Letters

Letters 8-18-2014

The Climate Clarified

Climate change isn’t an easy subject. A class I’m taking compared it to medicine in a way that was helpful for me: Climate scientists are like planetary physicians. Our understanding of medicine is incomplete, but what we know is useful...

Beware Non-Locally Grown

The article “Farm Fresh?” couldn’t be any more true than exactly stated. As an avid shopper at the local farm markets I want to know “exactly” what I am buying, from GMO free to organic or not organic, sprayed or not sprayed and with what...

Media Bias Must End

I wish to thank Joel Weberman for his letter “Seeking Balanced Israel Coverage.” The pro-Palestinian bias includes TV news coverage...

Proud of My President

The world is a mess. According to many conservative voices, it would not be in such a mess if Obama was not the president. I am finally understanding that the problem with our president is that he is too thoughtful, too rational, too realistic, too inclined to see things differently and change his mind, too compassionate to be the leader of a free world...

Home · Articles · News · Art · The art of the latte
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The art of the latte

Katie Huston - July 26th, 2007
“Coffee?” Noel Trapp offers before I’ve even pulled out my notepad. He looks like a beatnik poet in a shirt that says “Viva Barrista” over a skull and... crossbones? What are those, I ask?
“Portafilters,” he tells me. Portafilters? I don’t know this lingo; I only began drinking coffee a few months ago. And what is a barrista?
Portafilters hold the coffee grounds in an espresso machine. And a barrista is an expert at preparing espresso-based coffee drinks, I find out, as Trapp pours the frothy milk into my latte in a way that creates a foamy white heart on top.
He’s doing what’s known as “latte art” -- something I didn’t even know existed, although apparently, at coffee shops on the West Coast, it’s standard fare.
“Essentially you’re creating a canvas,” Trapp explains, shaking the pitcher of milk gently back and forth to create a delicate leaf on top of his own latte. This is what’s known as free-pouring, but sometimes he uses a thermometer, a screwdriver, or a leather needle to etch designs into the drinks. He can make elephants, skulls with halos, even dragons.
“Latte art is not hard,” Trapp says. “People are amazed by its visual effect, but that’s arguably the least important thing I’m doing. The hard part is knowing enough about coffee to control all the variables.”

ANCIENT ETHIOPIA
The 28-year-old TC native certainly knows enough about coffee. He can tell you about coffee’s mythological origins--perhaps it was discovered by a goat herder in ancient Ethiopia. He can quote growth figures and raw crop costs. He can tell you about every step of the production process, from picking to roasting to brewing. And he’s more than happy to.
“Coffee’s just incredibly interesting,” Trapp says. “Green [unroasted] coffee is 600 chemical compounds. We can identify maybe two-thirds of them. One third can’t even be identified on the periodic table of elements. We don’t even know what coffee is.”
Wars have been fought over coffee, he says. There are many misconceptions; for example, a shot of espresso actually has less caffeine than a cup of coffee.
And coffee is big. It’s the world’s second-most traded commodity after oil. What was a $9 billion industry in 2005 is predicted to rise to $18 billion by 2012.
Trapp has worked at over two dozen coffee shops across the states since the age of 16. He currently works at TC’s Another Cuppa Joe, but is moving to Marquette in late July to head the coffee division of a coffee shop and wine-and-tapas bar called L’attitude.
He trains coffee shop staff with a quote by John Reskin, a 19th-century philosopher: “Taste is the only morality.” What really drives him, though, is sustainability. He’s passionate about helping people who have nothing.
“A barrista puts the face on coffee. We are, for most people, the only face they’ll ever see,” he says. However, hundreds of people contribute to every cup of coffee we drink; in fact, many people’s livelihoods depend on the industry.
“If my shop goes under, I could always get a McJob. They can’t. These are people who’ve been doing this for generations, these are people who have the culture imbued in them,” he says. “When I train my staff, it’s not just with the idea to treat people in front of us well. We’ve got to treat the people behind us well.”

CAFE SUSTENABLES
He’s not a fan of fair trade, because it’s a model we’ve outgrown, he says. If farms want to be certified, they have to pay large amounts of money -- money they don’t have, and Fair Trade often takes only about 50% of their beans.
Instead, he supports Cafe Sustenables, claiming the program provides better resources and monetary compensation to farmers, emphasizing sustainability and traceability.
Heading...
Trapp loves the taste of coffee. He usually has about six espresso shots per day--the equivalent of a 24-ounce cup of coffee--but not all at once.
He’s even tattooed his devotion to coffee. One shoulder sports a huge portafilter; the other, a tamper.
What makes a good coffee?
“Everything,” he replies. “Everything comes into play. They’ve gotta be good beans. You’ve gotta have a good crop to start with.” Taste also depends on processing methods, which are determined by culture.
“Most Americans are lulled into the idea that dark roast, French roast, is the best, because they’re smoky, they’re peaty,” he says. “There’s no palate challenge at all. You don’t have to guess -- you know what you’re drinking. Most of the time, dark roasts are used to hide the fact that they’ve used bad beans.”

TASTE TEST
The lighter the roast, the more you’ll taste where your coffee’s coming from, he explains. Central American coffees tend to be spicy, floral and citric. African coffees are laden with dark fruit flavors, like blueberries. “They don’t age as well when they get cold, but when they’re hot there’s nothing like an African coffee. They’re intensely delicate and very fragile,” he says. And Indonesian coffees? “Hell yes to Indonesian coffees,” he says. They’re earthy, peaty and mellow.
His favorite, depending on his mood, is either a traditional Italian-style latte or a wet macchiato: two espresso shots topped with one ounce of milk. A straight shot of espresso is also nice.
Tra[[ is as passionate about poetry and politics as he is about coffee. He studied poetry at the University of Arizona, where he won a prestigious Hattie Lockett award. His book, “An Experiment in Change,” was published in 2000, and another book is in the works.
He hopes to one day open a nonprofit that translates confusing legislation into everyday language. “No one can be truly responsible anymore. It makes it difficult to be a civic-minded citizen,” he says.
Perhaps one day he’ll combine that mission with his own coffeeshop. “It should be a place where you can perch one Democrat, one Republican, and one Green Party member and say, the topic is X. Discuss.” He hopes to offer workshops on everything from sustainability and roasting profiles to local politics and “what’s muddying the waters.”
In short, it would be what every coffee shop should be--”a revolutionary space,” he says.

For more information about Cafe Sustenables and UTZ, visit www.sancristocafe.com and www.utzkapeh.com.
 
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