. Who wants to join me?

*A Paris, la revanche du petit noir by Emmanuel TresmontantLE MONDE,13.04.2013

This is a follow-up to The Truth about Making Cappuccino Part 1

Télescope, 5 rue Villedo, Paris 75001, Monday to Friday, 8.30 am to 6.30 pm, Saturday and Sunday, 9.30 am to 6.30 pm. http://www.telescopecafe.com/https://www.facebook.com/telescopecafe (you don’t have to have a Facebook account to access the page)

The Truth about Making Cappuccino Part 1

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You may remember my desperate attempts to make cappuccino during the winter. Well, now I know the truth. It’s the espresso machine that makes all the difference.


I now have intimate knowledge of three different machines: the cheap-O model we bought new in a second-hand shop somewhere near Blois, the superduper expensive Pavoni that grinds the coffee as well and a mid-range non-grinding DeLonghi bought for Closerie Falaiseau when the cheap-O one gave up the ghost. From the very first cup, the DeLonghi produced perfect milk foam.

Perfect foam with the Delonghi
Perfect foam with the Delonghi

Initially, I thought it was because I had acquired the requisite skills but when our first guests arrived at the Closerie and we moved into the kitchen of the little house, I used the cheap-O one that Jean Michel had repaired in the meantime. The first foam was a complete failure. Just sticking the milk jug under the wand no longer worked.

The superduper Pavoni
The superduper Pavoni

We got back to Paris and I used the superduper Pavoni again, the results were just as disastrous. It took me a few days to remember the method I had precariously developed previously. But the results are still not as good as they are with the DeLonghi.

Now what is it that makes the DeLonghi so much better than the others?

Stainless steel jug and half-cream milk
Stainless steel jug and half-cream milk

For all three, I’m using half-fat milk and I’m putting my little stainless steel jug in the fridge. All three wands are straight although I’ve read that they’re supposed to be at a 45° angle. I still can’t see why tipping the jug to form the same angle with the milk doesn’t achieve the same result, by the way, but maybe someone can supply the reason.

When I first saw the DeLonghi in the shop, I was very dubious. The wand is much shorter than the other two and has a thick almost cone-shaped skirt but the guy selling it at Darty in Blois assured me it would be perfect. He said he’d worked as a garcon de café in Paris in his previous life. Not that that was really a recommendation. We all know how terrible coffee is in most French bars.

One of my early attempts
One of my early attempts

Anyway, when I tried it out, it was perfect. It’s also very easy to clean – you just unscrew the skirt and rinse it under the tap. With the cheap-O one and the Pavoni, you need a wet cloth to wipe off the milk immediately.

Cheap-O machine
Cheap-O machine

So what do you do if you don’t have a wand with a little cone-shaped skirt? The trick is to keep the tip of the wand just under the level of the milk, so that it’s not making big bubbles. You can see the milk sort of being sucked into the tip of the wand. As the foam develops and the milk takes up more volume, you have to move the jug down so that the tip remains just below the surface.

Once you feel the milk heating up (you need to keep your hand around the jug), you have to turn off the steam quite quickly or you’ll scald the milk which gives it a sickly sweet taste. With the Pavoni, it happens really quickly. I don’t have the same problem with the DeLonghi.

Substitute foam with detergent
Substitute foam with detergent

Of course, it’s not that easy to practice without using up lots of milk but someone came up with a brilliant substitute. Just one tiny drop of washing up liquid in water will, astonishingly, produce the same results. Well, at least it gives you a better feel of what’s going on without wasting lots of milk.

The real thing - Tom's latte at Telescope
The real thing – Tom’s latte at Telescope

I haven’t made it to latte art yet.  What I really need is a lesson. And I’m not even sure what the difference between cappuccino and latte really is!  So I’m off to Téléscope in rue Villedo to find out. I’ll tell you all about it in Part 2 next week.

Why the Fireplace Smokes and Other Annoying Things

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We seem to be having a run of bad luck and are hoping we’ve come to the end of it!

The first thing we did after we got to Closerie Falaiseau late Wednesday afternoon was to turn up the heating. Then we went to buy an espresso machine to replace the cheap-O one that gave up the ghost last time we were here. You may remember that I have a super-duper Italian one in Paris which grinds the coffee beans and now makes excellent espresso, cappuccino and latte. We had decided on a De Longhi for Blois which uses both ground coffee and pods and is reputed to be sturdy.

