How to Make the Perfect Shot of Espresso Every Time

The average American drinks more than three cups of coffee a day, contributing to a $40 billion industry in the U.S. alone, according to the National Coffee Association. But not all coffee is created equal; flavor profiles vary. Focusing on espresso, scientists say they have now unlocked the key to creating consistent cups of java.

The researchers are presenting their results today at the 255th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 13,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

“One day you might have a good cup of coffee and the next day you might not. From a scientific perspective, it has always puzzled me why we couldn’t do the same thing twice,” Christopher H. Hendon, Ph.D., says. “My research looks at every variable that goes into making espresso coffee, from grinding and packing the ground coffee, to water pressure and mineral chemistry. If every single café in America were to implement the procedure, it would save the U.S. $300 million a year by reducing the amount of coffee beans used to make espresso, while improving reproducibility.”

Hendon’s research is some of the first of its kind, earning him the title, “Dr. Coffee.”

Previous research in his lab explored several variables that impact the reproducibility of espresso. For example, water hardness varies throughout the U.S., and this can affect flavor. “Hard” water with a high amount of magnesium and calcium causes coffee to have a stronger flavor than “soft” water This is because compounds such as caffeine stick to magnesium during the brewing process. Hard water can also have high amounts of bicarbonate, which causes coffee to have a more bitter flavor.

The freshness of the coffee beans can also impact how tasty a cup of coffee is. Freshly roasted coffee contains carbon dioxide and other compounds that easily evaporate. Over time, these volatile compounds escape the beans, resulting in a less flavorful cup of coffee. Lower temperature slows the rate of evaporation, which explains why storing coffee in the fridge extends its shelf life.

Hendon’s team at the University of Oregon has been focusing on the process of grinding coffee beans and the brewing method itself. “There is a point in grinding coffee beans when you make too many small particles, which stick together and result in reduced extractions,” Hendon says. Although smaller particles mean a greater surface area, which should result in consistently tasty espresso, there is a critical point at which smaller isn’t better. For this reason, the grinders used can have a significant impact on the flavor of the resulting cup of coffee.

Additionally, when extracting the espresso, the water should come into contact with the coffee grounds uniformly. Passing water through the grounds in a systematic manner would ensure that all of the grounds come in contact with water equally. In comparison, with a traditional drip-brew coffee pot, the water drips mainly through the center of the grounds while the grounds on the outside have little contact with water.

By collaborating with baristas, Hendon developed a method by which they can achieve their desired flavor profile consistently. Hendon proposes an optimization process achieved by altering grinding size and brew ratio. “By predetermining the coffee-to-water ratio, as well as the water pressure, the maximum extraction can be systematically determined,” he says. “The barista can then iteratively improve their espresso reproducibility, while reducing waste coffee mass.”

Now, he plans to take his work in another direction, focusing on the impact of temperature on grinding coffee. Specifically, he explains that cooled coffee grinds more uniformly and would therefore impart greater control on the resulting cup of joe.

Source: American Chemical Society


Relaxation Via Deep Breathing

The term “fight or flight” is also known as the stress response. It’s what the body does as it prepares to confront or avoid danger. When appropriately invoked, the stress response helps us rise to many challenges. But trouble starts when this response is constantly provoked by less momentous, day-to-day events, such as money woes, traffic jams, job worries, or relationship problems.

Health problems are one result. A prime example is high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. The stress response also suppresses the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and other illnesses. Moreover, the buildup of stress can contribute to anxiety and depression. We can’t avoid all sources of stress in our lives, nor would we want to. But we can develop healthier ways of responding to them. One way is to invoke the relaxation response, through a technique first developed in the 1970s at Harvard Medical School by cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson. The relaxation response is a state of profound rest that can be elicited in many ways, including meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation.

Breath focus is a common feature of several techniques that evoke the relaxation response. The first step is learning to breathe deeply.

Deep breathing benefits

Deep breathing also goes by the names of diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing, and paced respiration. When you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, and the lower belly rises.

For many of us, deep breathing seems unnatural. There are several reasons for this. For one, body image has a negative impact on respiration in our culture. A flat stomach is considered attractive, so women (and men) tend to hold in their stomach muscles. This interferes with deep breathing and gradually makes shallow “chest breathing” seem normal, which increases tension and anxiety.

Shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. The lowest part of the lungs doesn’t get a full share of oxygenated air. That can make you feel short of breath and anxious.

Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.

Practicing breath focus

Breath focus helps you concentrate on slow, deep breathing and aids you in disengaging from distracting thoughts and sensations. It’s especially helpful if you tend to hold in your stomach.

First steps. Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. First, take a normal breath. Then try a deep breath: Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural).

