Illy's Master Barista's Coffee Rules

In Italy, barista is not a term that is thrown around casually, especially not at illycaffé. Giorgio Milos, is not only Italian Barista Champion and faculty member at illy's Università del Caffè, he's also illy's North American barista in residence here to show U.S. baristas the key to the perfect cup.

Milos, who drinks up to 10 cups of espresso a day (never 11), began his career as a barista in Trieste, Italy 20 years ago. He admits that his coffee back then was less than stellar. Now, as a master barista, he has perfected the art of the "experience" of coffee.

Milos tells to us about how Italians make coffee and what he thinks about American baristas, just in time for National Coffee Day (today!).

What's the best way to keep beans fresh—are you a fan of refrigeration?

The refrigerator is not a good friend of coffee because coffee contains oil, and keeping oil at a low temperature changes its structure. My suggestion is to use [beans] quickly. When you use beans you have to grind them just a few minutes before preparation in order to keep the flavors fresh. Ground coffee is a little more complicated: Keep it in a container, like Tupperware, and try to use it within a maximum of seven days.

Which method do you recommend for making home coffee (i.e. French press, Chemex, percolator)?

You can really choose the way you like best. Of course, transformation makes a difference. You can transform coffee in different ways; for instance, by using a French press. Using the same beans you can have a different experience and different taste profile depending on how it's brewed. I never say use this or that method. I usually say try and find your best method.

Is home roasting your beans easy and/or worth it?

Not easy, no. My grandmother used to roast beans at home. You can do it if you have a good machine, but I think that you can find roasted beans in every market. The only thing is you need to choose the right coffee.

Basically I look at the roasting date first, if we're talking about beans not in a container. If the coffee is older than a week I don't want to buy it—maybe 10 days, but no more.

How is the coffee culture in Italy different than in America?

The approach by Italians is very different compared to Americans. We have two ways to drink coffee. The first is we make coffee at home using a [stovetop] Moka pot. Ninety percent of families in Italy have a set of different sized Moka pots at home. Of course now the new systems like capsules are becoming very popular because it's a great, fast and easy way to prepare café-quality at home without training or skill. The other way Italians drink coffee is at the café, where they drink espressos, macchiatos and cappuccinos. The cappuccino is just for breakfast. No one drinks it after 11 a.m. Sometimes in the afternoon they will drink a macchiato.

What do you think about baristas in America?

I think it's a great and exciting time for coffee in America right now. There are a lot of new baristas who are taking care of preparation, quality serving and environment. This is really, really good and I'm happy to see it. On the other hand there are still too many baristas that don't really focus on the consumers. They just focus on experimentation or something different that is far from the main goal that every barista should have which is to get the best experience to his/her customers.

Where do you usually get coffee in the United States?

There are a lot of places where you can enjoy a good cup of espresso but at the same time there are a lot of places where you can't find a decent cup of coffee or barista. One place I like is Joe coffee in New York.

What's your coffee drink of choice?

I am a purist. My coffee is a shot of espresso — no milk, no sugar, just straight. A little bit of sugar or milk is not a sin. What I really don't like is to see this big giant mug of 20 ounces of vanilla latte with whip cream. That's not a coffee anymore, it's a beverage with a little bit of coffee in it.

When you're not drinking coffee, what are you drinking?

I'm also a tea drinker and there are a lot of things that are similar about tea when compared to coffee. I like the good things. If something is good I like to eat it or drink it.

For more coffee tips from Giorgio check out his columns for The Atlantic.