Meet Ben Contois. Ben knows a lot about coffee. As our Regional Training Manager and Quality Assurance Associate in Philadelphia, Ben’s job is to train all of our new baristas and coffee professionals in the art of coffee, and check the quality of every bean that comes into the cafe. In other words, he’s a coffee expert who makes other people coffee experts. 

Ben’s passion for coffee is infectious, so we asked him a few questions so that he could help you become a coffee expert too. 

What’s your favorite brewing method and why? 

I love brewing with either Chemex or V60. I brew them everyday for my girlfriend and I. I like how clean and quick the brewing method is.

What beans do you recommend for cold brew? 

The best beans for cold brew are the ones that you like. Typically a dark roast is easier because it’s a little bit more soluble but don’t be afraid to try a light roast either, just grind a little more fine.

Speaking of cold brew, how do you recommend making it at home? 

The easiest way I do it is in a french press. Use a slightly stronger ratio for brewing (say 10 to 1) and let it steep overnight.

What’s the secret to making good latte art?

Lots and lots of practice. Learn how to get your milk texture right from the steam wand and your pouring technique. When you’re steaming your milk you need to make sure it’s nice and glossy. If there are any big bubbles on the top of your pitcher you may have overstretched. When you start pouring, start at an angle, bring the pitcher close, and wiggle your milk the out of the pitcher.

What is washed coffee versus natural coffee?

There are two primary “Processing” methods once coffee fruit has been harvested from the tree (the coffee we drink is the roasted seeds of the coffee fruit). The seeds of the fruit must be dried to approximately 10-12% moisture before preparing the green coffee for export. 

Washed processing (or wet processing) removes the fruit entirely from the seeds before the drying process begins. 

Natural processing (or dry processing) leaves the fruit intact on the seeds at the beginning of the drying process. At a certain point the fruit is then removed and the drying process may continue if necessary.  

Which one do you prefer (Washed or Natural)?

Natural coffee got me excited about specialty coffee because it showed me what was possible with flavors, but lately I prefer washed coffees.

What’s your favorite La Colombe roast and why?

When I brew coffee at home, I personally prefer the lighter roasted coffees from our workshop collection. The lighter roasts allow more of the coffee’s inherent flavor characteristics to shine. 

I typically use a Chemex to brew. I have a variable temperature controlled water kettle, and I grind fresh before brewing which allows me to directly influence the final cup quality. Not every cup is perfect at home, but I learn more about each coffee I take home every time I brew. My partner, Kelsey also prefers these coffees so it’s a win-win.

How do you take your coffee?

It depends on the time of day for me. In the morning when I get to work I enjoy a cortado made with coffee from our workshop collection and a half a mug of light-roasted drip coffee (which I take black, no sugar). I find the drip coffees made with our workshop collection to have a really nice natural sweetness and don’t need anything. 

The afternoons call for espresso without any milk. This summer in the afternoons I like to have some Nitro Cold Brew with Lemon on draft, or sometimes the Nitro Cold Brew with Grapefruit in the can. For dessert, it’s all about the Draft Latte Caramel to satisfy my serious sweet tooth.

One tip you’d give a new barista?

Taste EVERYTHING! At least once. It’s really smart to understand how different coffees, blends, roast profiles, and brewing methods can affect flavor. This applies to food and other beverages too! Since getting more into tasting/trying to understand coffee, I try to take a more mindful approach to any tasting experience. Close your eyes for a second, breathe out your nose, enjoy!

What’s your perfect cup of coffee?

Another TOUGH one! It’s situational for me. I think the perfect cup of coffee for anyone is the cup of coffee that makes you happy in the moment. It doesn’t matter what roast profile it has, or if you enjoy adding something to it or not, or if you’ve applied the highest level of technicality in preparation or not. If it’s good and if it’s perfect to you, it’s perfect.

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