Learning to Fly….Coffee Style

Wing flaps up, throttle full open, hit full speed, lift nose, climb climb climb. The plane is up 50 ft, then 500, then…oh geez…oh no..what’s happening!!? The engine quit. The plane is sputtering. The pilot jumps on the radio “MAYDAY!” The plane begins to dive faster….heart is beating…total fear….

Wake up! It’s time to make a coffee, and thank sweet haysus that this just isn’t nearly as hard as flying a plane.

Coffee anyone?

As John, a recently graduated Lizzy’s home barista puts it, “Learning to fly a plane was scary. If I screwed up I was going to die. If I screw up my coffee, I can just stop right in the middle, dump it out, and start over”.

John found his way to our coffee roasterie one day in search of some great coffee. Like so many people, John was in search of that coffee for a killer cup – you know….the one that’s as great as the one you had once, at that one place – or the one you’re sure exists, but haven’t found yet. Sound familiar?

For John, coffee sipping started back in college as an architecture student at Berkley. “I needed a legal stimulant,” he admits, “and found a great local café where I regularly drank cappuccinos.”

After college though, he quit drinking coffee for a lack of good options and desire, and for years, opted for tea.

A few years back he won a coffee card at a coffee chain for a year’s worth of coffee, and started going every day. “I’d meet up with my friends to chat, and loved the social aspect even if the coffee wasn’t that good.” Back into coffee sipping again, his travels found him in great cafes in San Francisco and Seattle, but he always got bummed at the lack of great consistent coffee choices while traveling or at home.

“I was in Italy in June, and it hit me”, explained John. “I realized that I could probably create a perfect cup of coffee myself, and all I needed was a machine and training to do it.”

So that’s the morning that John stumbled into our store looking for answers.

I’ve seen this one before…. His words clearly said “I want to buy an espresso machine and learn how to make coffee at home”, but the voice in his head was saying, “Are you out of your friggin’ mind? You’ll spend a bunch of money, and then suck at it, and that machine will be a big waste of space, time and energy, and then your wife will just make you get rid of it, and you’ll just have to go back to drinking those sub-sucky $4 drinks wherever you can find them.”

Luckily for our barista wanna-be, he just bought it, and took me up on the offer for free barista lessons once the machine delivered.

Nuova Simonelli Musica Espresso Machine


The machine arrived – a beautiful Musica from Nuova Simonelli with all the features to extract and steam like the pros. Problem was… John was only a pro at drinking coffee, not making it. “No problem”, I assured him. “We’ll just take this one step at a time, and before you know it you’ll be making cappuccinos as well as any of those little sideburn-Jimmys at the local cup-a-whatevers”.

Yummy extraction...


We jumped in, starting with how to pull a proper shot of espresso by pour speed, by color, and by total volume, then moved in to milk steaming and texturing from there. Literally in the first 20 minutes, he’d already made a cappuccino that would warrant putting an “espresso served here” sign above his garage. (I’d like to be at that Home Owners’ Association meeting.)

John left his machine at our store, and popped in to learn a couple more tips with each visit, and before I knew it I was waving goodbye to the machine, and felt like I was letting a sanctuary-raised bird out into the wild to fend for himself. Mean.

I had a chance to check in with my student last week, and was so impressed! He was rocking the coffees like a pro.

Perfecting the pour...

When asked, what’s the hardest thing about making coffees? He answered, “Steaming the milk. The coffee is simple. If you have good coffee and a good machine, anyone can do this. I just need to get better at the milk part.”

He says that making his morning cappuccino takes about 4 minutes from start to finish. “It’s therapeutic. The process of making a coffee is enjoyable, and the taste of my coffee is making me really happy.”

John says he’d recommend his machine and learning to make your own coffee to anyone, because at the end of the day, he swears its much much easier and much less scary than learning to fly a plane.

Although our student (who I now refer to as Johnny Barista) still wants to improve, the fact that he’s making delicious coffees with wonderfully extracted espresso, and beautifully textured milk, is reason enough for anyone with the desire to have great coffee every morning to just jump in and do it. I promise that you can learn it, and I promise there’s only a slim chance that you’ll wake up in the middle of the night from a coffee-themed nightmare. You can leave those to be enjoyed by coffee business owners instead :).

Did you enjoy reading? Please pass it on, or post a comment below!

Some helpful links if you’re ready to be your own barista:
See “How To” Videos at Right
See Musica at lizzysfreshcoffee.com

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