Espresso does a body good

Ben Lance


This paper dedicates a lot of ink to the burgeoning Sacramento coffee community, and for good reason: Baristas like Ben Lance, of Temple Fine Coffee and Tea, have transformed the way people think about their cups of joe. Lance and Temple’s other baristas bring a Slow Food mentality to the beans—slowly sip your joe, admire your latte art, take in a good book, like God in a Cup, which Lance just finished. He and I chatted recently; I enjoyed a cup of Guatemalan drip, he taught me that coffee originated in Ethiopia (I’m slow, too). Lance’s next class, a coffee cupping, will be on Saturday, March 14 at 9:30 a.m. at Temple.

You drink lots of coffee.

I probably have two or three cups of just regular drip or French press, and then probably three or four double shots. Especially if I’m working, because I like to check to make sure everything’s going OK, so I drink a lot, a lot of coffee.

How long have you been a barista?

About seven years. I started up in Nevada City; that’s where I was born and raised. … I used to be a brick mason for a while, taking breaks from coffee, but I always seem to come back to coffee.

Do you go to barista competitions?

I did. I competed last year. This year I went to competition but as a judge.

See anything cool?

I did. The one I liked the most was by this guy named Devin Pedde from Intelligentsia down in Silver Lake. He didn’t know what he was going to make for his signature drink. He had all the ingredients, though, and he waited until the start of the competition. He pulled a shot of espresso for himself—which was really unusual—and he sat there and described to the judges what type of flavors he got, and he based his drink off of those ingredients in real time.

Wow! Sly.

Totally improvised. And he got second. So that’s probably going to be the next wave of competition, doing stuff on the fly, doing every part of the run in front of the judges.

What was your signature drink?

I made a drink that was based on a heavy whipping cream with fresh-squeezed lemon juice, sort of like a macchiato topped off with the lemon.

Did it go well?

It did not. The drink was all good until we got down there, because I didn’t bring my own lemons. So I bought lemons the day of, and the flavors just weren’t gelling very well. They let me know it on the score sheet, too.

When life gives you lemons …

You make a pretty half-assed signature drink, I guess. Moral of the story.

How do you drink your coffee?

Usually I drink French press coffee. Actually, one of my co-workers has a Japanese siphon press.

What’s that?

Basically, the contraption has two orbs, and coffee goes on top and water goes on the bottom. And when you heat the water it creates a vacuum, and water gets sucked to the top and through the coffee, then the vacuum pulls the liquid back down, and it leaves the coffee on the top. And it tastes phenomenal.

Which espresso is your favorite?

Out of all of them, I’d say the Ethiopian. The Sidamo. It’s crazy; it’s really fruity and has a lot of blueberry and blackberry going on in there.

You just taught a class on milk, right?

It went really well. We dove really hard-core into the chemistry of milk, insofar as the different fats, different proteins, different sugars. Why we heat milk up to a certain temperature but not past that point.

How hot?

One fifty [150 degrees]. … That is pretty hot, but that’s standard for most cafe milk steaming. We get some people asking for 170 or 180, but that’s too hot. It’s sort of in the zone for like a scalding point, and you end up burning all the sugar.

Uh, milk has sugar in it?

Yeah, lactose [laughs]. You know, though, I didn’t really even comprehend milk until I started researching for this class. And now I really can’t drink milk anymore. I mean, just reading about how different feeds affect it, how different cows affect it.

Milk is so complex.

Yes, but when you prepare a drink right, you know it. You see that smile on a person’s face when they drink a cappuccino and they know it’s perfect.

What’s the best thing to happen to you because of coffee?

The opportunity to travel. I went down to Berkeley to compete. I went up to Seattle to compete in a latte-art contest. I’ve been to Portland [Ore.] twice. Hopefully a trip to origin before not too long. And I really want to go to Ethiopia really bad.