The perfect splash of milk

No matter if you are a professional barista or an inexperienced coffee drinker making coffee at home, milk of a certain type and high quality is essential to your coffee experience. One of the best coffee bars in Denmark is La Cabra. In this charming, super ambitious coffee bar and café, everything is optimised down to the smallest detail, obviously also when it comes to the milk. We went there to have a chat with the founder, Esben Piper, about how you can improve your milk-based coffees at home.

La cabra

By Rasmus Palsgård

One of the best coffee bars in Denmark is located in the Latin quarter of Aarhus. No matter if you arrive in the morning or during the day, you will find busy baristas grinding, pouring and steaming behind the counter at La Cabra, the shining star at Aarhus’ coffee scene.
Have a look around and you will see some of the most fancy and advanced coffee brewing tools and machines next to a wide range of coffee beans, which have been roasted by La Cabra itself.
Coffee is not just coffee here. Every link of the chain from the bean to the farmer and the final cup of coffee is handled with the utmost respect.

“We want to show people what quality coffee really is. You need to source the best coffee beans from small plantations and roast them gently in order to bring out the true aromas and character of it,” says Esben Piper while he is preparing another slice of La Cabra’s popular sourdough bread with butter and Arla Unika Gammel Knas, a signature serving that has become a crowd-puller for many guests.

The right type of milk is essential
While the lighter pour over filter coffee has gained more territory throughout the years, milk- and espresso-based coffees are still the most in demand among the costumers at La Cabra. And after having spent so much time sourcing and preparing the coffee beans, it makes absolutely no sense not to use milk of high quality.

“No cup of coffee tastes better than the products you have used to make it. I have to say that in general, we are spoiled with organic milk of very high quality compared to many other countries,” Esben says.

Esben Piper makes another cup of cappuccino and places it at the counter.

“Look how shiny and stabile the milk foam is. It is supposed to be shiny like this and it should not collapse or look like soap bubbles after a few seconds in the cup. It will stay homogenous like this for a long time and that is only possible thanks to the right quality of milk,” he says.

What defines good milk to you?
“Good milk for barista work should have a high fat content like whole milk. We prefer organic milk, partly because of the better taste but also because it has not been homogenised, which means that the fat molecules are easier for us to work with. A milk-based cup of coffee should always be comfortable and milk with a high fat content simply does the job, whereas skimmed milk results in a watery cup of coffee.”

For the last couple of years, La Cabra has been using the Essens årstidsmælk (seasonal milk in English), a non-standardised milk changing in fat content along with the natural seasonal fluctuations such as a change in temperatures and the feed that the cows get access to. Not only the fat content varies from approximately 3,5 to 4,2 percent – the flavour also follows the season.

“La Cabra is a company that follows the seasons very closely. We are aiming to capture the expression of a certain product at a certain time and to us, the seasonal milk by Essens from Arla Unika is reflecting the same philosophy. In my opinion it is a very charming milk and I like the fact that it is not completely the same all the time. It is elegant and it leaves space for the coffee to shine as well. The high fat content results in a rich, creamy cup of coffee and if you make a latte with a chocolaty type of coffee, it is almost like a milkshake,” Esben says.

But there are plenty of whole milk on the market – why exactly the Essens årstidsmælk?

“You won’t believe how many different milks we have been testing before choosing this milk. We simply go for the best products and in our opinion, the Essens from Arla Unika and Arla Unika products are simply the best,” Esben says.

Professional back-and-forth
For Esben Piper, working with Arla is not just about buying milk. It is also a great professional back-and-forth adding value to both parties.

”When we have been competing abroad, it has been very important for us to be able to work the same milk quality as in our coffee bars and Arla has been a great help. They have even shipped the milk straight to the competition for us. It has been quite interesting to present Danish milk in foreign countries where they are used to long-life milk – the difference is significant, even when heated up and served with coffee.”

On the other hand, La Cabra has designed a professional coffee brewing setup at one of Arla’s dairies, where the developing team is testing different combinations of cheese and coffee. Arla and La Cabra are currently also working on a new product that might see the light of day soon.

“It is a dynamic collaboration that both parts can benefit from,” Esben says.

La cabra

Esben Piper’s tips for the home barista

- Buy high quality coffee and milk
- Use whole milk or milk with natural fat content
- Let the coffee rest 1,5 month after roasting. The coffee beans need to release the CO2 that has been accumulated during the roasting process – it is like with wine – coffee needs air to express its true aromas
- If you use a light coffee with a bright acidity, use less milk in order to maintain the delicate aromas and flavours of the coffee
- With a darker roast, you can use more milk to balance the flavours
- In general I only recommend using milk for espresso-based coffees – filter coffee is too delicate for milk in my opinion
- Use the right water. This gets a little complicated but to put it straight: Tap water from the bigger Danish cities contains way too much magnesium, which destroys the aromas and flavours of the coffee. We use a reverse osmosis filter. Private home versions are available for about DKK 5,000. Alternatively, go for bottled water. It should be as soft as possible.

Steaming

- Make sure to have enough milk in your jug. It should be at around two thirds full
- Keep the steaming device along the inside and the bottom of the jug between 12 and 3 on the clock. When a roaring noise appears, air is being pumped into the milk. Lift the steamer up and down, until the milk starts to get foamy.
- The important thing is to get a homogenous, airy milk without big bubbles

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