Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Backbone of the Latte – A Study and Experiment into Exploring the Foundation of Milk with Espresso

For the last month or so, I’ve been speaking a lot with Straus milk and their Barista milk product.  Without being prompted in any way, I can honestly say that I’ve always been aware that Straus makes a superior dairy product when compared to most of what’s available in the market.  Sadly, some decisions as chef partner are more about value, sustainable costs and customer willingness to pay more for what is already perceived to be a high end/cost latte.  For a while, I went on accepting that this was just a matter of fate.

After sitting down with Straus and meeting Anna Kharbas (great twitter name: @MilkMistress), we started to try to develop a trial program of sorts to highlight what seems to be overlooked in milk based espresso drinks: the milk.  There are essentially two determining factors for realizing the full capacity and potential for milk in these drinks (commonly the cappuccino and the latte).  They are:

1. Temperature

For many believers in raw milk and kitchen science – heating and pasteurization process are argued to be the destroyer of the truer flavors of milk.  Much mass produced milk is blindly flash-heated to a temperature level where subtle flavors and richness have disintegrated.  People who normally desire burning hot lattes and cappuccinos do not understand that they are robbing themselves of valuable flavor.  The steamed milk temperature for these drinks should not hover above 140F degrees (significantly lower in the case of a cappuccino).  Don’t be a fool, a piping hot latte is wrong.

2. Milk Quality

It’s simple – better cow, better practices/process, better milk solid/fat all equates to a more flavorful milk.  If you put different milks side by side, you can tell the difference.  It’s not rocket science and its definitively easier than the Pepsi Challenge. 

For those that do not realize this, milk makes up 85% of your latte and about 66% of your cappuccino.  If you were to rationalize this into a cooking thought – try to imagine a soup that is 85% meat stock.  I’m sure the quality, intensity and depth of that meat stock directly and drastically influences the final quality of that soup.  Now apply that relationship to milk and you have a good argument for milk as being the backbone of a latte.

Having identified the necessity for high quality milk, we still weren’t sure how we could offer a better product without loading our ideals onto a customer’s wallet.  After working out the logistics (fridge capacity, ordering, pricing), we felt that the best way was to enable customers to decipher the difference in quality themselves.  We will offer Straus milk as a .25 cent optional add-on for our cappuccino and latte menu for a 2-3 month trial period.  This way, we could give the customers the ability to make up their own minds and judgments about the differences in milks in their drink.  And while customers are deciding, we will watch and evaluate carefully as to how much they react to their latte experience with Straus Barista milk.  During this time, Straus has decided to also work with us and offer us a modest rebate as we try to intelligently log our coffee issues/experiences that we will encounter with Straus Barista milk.  I will be feeding readers with an update from time to time on our little Barista milk experiment. 

Here is a link and release from Straus on the program.

Oh yeah, if you didn’t catch it, our little project was featured a few days ago on Chow.com.  Read it here. 

For the real masters of talking coffee shop, I’d read: www.jimseven.com, blog.terroircoffee.com, http://www.intelligentsiacoffee.com/blog, http://www.coffeegeek.com/.

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