The ex-Penalty - Chez Gabriel
The ex-Penalty – Chez Gabriel

Neither of us felt particularly keen on going home to cook and eat in a cold house so we went to Au Coin d’Table. It was closed. Since it’s winter it’s only open from Thursday to Sunday. So we went to Le Penalty instead, which isn’t quite the same. Also it’s changed owners since we were here last and is now called Chez Gabriel. I’m not convinced that the French fries are really home-made as claimed.

The second time we used the espresso machine, the on/off pilot light stopped working. Jean Michel took it back to Darty to have it replaced but they didn’t have any others in stock. We have to go back again later in the week, but we’re using it in the meantime, of course. Either I have become a foamed milk expert or the wand is much better than any others I’ve tried but soon I’ll be doing latte art!

The fire that wouldn't burn
The fire that wouldn’t burn

The most disappointing thing on the bad luck list is the fireplace of course As you know, it smokes. After the first try with green, damp wood, Jean Michel went off next day and bought some dry firewood. This time, he couldn’t even get it to burn! And there was still smoke. We called the roofer.

The roofer came on Saturday afternoon, took one look at the fireplace and said, “Le tablier est trop petit”. According to him, the fireplace is not deep enough for its size and, as a result, will never work properly. He thought maybe we had changed it in some way. He also explained that we have a hill behind us which does not help and that grey days such as we’ve been having recently aren’t conducive to a good fire either. He did agree, though, that opening up the top of the chimney might make a difference. He obviously can’t come this week, but will come in our absence. It turns out it will be a lot cheaper than we thought.

A little fire at last
A little fire at last

Next day, the sun came out and the clouds lifted so Jean Michel split the wood into smaller pieces and we eventually had a small fire going without too much smoke. Feeling more optimistic, we went rushing off to Troc de l’Ile to find a sofa. Jean Michel wanted two sofas so we could both lie and read in front of the fire.  The first person we saw was Mrs Previous Owner. We found two likely looking candidates that were cheap enough to throw away in a year and a half when we bring our furniture down from Paris. However, they were pretty massive, so Mrs PO very kindly phoned Mr PO to come and help take them up to the living room as I certainly couldn’t. We strapped them into the trailer and set off home.

The first sofa
The first sofa

On the way, Jean Michel suddenly said, “I think they are too big to take through the door.” It was also the first thing Mr PO said when he arrived. We measured all the doors and windows and had to face up to the sad fact that there was no way we’d get them upstairs or even downstairs for that matter. I phoned Troc de l’Ile and told them we were coming. We got there just as they were closing. Everyone was standing around waiting for us! We took our credit note and said we’d be back next day.

Loading up the second sofa
Loading up the second sofa

We managed to find a matching leather sofa and armchair and a second armchair with a footstool that Jean Michel is happy with. They were also not as heavy which meant that I could help take them upstairs. But the fireplace still smokes and we’ve given up any further attempts until the roofer has been because the smoke actually made me sick (headache and nausea). We are, however, enjoying our newfound living room and it makes it feel much more like a real home.

Our present  fire-less living room
Our present fire-less living room

I nearly forgot. We went to dinner at Au Coin d’Table on Saturday night after the wrong sofa episode. I phoned and made a reservation. When we got there, however, there was no trace of it. It turns out there is a restaurant called “Le Coin de Table” in Tours (an hour away) and I made a mistake when I looked up the number in the Yellow Pages. I suspect it isn’t the first time because I remember this happening another time. I phoned the other restaurant to cancel of course. The lady found it most amusing!

The very eclectic interior of Au Coin d'Table
The very eclectic interior of Au Coin d’Table

Cappuccino Progress!!!

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When the special stainless steel milk foaming jug arrived by mail, my heart sank. It looked much smaller than any of the ones in the videos. But in the meantime, I’d watched a few more and one by The Caffee Society seemed to hold the key. He didn’t mention a particular sort of milk or anything like that but explained what was actually going on.

How to froth milk with a steam wand – Barista Tips with Paul Meilke Janney from the Caffé Society.

He said that there are two steps to foaming. First, you have to put air into the milk by putting the wand just under the surface, slowing lowering as the foam increases. It makes a characteristic “tst, tst, tst”. Then at about 40°C, when it starts getting warm, you go an inch deeper for texturing, which is the second step. It means getting the milk going in a sort of whirlwind. When that’s happening, it will go all quiet and will look shiny. When it starts getting hot (about 65°C), you remove it.

Large jug from Ikea

Another video had suggested using a large jug and quite a lot of milk so that a learner would have the time to get it all going. The jug and milk have to be very cold.That seemed sensible so I used a litre jug from Ikea that was the wrong shape (wider at the top) but that turned out to work really well. I also found a couple of bottles of UHT milk whose use-by date was July so I didn’t feel so bad about wasting all that milk.

