Coffee, and we are talking real coffee, not the weak liquid that comes from instant granules, has a huge following in cycling.
The quick boost gained from a shot of espresso, mid-ride, has been keeping Continental cyclists going for decades. Now the magic elixir is finding its way to being an everyday part of sportives, clubruns and group rides alike.
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As always, we use expert testers. From time to time, though, we have to draft in an outside expert. This month was one such time; we turned to expert and barista extraordinaire, Pepe, from top London cycling cafe ‘Look Mum No Hands’, to get the full low-down on the black gold.
As well as getting the low-down on what constitutes good coffee, and far more info than we have room for here, we also asked the man himself what he looks for when drinking coffee in his own leisure time.
What to look for
Roasting the beans correctly is key to good coffee. Look for an establishment that has made an informed choice — the staff should know the beans. A good brand is a reasonable sign, but a chosen house blend is better. Remember, you can’t get a good coffee out of bad beans!
A big, powerful machine is all well and good, but what makes the most difference is a well-cared-for and clean machine. Granted, you can’t see inside the pipes and boiler, but general cleanliness and care, plus attention being paid to the machine during the making of the coffee, is a good indication of the state of the equipment.
Passion and skill
The most important thing to look for is a passion for coffee. It should also be clear from how the coffee is being made whether it will be good. Latte art — shapes and designs in the foam — is not just a barista showing off: well-steamed milk and thick crema (coffee froth) are the only way the art is possible, so it’s a good indication of skill and quality.
Prices are given as a guide only, and vary (sometimes by quite a bit) between cafés.
Our coffee selection
1. Americano £2.00
This drink came about during the Second World War. American soldiers stationed in Italy couldn’t cope with the strong coffee and asked for extra hot water. This is the basis, a cup of boiling water, into which a shot of espresso is added (the order is important, to prevent the espresso being burnt, as it is cooler than the water).
2. Mocha £2.70
The mocha is effectively a good hot chocolate with a shot of espresso. It should have the same make-up as a latte, but with melted chocolate. Warm your mug, melt the chocolate with a little water, then add the espresso. Continue as you would with a latte. Super luxuriant, this is a real treat when made with high quality chocolate, practically making it a recovery drink, right?
3. Cappuccino £2.40
Supposedly named after the colour of the habits worn by Capuchin monks, the classic frothy coffee should be made up of thirds; one-third espresso, one third steamed milk, and one third foam. The foam cap keeps the drink warm, so it’s ideal for nursing slowly, but be wary of large ones, the proportions are what make cappuccino what it is. It’s also a great pre-ride slow-burner.
4. Latte £2.40
The latte, after the Italian word for milk, is the simple morning coffee. With a texture closest to milk, it consists of an espresso shot, with steamed milk. It should have just a tiny head of froth, which will disappear as you stir. It’s made for quaffing when you need your first hit of caffeine, but when it’s too early for straight espresso brutality. For us here in the UK, it is also a good post-lunch drink, or a comfort drink when riding.
5. Flat white £2.10
Antipodean obsession meets Italian ingredient perfection: Rather than the normal foam and milk mix of a cappuccino, the flat white is about texture and experience. Milk is steamed and stretched into a luxuriant foam of micro bubbles, allowing for patterns on the drink’s surface, as the crema and foam mix. Two shots of espresso help to overcome the creaminess. Cheers mate!
6. Double espresso £1.80
As well as being the basis for all the drinks here, the espresso is a beverage in its own right. Small, short and direct, the espresso is a true connoisseur’s hit. Pure, syrupy caffeinated goodness, the espresso may not be for everyone, but there’s no denying the simplicity and honesty. No self-respecting pro rider is seen without trying to sneak at least one last double espresso in, just before the race starts!
7. Double Macchiato £2.10
Our Barista’s favourite, the Macchiato is named for the Italian verb ‘to mark’; it’s an espresso with a mark, or stain. A small amount of the foamed milk is dropped on top of the thick rich crema of the espresso. It’s espresso manliness but with the hot milk adding a touch of sweetness. It’s also the only acceptable alternative to an espresso when dining out in the evenings in Italy.
We were incredibly lucky getting the assistance of an excellent barista, so we had no bad drinks in this test.
The latte, cappuccino and flat white are for ‘before you leave’, while the espresso is simply for ‘passing the time’ at your usual cafe.
The double macchiato is honest and true, while the Mocha is pure luxury and a great bookend to your ride. Enough milk to help the muscles, but with enough of a kick to make sure you still get round to cleaning the bike! Ciao Bella!
To Look Mum No Hands for its assistance in the compilation of this test. Without the insight barista Pepe gave, this round-up would not have happened. Check out www.lookmumnohands.com — great people, great food and awesome coffee