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Barista Artistry 

Coffee. It used to be simple. You'd grab a cup and grab a pot: red handle for decaf or black handle for regular. With just a little room at the top of the cup, you'd fill the rest with cream and sugar. Give it a quick stir and you were ready to drink the caffeinated beverage, hoping it would give you enough energy to get through the morning, or until you could get another cup.

But today, people care more about their coffee. Local shops around Indy have turned the coffee pouring business into an art form.

THE ROASTER

Andy Gilman grabs a black and white cup and brings a 6-ounce cappuccino to life like a pro. He explains the cup down to a molecular level in just two minutes, the amount of time it takes to make "The Doctor." As he slides the cup over the counter, a heart within a wreath floats perfectly on the surface.

click to enlarge Bee Coffee Roasters' cappuccino, "The Doctor," with a free-pour - heart within a wreath. - BRYNN ERDY
  • Brynn Erdy
  • Bee Coffee Roasters' cappuccino, "The Doctor," with a free-pourheart within a wreath.

Andy Gilman, Bee Coffee Roasters' co-owner, head roaster and trainer, wears a lot of hats. He describes himself as a "coffee nerd."

He received his Bachelor of Science in Geological Science and his Bachelor of Arts in Painting from Indiana University. Gilman is a scientist and an artist.

"That's what I love about coffee. There's science and art," Gilman says. "I am very science-y, which helps describe [coffee] so people understand it. I put that creativity into it -- and taste it -- this is what I bring out in the coffee, and that's what I like: a beautiful marriage of science and art. It keeps it exciting."

THE SCIENCE

Many coffee beverages at Bee Coffee Roasters use espresso. Gilman explains that espresso is not a bean but a brewing method.

Nathaniel Nolan, a barista at Bee Coffee Roasters, walks through the process. A high-pressure machine finely grinds the coffee beans. Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is exposed during the grinding process. It's important to move quickly after this point to preserve the flavor and freshness. Then the grounds are densely tamped into a puck-shaped disk and placed into a portafilter, taking about 30 pounds of pressure to form. It must be tamped evenly to ensure equal water distribution. This is necessary for the perfect extraction from the bean to attain premium flavor: not too weak, not too strong.

Hot water flows through the puck at a pressure of nine bar. A regular cup of coffee is usually brewed at zero to one bar. The right amount of pressure and heat is needed to release the oils and fat from the grounds as well as CO2, which together forms the foam on top of the liquid. This foam is also called crema.

Using terms such as "flavonoids," Gilman explains the taste is "very strong and pungent." At this point "that has everything from the bean you can get. A good barista knows when to stop." If the process goes on too long, you are left with an "aspirin taste."

As the espresso is pulled well, the barista steams the milk. The milk consists of water, fat and proteins. Gilman says you are "bringing out the sugars. It's heavy, sweet, complex."

It's now time for the artistic touch.

THE ART

Gilman explains the art. Espresso, with the crema, melts together with the steamed milk and forms the design you see on top. Changing up the stream of the steamed milk, making it thin or heavy, brings the surfaces together forming a design. This is a free-pour method. Designs take time, practice and dedication.

"It doesn't come all at once, ever," Gilman says. He compared this process to Shaquille O'Neal's ability, or lack thereof, to make a free throw.

Gilman says baristas at Bee Coffee Roasters have mastered the design of tulips, rosettas, hearts, phoenixes and abstract dragons.

"It takes noodling," Gilman says.

THE TREND

Coffee is the second-most traded commodity behind oil. People used to drink coffee for its caffeine jolt, but today more and more people drink it for the taste -- and for the sheer indulgence of drinking a decadent coffee beverage. One could argue local coffee cafés are becoming a national trend.

"Coffee is the next culinary horizon people are thinking about," Gilman says. 

Portland, Oregon, Las Angeles, Chicago, Seattle and Kansas City are big coffee cities according to Gilman. He wants Indy to grow as a coffee café city.

"There aren't enough shops. I can probably count [them on] 10 fingers and a foot," Gilman says.

Calvin Fletcher's Coffee Co., Foundry Provisions, Kaffeine Coffee Co. food truck, LuLu's Coffee + Bakehouse, and Milktooth were among the shops and stops Gilman lists.

"Yes competitors, but I want Indy to get better," Gilman says.

click to enlarge This is an elegant free-pour swan by Jacob Clark.
  • This is an elegant free-pour swan by Jacob Clark.

THE CUSTOMER

Coffee is art and more people are recognizing the trend in Indianapolis.

An enjoyable experience and quality taste are what coffee drinkers are hunting for. They find themselves walking through the doors of local shops as opposed to large chains.

"It's the product itself; the coffee, the espresso and it's a casual atmosphere," Bee Coffee Roaster regular Chuck Bach says. "I can sit here at the window and watch the world go by."

So when the barista hands the customer a cup of coffee with a heart on top, they not only walk away with a smile, they also walk away posting a picture of their beautiful cup of art on social media.

Some even walk away wanting to do it themselves, but don't try this at home kids, because you can't do it. Trust me.

THE SHOP

201 S. Capitol Ave.: 7 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturday, open during major events on Sundays. 5510 Lafayette Road: 6 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday, (317) 280-1236, www.beecoffeeroasters.com

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About The Author

Brynn Erdy / Butler

Brynn Erdy / Butler

Bio:
Brynn Erdy is a Butler student whose work has also appeared in the Collegian. Erdy has also covered the education beat for the university's online news service.

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