Norwich barista blends the perfect cup of coffee

Not only does she run one of the smallest cafes in the world, but Hayley Draper of the Window Coffee in Norwich is also one of the top baristas in the country. She gives EMMA LEE a lesson in the art, and science, of making the perfect cuppa.

Although I'm a coffee rather than a tea drinker, my expertise in making a cuppa leaves much to be desired. It extends as far as putting a spoonful of freeze-dried instant in a mug, adding hot water and milk and, if I'm feeling particularly energetic, stirring it with a spoon.

Coffee is Hayley Draper's passion. Just over a year ago she opened the Window Coffee in Wensum Street, Norwich. One of the tiniest cafes in the world, it seats just five people.

But good things really do come in small packages. Hayley serves one of the best coffees in the city, and she's got the certificate to prove it.

A couple of months ago Hayley was named one of the top baristas in the country. She won the Midlands heat of the UK Barista Championships and in the final came fifth overall and was the highest placed woman in the competition. She's now in demand as a barista trainer.

So if anyone's qualified to give me a lesson in the art and the science of making the perfect cup of coffee it's her. Hayley, 28, has worked in caf�s since she was 14 – she started out washing up at a caf� in Diss.

It was when she was away travelling in Australia that she tasted 'true' espresso for the first time and that's what ignited her passion for coffee. Melbourne is still one of her favourite places for coffee, and she's also visited coffee farms in India.

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When she returned from her travels her original plan was to have a mobile coffee cart, but she wouldn't have been able to sell beans too and she wanted to have the opportunity to educate her customers and enable them to enjoy different sorts of coffee at home.

You might think that coffee just tastes of coffee, but it has double the amount of tasting notes than wine, roughly 800 to wine's 400, so the flavour can vary enormously according to the types of bean in the blend, where they are grown, the altitude it's grown at and the temperature it's made at.

When Hayley saw the premises in Wensum Street, which was a tobacco shop in a former life, her instinct told her she had found the right place.

And with the help of her dad, a skilled carpenter, it was transformed into The Window.

Her coffee, which includes a regularly changing house blend, currently a mix of beans from two Brazilian farms and one Bolivian farm, comes from Stephen Leighton's Has Bean roastery in Staffordshire.

He's had his roastery for more than a decade and goes out and meets the farmers who are growing and harvesting the beans.

And Hayley, who will soon be selling coffee on the shop's website, treats it with the utmost care like it was fresh food.

Hayley beat more than 80 competitors to make the final of the competition, which was held at the Excel centre in London as part of the International Food Exhibition, the UK's largest food and drink trade event.

After a gruelling round of heats and semi-finals, a panel of judges tested the contestants' coffee knowledge, presentation, preparation and all round barista ability.

Hayley and the other five finalists had to take to the stage in front of the judging panel of coffee experts and make four espressos, four cappuccinos and four versions of a 'signature drink', which they had created themselves, in just 15 minutes, with points deducted for every second taken after the clock has stopped.

Hayley's signature drink, which she had spent months perfecting, was inspired by her love of nature and the outdoors and used honey from her own bees and a lemongrass reduction.

'It's scary stuff,' she says. 'You have to tell them exactly what they are going to experience. The cappuccinos all had to look the same and taste the same.

'I put hours and hours in to it. I was in here at the shop every Sunday and Monday. People going past must have thought I was mad. But nothing can prepare you for how you feel when you're about to go on stage,' she says.

Then it's my turn to have a go. Hayley says that 50pc of coffee making involves cleaning; if the equipment, such as the basket that the coffee grounds are pressed in, isn't squeaky clean it can affect the final taste.

'It all affects the flavour of the coffee,' says Hayley.

'Every other job is cleaning. The coffee will end up tasting dirty if it's not done.'

To ensure that the coffee is evenly extracted, the coffee has to go into the basket evenly and pushed down to make sure it's level.

'In the competition if it wasn't level you'd lose points for that,' says Hayley.

And when the basket is locked in to the machine for the coffee to be extracted, at nine bars of pressure, which is nine times atmospheric pressure, time is of the essence. If you leave it more than a couple of seconds before starting the extraction, the coffee will burn and the flavour will be spoiled.

It's a similar story when steaming the milk. Hayley has developed an instinct for knowing when it's been 'stretched' enough and is the right temperature. Slightly eerily, the milk will start to make a screaming noise when it's too hot.

That stage over, I've done it; I've made my first 'proper' cup of coffee. I don't manage to master the pretty leaf pattern on the top (it's all in the way you pour it) but it still tastes great to me.

I might not be producing award-winning cups of coffee just yet, but as Hayley points out, it's taken her 14 years of practice.

The Window Coffee is at 25, Wensum Street, Norwich. It's open from 8am-3pm Tuesday to Friday and from 9am-3pm on Saturdays, closed Sundays, Mondays and bank holidays.