I have after many years of trying to make a good cup of coffee finally learned to make one under the tutelage of Radu, the maestro of roasters and baristas in Nerja and possibly the whole of Southern Spain. His standards are high. Miniature hand grinder at the ready, miniature scales at his elbow, filter inserted, his religion is timing and precision. Coffee capsules a la George Clooney are for losers, filters of various types produce watery characterless coffee, percolators are fine if you like your drink bitter and approximating to what the French drink . No, the only possible home brew is Aeropress which most people have never heard of. It consists of a grey plastic funnel to which you screw a small filter which is then lined with filter paper and another funnel which fits inside the first like a kind of piston. All these years I have pushed down this second funnel with my entire body weight since the steam build up creates a mighty strong resistance. However, the results are erratic and when I heard about Radu I made an appointment to learn how to be an amateur barista so I could put an end to regular instances of brew disappointment.
Measurement, timing and coffee quality are crucial. The coffee, roasted to perfection, ground specifically for Aeropress (and here the fineness of grind can vary wildly depending on the kind of grinder) has to weigh 12 grams precisely. The water has to measure 200mg and after it has come to a boil must be left for 1-2 minutes to settle. When the water touches the coffee in the funnel it is left for 1 minute then stirred, or stroked, ever so gently with a wooden baton (or spoon handle). After one more minute and a half press down the plunger until you hear the hiss of steam starting to force the coffee through the filter. Your coffee is ready to take on a helping of frothy milk; Oatly produces the best type of dense foam, even though it is full of additives.
Since my lesson, which lasted an hour and a bit because customers kept interrupting our tutorial, every cup has been a pleasure. Apparently my technique could be improved from a lot more knowledge, but that requires a few more sessions. Radu sold me a Costa Rican bean which is rounded and smooth and without any nasty acidic aftertaste. One- or at the most two- cups of this quality set me up for the day and if I should drink another after 2.30 in the afternoon I will lie awake most of the night.
But back to Radu’s non-cafe roastery which is situated in a back road behind a supermarket in Nerja. This seaside town is crammed with white pueblo type terraced houses built on rocky hillsides, just like most Andalusian towns. So many dwellings, so many persons sequestering their share of sun, many of them Brits who look a bit sad and displaced stationed in front of cakes and ale.
However, an active looking smallish man walked into the roastery. He told me he was a hard-core biker. Biker cafes offering good coffee are all the rage because caffeine keeps these lycra fiends going as a form of harmless drug. What would they have done before it was grown in Brazil, where it was imported from Yemen by way of Ethiopia? This part of Spain is full of fanatics furiously pedalling their way up winding mountain roads, all bulging calf muscles, all clad in the revealing black lycra with flashes of colour like exotic birds. After the genial biker came another genial bearded American who had the same outgoing bonhomie that signals a certain contentment with life, a kind of minor nirvana of the soul. This Baba Cool attitude is the provenance of persons who have a lighthearted familiarity with daily synchronicities: you know, cruising along they find a parking spot exactly at the right time, or when a 5 euro note is found nestling in the torn lining of a pocket, just when the urge for a coffee takes shape- the kind of thing which if it happens frequently enough creates the illusion of a benign universe. I suspect Radu has many customers like these whose keen nose for a fragrant brew leads them to happy meetings in his roastery.
“I can be myself”, he says. Presumably he means he doesn’t have to conform to other people’s codes of behaviour or expectation. “And I get to meet the most interesting people.” So with that alchemy of super barista, excellent coffee curated by a man with a passion it is no wonder that people find their way to this rather boring suburb of Nerja. It is worth the trip.
El Zoco de Nerja, nivel 1, Nerja, Spain Tel: 0034 636 1443 85