Breath focus in practice. Once you’ve taken the steps above, you can move on to regular practice of controlled breathing. As you sit comfortably with your eyes closed, blend deep breathing with helpful imagery and perhaps a focus word or phrase that helps you relax.

Ways to elicit the relaxation response

Several techniques can help you turn down your response to stress. Breath focus helps with nearly all of them:

  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Yoga, tai chi, and Qi Gong
  • Repetitive prayer
  • Guided imagery

Creating a routine

You may want to try several different relaxation techniques to see which one works best for you. And if your favorite approach fails to engage you, or you want some variety, you’ll have alternatives. You may also find the following tips helpful:

  • Choose a special place where you can sit (or lie down) comfortably and quietly.
  • Don’t try too hard. That may just cause you to tense up.
  • Don’t be too passive, either. The key to eliciting the relaxation response lies in shifting your focus from stressors to deeper, calmer rhythms — and having a focal point is essential.
  • Try to practice once or twice a day, always at the same time, in order to enhance the sense of ritual and establish a habit.
  • Try to practice at least 10–20 minutes each day.

Source: Harvard University

Today’s Comic

Video: How To Open Coconuts Without Any Tools

If you’re not a coconut cracking ninja from Samoa, then you’ll need an easier way to bust coconuts for pleasure, or for survival. This is the easiest and most effective way I’ve found to do it, when you don’t have any tools.

Watch video at You Tube (4:25 minutes) . . . . .

9 Ways How to Grill Like An Argentinian

Claire Rouger wrote . . . . . .

One of Summer’s greatest pleasures is barbecue grilling. To make the most of your barbecue season, we invite you to discover Argentinian grilling. Argentina takes its beef very seriously and has mastered the art of grilling.

After spending three months in Argentina on our quest for authentic food, we had the chance to share and enjoy many asados (barbecues) and parrillas (steakhouses). We observed the Argentinian grilling customs. And we also learned the various grilling techniques including what makes Argentinian grilling so unique.

To further ground ourselves in the Argentinian grilling culture, we had the pleasure of meeting Argentine top chef, Francis Mallmann, who shared insights about the Argentinian grilling culture. According to Francis Mallmann, “grilling in Argentina isn’t just about the food, it is a ritual and ceremony”. You can read more here about our conversation: Francis Mallmann and The Seven Fires.

To make your Summer grilling remarkable, here are 9 ways to grill like an Argentinian.

1. Start With Good Quality Ingredients

When it comes to what you put on the grill, the quality of the ingredients matter.

In Argentina, the cows where the meat comes from are grass fed. In the Pampas, one of the most important farming regions, you see the cows freely roaming and eating grass in the fields. As a result, the beef cuts are leaner and healthier. You will find quality ingredients not only for the meat, but also for chicken, pork, fish and vegetables.

In Argentina, the quality of the products that are put on the grill are exceptionally high. You will never see frozen patties sizzling on a grill. This means that when you sit down to enjoy your meal, you will taste and appreciate the flavors and textures. When grilling this Summer, get the best quality products you can, and taste the difference.

2. Put More Than Beef On The Grill

While beef is the king of the barbecue, you will be surprised to see more diverse cuts in Argentina. Grilling in Argentina goes beyond hamburgers and hot dogs. When we were invited to asados, we were quite surprised to see the variety of offal or organ meats that made up about half of the meats on the grill.

Offal or achuras in Argentina are quite popular. You will find chinchulines (cow intestines), morcillas (blood sausages), mollejas (sweetbread) and a variety of other organ meats. These are delicious Argentine indulgences and can add to your grilling experience.

When preparing for your barbecue this Summer, be creative and ask your local butcher for non-ordinary cuts and pieces of meat. If you don’t have a local butcher, visit the meat section of the ethnic food stores near you. This is a great alternative and the vendors will be happy to help you find tasty innards for your grill.

3. Observe The Grilling Ritual

Preparing the meat and grilling is not a haphazard affair in Argentina. There is a ritual and process that is observed and respected. It starts with designating a grill master, called the asador. Traditionally male, many asadors learned their techniques from their fathers and grandfathers. It is an honored role. The asador takes charge of the grilling process from start to finish.

The process starts with getting the coals ready. Slow cooking is key.

When it is time to cook, the most common appetizer served is chorizo. This is a pork/beef sausage that easily becomes a choripán sandwich when eaten with bread.

Following the chorizo, the offals are served and finally the various cuts of meat.

Once the meat is served and everybody has tucked away a considerable amount, someone calls out for ‘un aplauso para el asador’, a round of applause for the asador. Everyone claps to show their appreciation for the asador who has been cooking in 90+ temperatures for several hours.

4. Grill Using Wood

Gas grilling would be an offense in Argentina. In Argentina, grilling is done with wood.

When it is time to prepare their barbecue, Argentinians starts with a fire made of wood.

