illy coffee workshop :: espress-o myself

3:28 AM sians 1 Comments

get it? lol.

i'm not surprised if you rolled your eyes but i just couldn't help it. heck, even i almost rolled my eyes when i chose this title. and yes, the pun was intended!

trying to figure a title for this entry led me to google for a coffee qoute. which is where i found this 

"be a coffee-drinking individual -- espresso yourself!"
-author unknown

but there was one that really caught my eye was probably every coffee-holics would agree ::

"there's nothing sweeter than a cup of bitter coffee"
- rian aditia

when i was working in chicago, i needed a cup of latte every single morning in order to function effectively especially after only 5 hours of sleep. it came to the point where i received a gold card membership for starbucks and even one of the baristas knew my order by heart and asks me if i wanted the usual whenever she saw me coming. i would occasionally change it up just to confuse her (lol!) but  'a tall soy latte' was always my go-to choice. it still is.  

i've never considered of starbucks as brewers of awesome lattes. they are 'meh' (for lack of a better term) but i've always gotten one from there because of the convenience and the abundant number of starbucks kiosks everywhere.  

when i read a fellow blogger, cindy tong's tweet about a coffee workshop, i jumped at the opportunity. organized by thirstmag in collaboration with illy coffee,  the world of coffee workshop course encompassed different types of coffee bean and their origin and the various transformation of coffee. thirstmag is a beverages magazine website, the first of its kind in the region focusing on coffee, tea, mocktails and cocktails. and i had the pleasure of meeting with the editor, kim choong at the workshop.

a coffee connoisseur, i am not. but i'd classify myself as a coffee enthusiast :) if you're wondering, i have found my favorite cup of latte here in malaysia and i was interested to see how does the counterpart brewed by illy's experts fare against it. if you are interested for just a cup of joe by illy, you can find espressamente illy  in bangsar village one and pavillion.

the workshop was held at università del caffè della malesia (illy school of coffee malaysia) located in phileo damansara 2. it is an extension of the original university of coffee in trieste, italy -- the brainchild of illy where its main aim is to promote and spread the culture of quality coffee.  

my first thought was..this workshop is going to be good since italians take their espresso seriously! oh, and espresso is an important ingredient in my favorite-est dessert, tiramisu! :)

we were greeted by the friendly illy people and were invited to a classroom. there i could find fancy shiny and pretty gadgets and the old school ones as i walked in. fitting for a coffee workshop, we were offered either a shot of espresso, a latte or cappuccino before the workshop started. no prize for guessing which one i went for :) haha 

i've always tried to remember what those espresso-based drinks names are and what they correspond to and i found a poster chart which i thought was uber awesome! i love it! thought it might be helpful to some of you too! :)

taken from google images and circled the ones mentioned at the workshop
quick facts about a couple of espresso based drinks that might be good to know and show off to your friends what these coffee names usually mean ::

caffe latte | ratio of espresso to milk is 1:2. the milk is heated (but not frothed) to 150-160F (not more) using a steam wand. hot milk and espresso poured together into a serving cup with the small amount of froth topping the drink.
ristretto | extraction is faster, more oily than espresso, lesser caffeine and more sour
cappuccino | ratio of espresso to milk is 1:1, the milk is frothed to double the original amount of milk (forms microfoam) and microfoam is poured over espresso. 
latte macchiato | the opposite of cappuccino where the espresso is poured into microfoam. 

i was so excited when we got our own cups of coffee. i was accompanied by {wy}, {mw} and {hr} since i was could to bring along three friends (thanks kim!) and everyone ordered one of each which was a perfect opportunity for picture variety. 

espresso with a good amount of crema :)
cappuccino for {wy}

 lattes with different foam art each for {mw} and me :) how pretty!
i've always felt that foam art takes a ton of skills and i am always at awe at pretty ones. and no, we didn't learn how to make foam art in this workshop -- instead it was highlighting coffee appreciation. 

