On the kitchen counter, the tablet reads: “Please wait, the host will let you in soon. ”. Seconds to go Online Coffee Masterclass with the Mexican expert Ricardo López Nacif (33). I take this opportunity to review the ingredients necessary for the virtual class. Lemon, sugar, salt, cinnamon, sparkling water … Suddenly 18 people materialize on the screen via Zoom, from their kitchens in California or Dubai, and López Nacif greets us all as he opens the door of his house in Mexico City.
My screens are my windows to the world. It is not something new, but it is something I relearned in the weeks of social isolation.
“Welcome to Coyoacán, one of the most iconic neighborhoods where Frida Kahlo lived. This is my dining room, totally inspired by your Casa Azul, ”says Ricardo, the host of this online proposal offered by Airbnb, the global rental and experience platform. Behind Ricardo (just with his name, like all Airbnb profiles) there is a red fireplace, blue chairs and yellow shelves, like the large table on which the coffee pot rests. The phrase is engraved on a ceramic plate “My house is your house”, a concept that will be repeated during this one-hour class that promises “the perfect cup of coffee”.
The appointment is by Zoom, like all appointments during the coronavirus quarantine. And, in this case, the video calls and group meetings app is the tool that Airbnb chose, when it launched its online Experiences three weeks ago. This is how their well-known and up to now face-to-face experiences were reformulated, suspended until further notice.
“It is a new way to connect with other people, train us, travel without leaving home and generate income during the Covid-19 crisis.”Announced Catherine Powell, director of the Airbnb experiences, created in 2016. It was about exploring the world’s destinations in an authentic way, through activities designed by its inhabitants – become Airbnb hosts – who taught their passions and interests.
Faced with the pandemic, Powell stressed: “Contact with others is the cornerstone of what we do, but the situation is forcing many people to stay home to protect their health. We want Airbnb hosts to connect with members of the world’s community in the only way possible today: online”
There are already more than 50 online experiences available, from meditation with Buddhist monks to Moroccan cooking classes. The challenge in my kitchen is to take the “Coffee Masterclass” guided in English and Spanish by Ricardo López Nacif, who holds the titles of “Judge in Mexican coffee contests, and founder and CEO of Borola Café”. What will the aroma of freshly ground beans look like through Zoom?
The coffee phoenix
As a presentation, Ricardo asks the 18 participants to open the microphones to tell what city we are in and “with what word each one sums up the idea of happiness.” Nicky from Michigan prefers “music” while Alison from Ireland favors “flowers.” Laughter, art, nature, family and water are some of the group’s choices, with the majority of Americans.
Ricardo comments: “I have had 120 people in one day since I started my online classes. 80% are from the United States, but when the Experiences were in person, 98% were from there. Now I have a lot of European, Latin and Japanese audiences. For example, when it is night in Mexico, in Japan they wake up and take the experience. ”
Ricardo will evoke his resilience story. “I studied finance, did social service in an indigenous cooperative, and opened my first cafeteria in 2010 to help them sell their beans. Seven years later I already had 15 coffee shops and my dream seemed fulfilled. But everything changed. On September 19, 2017 we had a very strong earthquake in Mexico and, since my bars were in the most affected neighborhoods, I had to close them. I almost went bankrupt and I was left with just one. ”
A month later, when he was working as a barista in one of his first Airbnb Experiences, Ricardo perceived something new in the cafe. “The aroma came through my nose and my body was filled with fullness. I realized that I did not need 15 cafes, nor so much money and recognition: at that moment I was really happy. So I reconnected with my passion for coffee, and that led me to do really well. In 2018 I won more than ever and closed 2019 winning five times. But here I am in 2020, like after the 2017 earthquake, preparing a cup of coffee for an Airbnb Experience and about to go bankrupt due to the coronavirus”
Ricardo clarifies that his is not a sad story. You have the feeling that when this pandemic ends, we will be wiser. With coffee in his mind and on his palate, he gets excited: “Thank you for sharing this moment with me!”
Before teaching us to prepare the perfect coffee, Ricardo creates “a frame of reference for how the sense of taste works” People go to a bar, try a cup and say ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it’, but nobody knows why. “Coffee requires mindfulness: if you manage to be aware of the taste experience, your quality of life will change wonderfully.”
Ricardo tests us for the taste, the sense capable of identifying five basic flavors: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (definable as pleasant or tasty). “Put sugar and cinnamon in your hand, mix them and bring them to your mouth with your nose covered. You will notice that they only perceive the sweetness of the sugar and, just when they release the nose, comes the cinnamon blow ”, says Ricardo, laughing in front of the 18 faces he sees on his screen.
Now we go with sparkling water and milk textures. The first is aggressive and uncomfortable, and the second is silky. “That is the happiness we seek in the texture of a cup of coffee. In other words, have a high body ”, the judge rules.
Funnier our grimaces are when biting a lemon, “balancing the acidity with salt” and trying a pear or a tangerine to check “the harmony”. And he repeats: “The qualities of an ideal cup of coffee are sweetness, acidity, balance and harmony.. The bad of this story is the bitter: it is in the seeds. We should not like it, but the cultural component creates a positive association towards things like mate in Argentina, terribly bitter ”, Ricardo assumes, although Californians -Rachel and Robert- never understand it.
Sweet by nature
Who sent me to make a coffee class? When will the bars open again? What if I do some math? My concentration is in jeopardy just as Ricardo prepares to develop key chemical concepts. “When we make coffee we dissolve solids in liquids: grains in water. Then we control how much we dissolve through four elements. Are the extraction time, the water temperature, the grind size and radius: how much coffee and how much water did we put”
“Could you repeat it for me?” I ask, sensing that the perfect cup will be unattainable. At that time Ricardo will look at our 18 kitchens, from his screen, and give specific instructions depending on the type of coffee maker. It is a relief: I take what serves me for my coffee.
For my coffee maker, With the French pressing system, the recipe is 28 grams of coffee and 450 milliliters of water (the radius). Let the water not boil: the ideal is 95 degrees (temperature). That the grinding is like coarse sand so that the grains do not pass through the filter (size). Let it rest for four and a half minutes (extraction time).
It gives me a trick for another coffee maker on my counter. If I use the paper filter, the grinding should be “medium fine: between the icing sugar and the sand of the sea”. Before pouring coffee, ideally, wet it with hot water to get the taste out of paper. In this case, it will be left three and a half minutes.
With years of coffee wisdom, Ricardo responds to the new concerns of the 18 apprentices. He recommends buying the coffee beans and grinding it just before preparing it, because “there begins the loss of flavor particles”. Ask us not to use a blade mill, but a tooth mill. He reveals his preferences: “The grains of Mexico, Guatemala and Ethiopia. Always, always, medium roast ”. And for the end, leave the most difficult advice: not using sugar because “we would break the balance. A good coffee is already sweet by nature ”.
The Airbnb experience ends with this phrase: “When everything becomes uncertain, everything that is important becomes clearer”. Like Ricardo López Nacif, connected to the world through coffee beans.