Foamy creamy milk

Would you believe that I started to get it right the very first time. Since the jug was deep, it didn’t matter if milk spurted all over the place. So I tried different wand heights until I could feel the wand was in the right place. The idea is to hold the wand away from the side a little bit. The Caffee Society says it has to be at 45° but my wand is straight and tipping the jug doesn’t change the slope of the wand (although I thought it would until Relationnel told me otherwise!).

Too many bubbles

Then when the milk gets a bit frothy, you have to make sure the wand creates a sort of sucking effect and you can see the milk swirling around and the wand looks as though it’s sucking in milk. Maybe that’s what my brother meant when he said the secret was to “do the kiss”.

Our espresso machine all ready to go

You then have to make sure you don’t let it boil or there’ll be bubbles on top and not just creamy foam. The first part is very fast while the second part takes a bit longer. Once you’ve finished, you bang and swirl the jug a few times to get rid of the surface bubbles and mix the bottom milk into the fam. I haven’t discovered yet whether all the milk is supposed to go thick and creamy or just the top half.

Two smooth but uninteresting cappuccinos

I can now achieve the same result using the little jug, though I still have some liquid milk at the bottom. But the consistency is right so I’m happy. I haven’t managed to make a butterfly, or even a little heart yet, but I will keep trying! By the way, I can foam the milk pretty well with the cheap-O espresso maker as well :).

I have not noticed any real difference betwwen using fresh or UHT milk, full fat or skim. I’m going to stick to demi-écremé UHT because it’s the easiest to buy and store.

My small jug and “demi-écremé” milk

In the meantime, Relationnel has mastered the espresso making which is really just a question of the right amount of coffee. I used to just guess, but if I use the special coffee measuring spoon, it works perfectly. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier!

Thick foamy milk, just the way I like it

When I’ve got it perfect and can rival barista Dritan Alsela at the Bazzar Caffe in Dusseldorf, I’ll make the ultimate cappuccino video for dummies.

Cappuccino Woes

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I don’t know how long I’m going to survive my inability to make cappuccino without having a nervous breakdown. This probably says a lot that I don’t want to know about my character, particularly at my age when there’s not much hope of making any appreciable improvements.

Cappuccino at Alfreddo’s in Rome

I spend every solitary meal (Relationnel has gone back to Paris for a day or so) watching cappuccino videos on my iPad in English and in French made by people who get it right every time, each using a different method. Just to depress myself further, I watch cappuccino art videos as well which show how to make dragons and butterflies with rich creamy foam that appears like magic.

Cappuccino in Rue de Richelieu, Paris

I don’t of course have a suitable jug because it’s in my missing suitcase so I’ve ordered two new stainless steel ones from a specialist coffee accessory website. I check every couple of hours to see the progress of the parcel as it winds its way across France. I’m a little worried though that once I get the jugs, I still won’t be able to make the milk froth properly.

Cappuccino in Hong Kong

However, I’ve now found a coffee forum where professional baristas complain about not being able to make a proper cappuccino. I don’t know whether that is a good or a bad sign but I have learnt from them that frothing milk varies with the type of coffee machine which partly explains all the different methods.

Cappuccino on the Gold Coast, Australia

What is even more depressing is that I don’t even manage to make decent coffee every time with my outrageously expensive machine and I haven’t even tried grinding the coffee beans with it yet ! Before, I had a cheap-O one we bought (first-hand mind you) in a “quick cash” shop which at least systematically made good coffee.

Cappuccino in Armidale, Australia

It came however with a basic airtightness defect which Relationnel solved initially but it eventually leaked which makes it a little dangerous. I was convinced that its cheapness was responsible for my not being able to make creamy froth. I was wrong. What I’m making now is much worse. At least I used to get it averagely thick most of the time with the old machine.

Cappuccino in Madrid but you can tell it’s not a real one

It is obvious to me that it’s like mayonnaise. The day you understand what you’re really doing, you always get it right, regardless of the time of the month, as many French people believe. I need to see someone do it properly and practise until I get it right. I just tried three times in a row, to no avail. On the coffee forum, they tell you to use a large jug that’s been in the freezer so that you have more time to get the foam going.

Sort-of-cappuccinos with my cheap-O machine

Of course now I’m afraid my jugs aren’t big enough. I’m hoping the parcel delivery man will turn up soon and put me out of my misery. I also have to buy more fresh milk which means driving 5 K to the supermarket. Sigh.

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