You will notice on every barbecue, a little corner or nook that is built in for the wood to burn. Once the coals become hot, they are placed underneath the meat for cooking purposes.

When the meat is cooked over a wood fire, the flavors are enhanced. This gives the meat a smoky taste that is not overpowering. The next time you grill, think about using wood fire and be prepared to taste the difference.

5. Don’t Let The Flames Touch The Food

The grills in Argentina look different than the grills in the U.S. One of the most striking differences is that the grills in Argentina have a wheel crank, that raise or lower the grill.

If you look closely at the grills, you will notice a second difference. In Argentina, the grills are V-shaped. This helps capture and contain the fat drippings and oils. Instead of the fat dripping into the fire and causing flare ups, the fat slides through the V-shaped grills and slides into a slot. This fat can be reused for basting the meat and it also makes the cleaning process much easier.

Fire is the enemy in Argentinian grilling. Contact with direct flames leads to burning, or ‘over carbonization’ which results in burnt and bitter flavors. This is not great for the meat or for your health.

6. Crust The Meat

The most important step while cooking the meat is the first contact between the food and the grill. You want to keep the meat in contact with the grill so it creates a thin brown crust.

According to Francis Mallmann, the crust keeps the meat moist by preventing the juice from escaping as the meat cooks.

When observing the asador, you will not see them flipping around the meat. It is this idea described by Francis Mallmann that “you must respect the first contact between food and the cooking surface”. See more in this Francis Mallmann video on YouTube. Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way, by Francis Mallmann

The art is to cook the meat with the right amount of grilling so that you have a nice crust without burning the meat. It takes practice but it is worth the effort to get the most juicy flavors out of the meat.

One tip to remember is to remove the meat from the fridge before cooking so it reaches room temperature. If the meat is too cold when put on the grill, it may be tough to eat.

7. Grill Slow At Low Temperatures

In Argentina, the meat is cooked long and slow. For large groups, the asador cooks a variety of different cuts of meat over long periods of time.

With meat that is lean from the grass fed cows, one would expect it to dry out. But instead, what is surprising is that the meat is crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The asador moves the hot coal under the meat and adjusts the grill to regulate the temperatures for maximum juiciness.

This cooking technique on lower heat for long periods, transforms even the leanest of grass-fed meat into tender and delicious beauties. The wait is long and the aromas can be painfully delicious.

8. The Simpler The Sauce, The Better

When you start with good products and the meat is cooked long and slow, you will find that you will rarely need to add any condiments to your meat. Some salt and bay leaves would be fine.

In Argentina, the most popular sauce for Argentinian grilling is chimichurri. This sauce is made of parsley, garlic, oregano, red pepper, vinegar and olive oil. The chimichurri can be put on top of the meat as a final touch before eating.

By keeping the condiments and sauces simple, you put the meat front and center. The taste of the meat isn’t masked by thick and strong flavored sauces.

For your next barbecue, consider using only salt and herbs. If you choose to make chimichurri sauce, it is best is to prepare it a day or two before the barbecue. The sauce ages with time and becomes much more flavorful.

9. Argentinian Grilling Is A Day Long Affair

In Argentina, the barbecue or asado is a detailed and lengthy affair. We are not talking about the experience at a restaurant where your waiter brings your food. What we are talking about is the traditional experience with locals in their homes.

If you visit Argentina and you get an invitation to an asado, do not miss the opportunity. The asado is such an important part of the culture that the local TV hosts won’t tell you if it will rain or shine on Sunday. They’ll tell you if you’ll be able to eat an asado outdoors or not.

Eating at the asado typically starts between 2pm – 3pm and guest can remain seated well past 6pm eating several rounds of dishes.

At our first asado in the pampas, we enjoyed a very laid back atmosphere and slow eating pace. The meats that included chicken and pork, were brought out in waves. Fresh green salads and potatoes were constantly passed around. The food was washed down with a never-ending supply of beer and malbec wines for the adults.

Desserts was another long drawn out affair. We enjoyed different types of sweets, including variations of the famous dulce de leche. All of this was accompanied with mate (traditional drink) and coffee. The night ended past midnight with folklore music and traditional dances.

As you gear up to grill this season, add the spirit of Dolce Far Niente to your event. This Italian expression “the sweetness of doing nothing” is a common phrase in Argentina. Plan for nothing else on your Summer grilling days. Simply kick back, enjoy good food, good company and be in the moment.

Source: Authentic Foodquest

Video: How to Make Vegan Meringue from Canned Chickpeas

Make creamy vegan meringue for pies, cookies and more with just three ingredients! Chef and cookbook author Mark Reinfeld, the founder of Vegan Fusion, shows you how to transform the liquid from a can of chickpeas into a versatile egg substitute called aquafaba.

Watch video at Vegetarian Times (2:39 minutes) . . . . .