we were very lucky to have francesco fusco, the youngest barista trainer from universita del caffe illy trieste to be a part of the workshop. at age 21, he overlooks all training for illy in the whole asia pacific region and we had him teaching us what makes the best espresso. pretty impressive, i have to admit.

i'll try to skip a lot of what i learned and spilling the beans on some important points that might be interesting and useful for you coffee lovers :)

ever wondered what espresso means? prepared on express order! meaning the barista would make a cup just for you on the spot as you ordered it.

so what makes a good cup of espresso? 

the coffee beans? sure! illy uses 100% arabica beans, with nine blends of it from different regions that represents the nine desirable aroma characteristics. so that's taken care off.

if you wanted to distinguish between the arabica and robusta beans, arabica beans are longish with a s-shaped deep furrow (groove). so you can recognize them over the robusta beans which are roundish and an almost straight furrow. once roasted they are look the same and your only clue would be tasting it ^^ the beans are grounded finer than regular coffee for espresso.

espresso is what it is because of the way it's made. say hello to the ferarri of all espresso machines : la maazocco.

the double boiler in this machine (which is why it's so awesome) allows the water temperature to be constant at 90ºC (194F) and the 9 bars. flushing the spout before brewing is very important just so the remnants from the previous brew would not sully the taste of the next. 

but the most important part of it all is the barista him/herself! evelyn (i am guessing manager of the university) and francesco mentioned that 50% goodness of the espresso depends on the mood of your barista. if you ever went to a cafe and noticed the barista seems to have a scowl on his/her face, run away quickly.. at least to the next cafe. so, it really does mean that a happy barista means a happy espresso :)

the next part of the workshop is slightly more interactive -- the tasting session (yum! if you like coffee ^^) through the various transformation of coffee. all starting from the same beans but we'd learn soon enough that the taste changes at the hands of the barista using different techniques!

first tasting is how various little things affects even the taste of a single shot espresso. and you'd also find out why espresso shots are served in such a small volume! ^^

here is a little fact sheet for the perfect espresso :

o1. dose --  7 (0.25oz) ± 0.5 g (for a single shot)
o2. water temperature -- 90 (194F) ± 2ºC
o3. extraction pressure -- 9 ± 0.5 atmosphere
o4. percolation time -- 5 + 25 sec
o5. volume -- 25 (0.75 fl oz) ± 5 ml

the percolation time ensures that only 60% is extracted from the coffee which is the best part to make a good cup of espresso.

an excellent cup of espresso consists of crema on top of the coffee (created by the pressure where it extracts the coffee oils). you drink with your eyes first similar to eating with your eyes first ;)  hehe. if the crema is dissolved, you could try asking your barista very, very nicely if he/she could make you another shot.

to savor the small shot (well, it is a 25 ml!) first inhale the aroma of coffee (especially love it in the morning). then sip it within 2 to 3 minutes after it's brewed where the taste of bitterness first touches your tongue then it ends with a slight sourness. mmm.... blisss :)

reason behind the 2-3 minute rule -- cold temperature makes your coffee tastes sour over time. i've had terrible espresso where it was truly just sour and immediately i thought the coffee had went bad. {rmc} had to throw out that double shot after a sip >.<

there is a difference in flavor if you brew it too fast or too long -- longer and it becomes too bitter with less sour because caffeine is water soluble -- meaning longer time, more caffeine and more bitter. brewing under 25 seconds, the espresso becomes too sour with a hint of bitterness in the background.

there are a couple of transformations of coffee they introduced us to and each with a tasting session to follow ^^

o1. french press -- more coarse ground, 4 minute brew and push the grounds to the bottom slowly (and smoothly) to get the aroma

o2. moka -- what most italians use to make espresso at home (at least that's what i seem to notice), no crema, over the stove. mostly a waiting game.

o3. drip coffee (v60) -- what busy, competitive lifestyles have resorted us to :: similar to a coffee maker except the method done manually gives better flavor depending on the technique. possibly the most common technique used for everyday coffee.

