How to Select and Drink the Perfect Coffee With Mitch Monaghan
Know what to look for when approaching your next cup of joe.
Whether you like it short, long, black, with a mountain of fluffy cream or in martini form, coffee has unabashedly blown up into its own culinary juggernaut, and stands as the go-to remedy for sliding over the morning hump. To get some expertise on the ol' café au lait, we sat down with Nespresso's Coffee Ambassador for New Zealand, Mitch Monaghan, to discover what you should look for when approaching a cup of joe, single-use coffee machines, what coffee regions are all about and if there's a place for coffee and food matching.
When did you start drinking coffee?
I was introduced to coffee on visits to my grandparent's house and that's still a memory I hold dear to this day. Each time we would visit, the first thing that would happen was to be offered a cup of coffee whilst we caught up on life, the goings on of the neighbourhood and our family. It is really quite heartwarming to sit here and think back to my first introduction to coffee and how involved I am with it today.
What's a coffee connoisseur and how do you become one?
The fun thing about working in the coffee industry is that you are always learning and honing your skills. I started my journey as a barista more than 10 years ago and since then, have spent my time discovering different varietals (bean types) origins, roasts and the aromatic profiles they create.
As you can imagine, with that comes tasting a lot of coffee and working with other experts in their fields such as chefs, wine makers and glass makers. In addition, I have travelled to Costa Rica and Indonesia which are just two of the 12 countries we source from to work directly with the farmers and see sustainability in action.
As Nespresso's Coffee Ambassador for New Zealand my role is to educate our team and consumers on our coffee and the story behind each of our Grands Crus.
What should a first-time coffee drinker look for in a cup of joe?
That's an interesting question because just like most foods or beverages, that comes down to your preferences. In saying that, quality is key in terms of the coffee you are drinking and how the beverage has been prepared. It's a good idea to have an understanding of what you like. For example, if you love the taste or smell of coffee, why not try something strongly roasted with or without milk and if you are someone that thinks something more mild might be your preferred cup, try something with a light or medium roast.
What do you personally look for when finding the perfect coffee?
I always start by assessing the quality of the espresso shot. A great quality espresso that has been extracted correctly should have three things:
- A thick, long lasting crema (the light brown foam on top following the extraction). This is a sign of the correct amount of coffee used, correct pressure and for the correct amount time at the right temperature. There is quite a lot that goes in to extracting the perfect shot.
- A fragrant and pleasing aroma – If a shot hasn't been extracted correctly, it is either lacking in or has a predominant burnt smell to the shot. The perfect shot should be rich, fragrant and pleasing on the nose with subtle notes that could range from fruity, floral, cereal or spicy to name a few.
- The taste – I always sip my espresso before turning it in to my favorite morning cup, a cappuccino. If the coffee is well balanced (not too bitter or acidic), it is smooth and tastes great, I know that it is ready to be transformed in to my morning coffee…or just drunk straight away.
What is your favourite coffee region?
That's a tough one but if you are forcing my hand, I'd have to say the Tarrazu region of Costa Rica. This was the first coffee farm I ever visited with Nespresso and it is renowned for some of the finest quality Arabica beans with malty notes that turn to cocoa when you roast them.
When I visited Tarrazu, I harvested coffee cherries straight from the tree where I then assessed their quality and even tasted the coffee from that region to identify any defects present.
You can really see the impact sustainability has had through farms being involved in the AAA Sustainable Quality™ program and this experience is one I'll carry with me for a long time.
Is there a place for coffee and food matching?
Absolutely! One thing that I am seeing in New Zealand is that Kiwis are becoming creative and experimental with their coffee and I could not be in any more support of that.
In fact, I recently worked with a cheesemaker and sommelier to match aged cheese, aged champagne and one of our latest limited editions, Selection Vintage 2014, which is an aged coffee.
I'm asked this question a lot actually and to do it, you just need to consider the basics tastes of coffee which are acidity and bitterness. Strongly roasted coffees tend to be more bitter and pair well with rich and sweet flavors whereas lightly roasted coffees tend to be more acidic and pair well with savoury. Something to consider when you are next entertaining and want to pair the perfect after dinner coffee.
Do you have any advice for training a coffee palate? How to smell and taste?
Training your coffee palate is a bit like training your palate for wine. It takes a bit of practice but once you've mastered the basics, it is both really interesting and delicious.
To start, you need to try the coffee black – when served black, the coffee is at its most aromatic and truly represents the blend, origin and roast. I suggest you understand the Grand Cru you are drinking by either reading the description or by speaking with one of our coffee specialists. Once you know what you are drinking and what notes to look out for, it helps to see and smell the physical note while tasting the coffee. For example, if your coffee has notes of honey and cereal, smell oats and honey while tasting the coffee. If the coffee has notes of cocoa, smell some dark chocolate while tasting. Keep repeating this through the different aromatic profiles until you're able to detect the subtle aromas in the coffee.
Other than minimised preparation and clean-up time, what are the benefits of single-use coffee machines?
The recyclable aluminum capsule and the extraction through Nespresso machines assures the pressure, water temperature and quantity needed to consistently create the perfect cup, time after time. Our coffee experts have sourced the specific bean type, from 12 countries of origin, roasted them to perfection and ground the beans to suit the best extraction – this takes the guess work out of having to find the best coffee.
It guarantees you the pleasure of an unctuous coffee, rich in aromas and with a dense, rich crema, cup after cup. Only the interaction between the original Nespresso capsule and the genuine Nespresso machine can guarantee the Nespresso in-cup quality.
Single use coffee pods have received a lot of flack for being horrible for the environment— former Nespresso chief exec Jean-Paul Gaillard even stated they are "a disaster". How do you feel about the environmental impact of pods and is there a solution in place for trash creation?
At Nespresso we are part of a sustainable coffee economy. That is why we are taking important steps to help increase the number of used Nespresso capsules being recycled in New Zealand.
The good news is, unlike most other portioned coffee products, our capsules are made from aluminium, which is infinitely recyclable.
There are currently three ways of recycling used Nespresso aluminium capsules in New Zealand at over 375 touchpoints, you can: Drop your capsules into any NZ Post Shop in the official Nespresso NZ Post Recycling Bag (there are more than 270) or return your used aluminium capsules to any Nespresso Boutique (of which there are five). You can also drop them off at a participating florist and garden centre collection point (of which there are currently more than 100 nationwide).
Aluminium capsules that are recycled with Nespresso are sent to a specialist recycling plant in New Zealand. There, the aluminium is separated from the residual coffee. The coffee is then sent to an industrial composting facility to be transformed into compost, while the aluminium is recycled and sent back to the aluminium industry to produce new aluminium products.
We have also placed customer education and behaviour change at the centre of our recycling strategy and we continue to communicate to our Club Members about why it is important to, and how best to, recycle their used aluminium capsules. You can learn more about Nespresso's local recycling options and processes at nespresso.com.
What do you see as the next big trend in coffee?
I continue to see our club members in New Zealand fascinated by where the coffee comes from and how this impacts the overall taste. This is often referred to as a 'Single Origin' or 'Pure Origin' – a coffee sourced exclusively from a single country of origin that reflects the aromatic profile of that country. I see this trend continuing in the future as there are over 60 different coffee producing countries in the world, each with its own characteristics for us to discover and enjoy.