The Art of the Barista: 5 Simple Tips for a Better Cup of Coffee - United Hub
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The art of the barista: 5 simple tips for a better cup of coffee

By Nick Harper, September 29, 2016

If you're in the habit of picking up a cup of coffee while on the go, preparing the perfect cup of coffee can be a confusing and, at times intimidating, process. But it needn't be, as illy's Master Barista Giorgio Milos explains in these five simple steps.

1. Avoid dark, oily beans

Choose your coffee beans carefully. The roasting of beans is necessary to develop their full flavor potential. At some point though, roasting begins to destroy certain flavors, which means a super-dark roast could mask poor-quality coffee. While dark roast is okay, it takes precise roasting expertise to achieve a great taste balance. Far too often, beans that have been roasted beyond a certain point become shiny and oily, and when brewed they have an overly bitter taste. When in doubt, choose medium roast to enjoy the fullest flavor range and truest representation of a particular coffee.

2. Act fast

Once exposed to air, the flavors of roasted coffee quickly begin to deteriorate. Your roasted beans' worst enemies are air, moisture, heat and light, so in order to preserve the flavor of your coffee, always store it in an airtight container. If storing coffee beans for just a few days, keep your airtight container in a dark, cool pantry, not near the oven or standing in a spot where sunlight streams in. If you have to store beyond a few days, use the refrigerator, not the freezer — it may damage the beans' structure and taste,.

3. Use hot — not boiling — water

When brewing coffee, water temperatures can range from 40˚F (for cold brewing) to 205˚F (when using a French press). Notice there is no 212˚F — the boiling point of water. Using boiling water is one of the most common mistakes in coffee brewing. Luckily, it's also one of the most easily remedied. Since higher temperatures result in a more bitter brew, even a fraction of a degree can dramatically change the taste of your coffee. Always aim for the correct water temperature for your brewing method, and use a thermometer to help capture the best flavors from your coffee. If you have no thermometer, no problem. When you boil water for a French press or Chemex, simply put it aside for about one minute to cool to 205˚F before brewing. The short wait can make a big improvement in flavor.

Giorgio Milos making Illy CoffeePhoto by Melanie Dunn

4. One method above all others

Most coffee brewing is a simple ratio of beans and water, plus time, plus temperature. However, for the quality of taste, one method stands apart: espresso (see below). With the addition of pressure, espresso achieves a range of flavors that isn't possible with any other method. Best of all, espresso is an incredibly versatile elixir. Starting with an espresso, you can add hot water, milk, and even almond milk, soy milk and flavorings to customize to your tastes.

5. Time is of the essence

Once you have all the ingredients in place — quality beans, ideal water temperature and a precise formula — brewing is a matter of assembling the pieces for the proper time. With cold brewing, this could require 24 hours, while espresso takes just 30 seconds. One way to make your coffee stronger is to extend the brewing time — but that's not a good idea. Overstepping your time with any method, especially steeping processes like a French press and siphon, will extract bitterness and unwanted flavors. After steeping coffee for the proper time, as with a French press, always remove the finished liquid from the coffee grinds by pouring it into a carafe. You'll preserve your brewed coffee at its peak of perfection.

How to make an espresso

To make an authentic and traditional Italian espresso, invest in a specific espresso machine and specific illy ground espresso. Then, for the best results, follow these steps:

1. Remove any old coffee residue from the filter holder to avoid spoiling your fresh espresso.

2. Make sure your water is as free from sediment, scale and unwelcome minerals as possible. Your coffee will only be as good as the water you use.

3. For the best results, a single espresso requires 7 to 8 grams of coffee. Use a measuring spoon and a knife to measure precisely.

4. Tap the portafilter basket (the thing that holds the coffee) a few times so that the coffee is perfectly horizontal. Then, use a tamper and push down with the weight of your body to compact the coffee. Compacting ground coffee restricts the flow of water, forcing coffee and water to interact, encouraging full saturation and an exemplary brew.

5. With the ground coffee perfectly packed inside the portafilter, place it inside the machine. The water temperature should be no lower than 190˚F and no higher than 200˚F. Turn the machine on and wait.

6. There should be no coffee for the first five seconds, but within 25-30 seconds you should have the perfect espresso — an opaque, perfumed liquid. Serve it in a warm, dry (never wet) cup, and mix the foam (crema) into the coffee to balance its taste.


United Airlines has partnered with illy to serve its coffee on flights in more than 140 countries worldwide.

Good to grow, good to sow

Over 25 years ago, illy pioneered the direct trade model by cultivating personal, long-lasting relationships with the growers they work with. Working directly with them allows the best of the best beans to grow — purchasing them at prices substantially higher than market values ensures the growers make a good profit. Through illy's Universita del Caffe, they provide hands-on instruction to their growers all over the world — helping them to develop skills, techniques, and stay up-to-date on innovations in sustainability, at no cost to them.

United Cargo operates more than 11,000 cargo-only flights in one year

By The Hub team, March 19, 2021

On March 19, 2020, United operated its first flight carrying cargo without passengers on board. While the passenger cabin was empty, its cargo hold was completely full, carrying more than 29,000 pounds of commodities from Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA).

A year later, United Cargo has operated more than 11,000 cargo-only flights carrying more than 570 million pounds of freight. To support the COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts, United Cargo has also transported more than 113 million pounds of medical and pharmaceutical products on both cargo-only and passenger flights as well as approximately 10 million COVID-19 vaccines, providing global communities access to the items they have needed most.

10 tips for spring travel

By The Hub team, February 24, 2021

Whether you haven't flown with us for a while or just need a quick refresher before your spring trip, read this list of tips to know before your flight and arrive at the airport travel-ready:

1. Download the United app for contactless bag check, travel assistance and more

Before your flight, download the United app to view your flight status, check in, sign up for flight notifications, locate departure gates, access our free personal device entertainment when available and more. We've also updated our app with new features that can make your trip a little safer, including contactless bag check.

Don't forget to use Agent on Demand for help with any and all questions you may have before your flight. This new capability is available at all our U.S. hub airports and allows you to use your own mobile device to contact a customer service agent via phone, video or chat to help with day-of-travel questions while you're at the airport. Learn more about Agent on Demand here.

United joins UNICEF COVAX initiative

By The Hub team, February 19, 2021

This week, we were honored to become the first U.S. airline to join the UNICEF Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by transporting the vaccine and other critically needed supplies to underserved areas of the globe.

"We are committed to helping the global community in any way we can, and we all must work together to do our part to bring this health and humanitarian crisis to an end," said Director of Cargo Specialty Products Manu Jacobs.

We will leverage our expertise to transport these critical pharmaceutical and healthcare shipments around the world safely, efficiently and expediently. We are proud to partner with the United Nations to support this global effort and provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

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