o4. siphon technique -- when the barista took this apparatus out, i was like 'omg, it's the mobile dashi maker from alinea!' looked like a cool scientific apparatus. heat the water . add coffee grounds on the top . brew for a minute. filter to the bottom flask.

what i've learned from the tasting session was that each technique gives a very slight, almost subtle variation in flavor profile -- more of the balance of bitterness and sourness. if i had to rank the first two techniques to be my favorite, it would have to be...


i had to think really hard.. i think it would be....

the siphon technique comes first then espresso is second.

the differences may be very subtle but what gives the siphon technique an edge was the fact that i felt there was somewhat of a clarity in its flavor profile -- bitter without an obvious sour aftertaste while espresso leaned towards creamier full body.

one thing i noticed though in all techniques is that everything that touches the coffee, be it the cups, the spout or apparatus, it's best to keep them warm.  just like warm food should be served on a warm plates and chilled glasses for beer to keep the temperature constant.

it was an absolute delight to have learned so much in two hours and have gotten more than my share of caffeine for the day lol. (just an interesting fact -- too much caffeine can kill! literally. lol but it would take a lot of caffeine for that to happen)

all the participants of the workshop + universita illy crew :)

so much coffee that it put me on a caffeine high which only meant a crash later...which was exactly what happened to me lol.

thanks kim! it was nice to meet you and to learn about thirst mag! us posing with the sexy machine ^^

with francesco and our barista expert (?)

università del caffè della malesia offers barista courses (they mentioned a course at a discounted rate of RM500 for a limited time) and also the artsy side which includes the foam art classes. thanks thirstmag, illy,  università del caffè della malesia and its crew for such a interesting and informative coffee appreciation workshop. 

it seems that we have forgotten due to our busy lives that coffee is a social experience. it's meant to be enjoyed together with friends. :) so pick up your favoriate cuppa brew with friends, pause from the hectic lifestyle and take some time to savor, appreciating the subtle bitter ad sour notes of coffee.

università del caffè della malesia | location
block b, unit 901, 9th flloor
pusat dagangan phileo damansara 2, 
jalan 16/11, off jalan damansara, 
petaling jaya, selangor 46350

disclaimer this is written based on personal experience and opinions. experiences and taste buds may vary for others.

p.s. i was told that our barista's name is mr goh chee wan ^^ now both of us know his name!



3:25 AM sians 0 Comments

restaurant week chicago earlier this year was the culprit behind my learning of the existence of sepia. it's embarrassing to admit but i was drawn to the restaurant because of its website and picture of the restaurant's interior -- but it was the 4 star rating from yelp and trip advisor and 4.5 star rating from open table that sealed the deal and it was quickly added to my restaurant wish list. 

i didn't get to it until the end of spring/early summer season. the weather was really warm under the sun but just perfect in the shade. a lovely evening for photography while absorbing the beauty of windy city. 

it was a really long walk since i was out of work pretty early and my dinner appointment with {xy} was two hours later. with all that extra time, i went on a detour to the french market and got myself a little quick sweet treat :: three french macarons, which was not too sweet, crispy and airy.   

i have to admit i got lost a few times but thank goodness for gps on my phone, i found my way to the entrance of sepia. 

there were two buildings adjacent to each other bearing sepia's name -- i reached the entrance of the first building, which was actually the private dining room. i was a tad confused and hovered around the first building to check the place out before i decidedly walked towards the correct entrance.

walking into the lounge, i loved the decor - accented by lovely decorative vintage pieces all around the room which was clad by open brick walls. i also love the art nouveau floor tiles which completes to the rustic and contemporary feel to the restaurant, the theme reflected on their website. i read that this was built from an 1890 print shop, which explains a lot of its ambience.

