The Art of the Barista: 5 Simple Tips for a Better Cup of Coffee - United Hub
eat & drink

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.

Entertainment for all

By The Hub team, August 04, 2020

Our Marketing Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity team and Bridge, our Business Resource Group (BRG) for people with all abilities, partnered together to test and provide feedback on our award-winning seatback inflight entertainment (IFE) system.

Aptly named "Entertainment for all," our new seatback IFE system offers the an extensive suite of accessibility features, allowing for unassisted use by people of all visual, hearing, mobility and language abilities.

"It's nice to know that I can get on a plane and pick my favorite entertainment to enjoy, just like every customer," said Accessibility Senior Analyst and Developer and Bridge Chief of Staff Ray C., who is blind.

"As a deaf employee, the closed captioning availability on board our aircraft is something I value greatly," added Information Technology Analyst Greg O. "The new IFE further cements United's visibility within the deaf community and elsewhere. It makes me proud to be an employee."

Accessibility features of the new IFE include a text-to-speech option, explore by touch, customizable text size, screen magnification, color correction and inversion modes, and alternative navigation options for those unable to swipe or use a handset. For hearing-impaired and non-English-speaking passengers, customization options provide the ability for customers to be served content and receive inflight notifications based on their preferences and settings —with closed captions, with subtitles or in the language of their choice from the 15 languages supported. Our "Entertainment for all" system won the Crystal Cabin Award in 2019, and recently, the Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl Research and Development Award for Audio Description by the American Council of the Blind.

"This really showed the benefits of partnering with BRGs in helping us improve products and services for our customers and employees," said Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity Senior Manager Corinne S. "Even though we have been recognized with awards for our IFE accessibility features, we are not resting on our laurels but continuing to work towards improving the inflight entertainment experience for all of our customers to ensure entertainment is available for all."

Shaping an inclusive future with Special Olympics

By The Hub team, July 24, 2020

If your travels have taken you through Chicago O'Hare International Airport anytime since October 2019, you may have had a friendly, caring and jovial exchange with Daniel Smrokowski. Daniel is one of four Service Ambassadors thanks to our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics. This inaugural ambassador program aims to provide Special Olympic athletes employment opportunities within our operation, affording them a unique and meaningful career.

Since 2018, our partnership with Special Olympics has become one of United's most cherished relationships, going beyond the events we take part in and volunteer with. While the plane pull competitions, polar plunges, duck derbies and Special Olympics World Games and other events around the world are a big part of our involvement, the heart of this partnership lies with the athletes and individuals supported by Special Olympics. To advocate for their inclusion in every setting is one of our biggest honors, and we take great pride in the role we play in the organization's inclusion revolution.

Aiding in the success of Special Olympics' mission to create continuing opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, throughout the two-year partnership, United has volunteered over 10,500 hours and donated over $1.2 million in travel to the organization. The impact of this partnership is felt at every level, both at Special Olympics and within our own ranks.

"The Inclusion Revolution campaign, led by our athletes, aims to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. United Airlines has joined in our fight for inclusion, empowering our athletes with the skills needed to succeed and opportunities to contribute their abilities as leaders," said Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver. "United Airlines believes that people with intellectual disabilities should be perceived as they really are: independent, world-class athletes, students, employees, neighbors, travelers, and leaders who contribute to make this world a better place."

Our Service Ambassador program is just one of the many ways Special Olympics has impacted not only our employees, but also our customers. "I see every day how our Service Ambassadors connect with our customers the moment they walk into the airport lobby," said Senior Customer Service Supervisor Steve Suchorabski. "They provide a warm, welcoming smile ad assist in any way they can. To see these young adults hold positions that a society once told them they couldn't is truly the most heartwarming part of my job," Steve continued.

"The opportunity to be a part of the United family means everything to me," Daniel said. "I feel so much pride showing up to work in a Special Olympics/United co-branded uniform, working among such a loving and supportive community. The relationship between these two organizations is truly helping to shape my future while letting me use my gifts of communicating and helping others. Hopefully, I can spend my entire career at United," Daniel added.

In honor of Special Olympics' Global Week of Inclusion in July, we're asking our employees, customers and partners to sign a pledge to #ChooseToInclude at jointherevolution.org/pledge.

And be sure to check out Daniel's podcast The Special Chronicles.

United works with partners to send food to USDA food bank

By The Hub team, July 23, 2020

In collaboration with food-logistics company Commodity Forwarders Inc. (CFI), United moved nearly 190,000 pounds of fresh produce to Guam for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program. This new program was created to provide critical support to consumers impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

A variety of fresh fruits were transported from Los Angeles (LAX) to Guam (GUM) on United's newly introduced, non-stop cargo-only flight – a route added to meet cargo demand during the COVID-19 crisis. The fresh food was repacked in 10-pound cases in Los Angeles, prepared for departure at CFI's LAX location, and flown to GUM by the United team. Through this beneficial partnership between United and CFI, the perishable goods were kept cool during every step of the process and distributed as part of the food bank program in Guam.

"Everyone on our team has worked relentlessly during the pandemic to get critical goods to where they are needed most. Establishing a comprehensive network of cargo-only flights have allowed us to keep the supply chain moving even while passenger flight capacity has been reduced," said Regional Senior Manager of Cargo Sales, Marco Vezjak. "Knowing that we are able to help during these difficult times – in this case the Guam community – is our biggest reward and greatest motivation to keep moving forward."

United is proud to play a role in maintaining the global food supply chain and helping people access the supplies they need. Since March 19, United has operated over 4,000 cargo-only flights, moving over 130 million pounds of cargo.

Scroll to top