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A Crash Course on Coffee with the Coffee Exchange

Do you really know what the different coffee drinks are?

By Cissy Yu

We spoke with Coffee Exchange’s Master Roaster, Ben Gaul, about how professionals make coffee.

Light vs. dark roast
“There’s a misconception that dark roasted coffee is stronger than light roasted coffee,” says Gaul. “Well, not really. The package of flavor constituents in dark is singular; it’s more bitter, not sweet because most of the sugar has decomposed, not sour because the organic acid has decomposed. So what’s leftover is the acids that make coffee bitter.”

So are light and dark roasts really equally strong? Yes, says Gaul, “but light roasted coffee is more dynamic, more complex. You get the sweet up front, sours back in the jowls, it spreads the sensations out, so it perceives as being less strong, but it’s really not.”

In a light roast, Gaul claims you can taste a huge range of flavors: chocolate, garden peas, watermelon, citrus fruits, tropical fruits and more. “The dark roast delimits the fruitiness and brings out only the bitter parts.”

Coffee Terminology
“A latte is no more than an espresso with milk poured through it,” says Gaul. A mocha is simply a latte with added chocolate.

Cappuccinos are slightly more complex. “The cappuccino is a strange monster nowadays,” says Gaul. “If we were to go to Italy and order a cappuccino we would get a 4-6 oz. very small latte.”

The American version of the cappuccino is one third espresso, one third milk and one third foam. “The drink comes out drier, the coffee comes out front more as opposed to being blended with the milk. The coffee stands out.”

How to Make a Latte
All of these drinks involve just pouring milk through an espresso, but the two steps — pulling an espresso and steaming the milk — are not easy to learn.

“Pulling a good shot of espresso is conceptually easy, but it takes a lot of practice,” Gaul says. Using freshly ground, freshly roasted coffee, the barista tamps the coffee in a portafilter before engaging it in a pump, which forces water through the ground coffee.

For the second step, milk steaming, the barista adds steam and a bit of air to the milk, careful not to let it become foamy or bubbly. “In appearance, the milk should look as glassy as it was before steaming.”

New baristas often struggle with the process of steaming milk. “It’s really hard to understand when you change position, when you stop adding air,” says Gaul. “It’s about feeling the milk, listening to the milk, even smelling the milk. You use all of your senses to fully engage the action of steaming.”

From Farm to Coffee Cup: How Coffee Gets to the Coffee Exchange in Providence

Coffee Exchange, 207 Wickenden St., Providence, 401-273-1198,

If you have a tip or think we missed something, shoot us a message, tweet us at @InsidersGuideRI or email Kaitlyn Murray at

One thought on “A Crash Course on Coffee with the Coffee Exchange
  1. Robert

    Thanks for the lesson Ben! I’m still in search of the perfect cup. I’m currently doing pour over at home using your Brazil Vienna Roast.
    My dream is to learn all I can about coffee and someday work in a coffee shop and becoming a barista!


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