i didn't quite feel the same as i walked into the dining room. i had mixed emotions about its decor - you could say it was a love-hate relationship. the vintage and contemporary decor extends from the lounge but somehow the dining room lost some of that warmth and coziness -- almost detached. i loved the wine display case against the one of the walls and the group dining room with embossed velvet wall paper.

they have a variety of selections on their menu but surprisingly {xy} and i wanted to try the same thing but refrained from doing it lol. one item on the menu had me stop on my tracks and quickly realized i had to try to convince {xy} to share something with me on the menu as an appetizer... lol

they started us with some bread with an interesting shape (almost like a tree branch) and an even more interesting texture -- i could taste some of the grains and spices where each lends a distinct flavor with each bite, embedded into soft, fluffy bread with a crispy exterior. well, butter does make everything better so it was a much needed accompaniment for additional richness and creaminess.

to start :: bacon wrapped sweetbreads  | morels, carrots, saffron, basil ($15)

yes, this was it -- the appetizer i had to convince {xy} to share with me. i wanted to try sweetbreads in its truest form and well...everything is awesome-r with bacon. the first time i had sweetbread was in the form of ravioli filling so it didn't do it justice.. i had to do some convincing since {xy} has never had them before.

the sweetbread had a very interesting texture that i'm still not sure what to think of it -- almost has a soft, slightly marshmallow-like consistency coupled with a gamey flavor. it was missing the crispy aspect to contrast the overall softness, which was i am guessing is the initial role of the bacon. however, the bacon was not crispy and was rather surprisingly light in flavor, allowing the sweetbread to shine. i love the light reduction which had a subtle saffron, sweet carrot and gosh i love the morels which were also great on its own. however, it paired well with the sweetbreads, to bring a lightness to the whole dish. pretty good but i still can't decide if i like sweetbread. {xy}'s thoughts? he liked it.

entrees :: duck breast | spice glaze, turnips, black pepper gnocchi, duck jus ($30)

i can't seem to resist duck dishes or anything related to seafood whenever i see it on their menu. did sepia do the duck breast justice? not as much as i hoped they would. despite the visible crust on the top which was glazed with a concentrated savory flavor, it wasn't very crispy on the top which was a tad disappointing. i was hoping the layer of fat was rendered further for a crisper textural difference with a duck which was otherwise moist. it might also the reason behind the duck to be slightly chewy. i'd also appreciate more glaze to counterbalance the under-seasoned meat.

i enjoyed the petite serving of the sides (turnips, gnocchi). the gnocchi had a good sear although it didn't pull off the pillowy cloud texture but it wasn't gummy. the sweet turnps were great accompaniment but i was left wanting more because of such a minuscule serving. duck jus is always a lovely to amplify the duck, gamey flavor as exemplified by this dish. overall, an alright dish but slightly let down possibly because of my initial impression of what this place could offer.

entree :: strip steak | yukon gold potato, asparagus, chimichurri, smoke ($32)

{xy} was also considering ordering the duck but i called dibs! and he's just really nice to give in to me. lol. so i suppose the next best thing would be a strip steak. medium was how he ordered it but it turned out to be more medium rare - bordering rare which i suppose is a good thing since strip steak is leaner than a tenderloin. it had beautiful grilled marks and a good sear and i think {xy}'s reaction was less than impressed.. when asked, his response was, "it was alright - not mind blowing". i had a small piece and had the similar sentiments.

he wasn't a fan of the small sides of sautéd asparagus,  potatoes and pearl onions, resulting to a bummed out experience with his dish and looked at envy at my dish.

my experience at sepia was a tad disappointing, possibly due to my expectations from reading rave reviews coupled with delicious photos of their offerings. my summary would be it was mediocre, not mind blowing.. just as how {xy} has described his dish - which is too bad :( because i really wanted to like it so very much.

sepia chicago | location
123, n. jefferson st.
chicago, il, 60661

{yummy-ness | 2.5 forks out of 5 }
{worth trying | not too sure. duck is okay.}

disclaimer this is written based on personal experience and opinion. experiences and taste buds may vary for others.

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