'Apple Mac' coffee creator competes at UK Barista Championships

Alex Sargeant's Apple Mac signature drink The Apple Mac has an espresso base with apple foam, fenugreek milk and a freeze-dried apple skin topping

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When next waking bleary-eyed and the only thing to kick-start your day is a caffeine hit made within minutes of boiling the kettle - imagine taking six months to brew your morning cuppa.

This is how long it took for 30-year-old Alex Sargeant, a self-taught barista from Norwich who did not even like coffee until recently, to develop his "signature macchiato" - the 'Apple Mac'.

An espresso-based drink created with a serving of molecular gastronomy from the Institute of Food Research, he hopes it will secure him a place in the UK Barista Championships final on Sunday.

"What excites me about a good espresso coffee is complexity - I want a coffee I find challenging, that has a whole host of flavours fighting for dominance on the palate," Mr Sargeant said.

Alex Sargeant with latte art Alex Sargeant's competition performance will be broadcast around the world online

A co-owner of Strangers Coffee House in the city's Pottergate, he has made it to the London finals weekend for the second year running and is the only person to qualify from the East Anglia regional heat.

'Wow factor' coffee

Mr Sargeant is a former mortgage broker, private investigator and policeman who swapped his beat for the bean four years ago with the opening of his own coffee house.

"I wanted to be an expert in what I was doing. I started by creating latte art as it looked awesome and customers really appreciated the 'wow factor', but then I wanted to start making better tasting coffee," he said.

The UK coffee market

  • The UK coffee market has grown by 34% from 2007-2012 and is worth about £1bn with 48% of adults drinking fresh coffee rather than instant
  • We are, however, a society that loves convenience as 52% of in-home drinkers prefer to drink instant coffee at home while only 32% think the quality of coffee is more important than how easy it is to make

Source: Mintel/Nielsen

Mr Sargeant now talks about his single origin Nicaraguan coffee as a sommelier would enthuse about the subtle tasting notes in fine wine.

"My espresso has that crisp acidity you get from Granny Smith apple flesh that pinches around the inside of your mouth, but it's also got a vanilla sweetness, maple tones and rich, dark chocolate flavour notes which I wanted to extenuate in my signature drink," he said.

"I knew I wanted to use apple, but not quite how. I've created the drink with jellies, syrups, caramels, pralines - all of these things you take to a point which either tastes lovely, or you discover will never work in a million years."

Molecular gastronomy

Dave Hart with a coffee siphon

In the hands of a skilled artisan, roaster coffee can take on many subtle flavours and not just taste like the bitter brown stuff. But you need a nose for it, writes Dave Hart, UK Barista Championship judge and scientist at Norwich's Institute of Food Research.

Your olfactory bulb can detect something like 350 different chemicals and it is combinations of these that make up all the flavours you know.

Dry green coffee contains around 50% of different types of sugars. When roasted, these caramelise and react with amino acids present to form more than 800 aroma-chemicals identified in coffee.

Many of these chemicals are then common to other flavours like apples, strawberries and maple syrup.

To compete in the championship, Mr Sargeant's signature drink must retain espresso as its dominant flavour.

During his performance held at the London Coffee Festival he will be given 15 minutes to make four espressos, four cappuccinos and four signature drinks.

The drinks are judged for their technical accuracy and "sensory values". The overall winner goes on to represent the UK at the World Barista Championships in Australia.

Passion vs caffeine

"It's everyone preference as coffee is such a personal thing - but when I present my drinks to customers it's about presenting beautiful drinks, the same way as a chef would present beautiful food.

"My customers are also now are far more interested in where the coffee is coming from, how is it roasted, by who and when.

"You have so many people who are really interested and passionate about why the coffee is important, you then have others who don't care - they just need the caffeine.

"The competition is a bit scary but I think it's great be able to start to put Norwich on the UK coffee map.

"There's a couple of independent shops here getting on the radar within the industry and it's great to make people aware of that."

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