Phnom Penh’s newest Italian cafe, Pennylane, develops the art of roasting coffee beans to perfection to satisfy the capital’s caffeine lovers
The fine art of roasting coffee beans
Roasting green coffee beans causes a chemical reaction that transforms the small green coffee bean into a dark, rich and oily product that has a totally different taste, smell and density to the original. For a stronger taste, the bean requires a longer roasting period, and this is called a dark roast as opposed to a light roast, which produces a more delicate subtle flavour. Beans from famous coffee regions such as Kenya and Java tend to be more suited to a light to medium roast, which allows the flavours of origin to permeate into the final product. Dark roasts are typically
while a lighter, more American-style
roast generally used for black espresso styles, works best with milk coffees. However, a good cup of coffee is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s “skinny weak soy latte” is another man’s “why bother”. Coffee is typically dry roasted over high to medium heat for a period of between 12 and 15 minutes depending on the degree of roast. The most ideal time to grind the coffee is straight after the coffee bean has had time to cool down after the roast. Coffee purists buy their beans green and roast, grind and brew them as quickly as possible after purchase to ensure maximum freshness.
Every morning Penny Tang roasts up small batches of fresh green coffee beans in varying shades, smells, and flavours at Pennylane Cafe, Phnom Penh's newest Italian cafe/restaurant and coffee bean roaster.
The cafe's Malaysian manager and co-owner, Tang, is passionate about quality and knows more than a thing or two about coffee.
"Preparing a good cup of coffee requires a special technique," said Tang. "When I moved to Phnom Penh, I noticed that it was very difficult to find a good quality cup of coffee, so I set out to open a place where coffee lovers could enjoy exactly that."
Her quest has led her and two business partners to develop a process for roasting their own coffee beans that she says has been a mixture of overseas training, patience, and trial and error.
"In Phnom Penh, many people use the traditional method of roasting coffee beans," Tang said. "This method includes roasting the beans in a pan, or in a large metal drum over a fire."
This method, she says, often takes a long time and can yield unpredictable results if the beans are not constantly monitored.
"At Pennylane Cafe we have a state-of-the-art roasting machine which takes about 20 to 25 minutes to roast the beans, and we can control exactly how strong and flavourful to make the coffee, depending on how the customer likes it," she said.
It's not surprising, then, that the drink menu at Pennylane Cafe is dominated by such favourites as long or short espresso, cafe latte, cappuccino, mocha and the Italian-inspired affogato (a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with a shot of rich, dark espresso).
The freshest ingredients
Besides freshly roasted coffee, Tang strives to serve authentic Italian food, made with the freshest ingredients and prepared in the slow and attentive style that was passed down to her by a veteran Italian chef.
"In Asia, a lot of food is prepared very quickly, for example a stir fry, which is often just about throwing ingredients into a wok with oil and frying them for a short time. But Italian food is much slower and requires a lot more preparation, especially if you want to get the best flavour out of all your ingredients," she said.
Over 90 percent of the food at Pennylane Cafe is made in-house, including the pizza dough, tomato sauce, pesto sauce, biscotti and assorted desserts, and whenever possible Tang tries to avoid using ingredients from a can or bottle.
The attention to detail shines through in the presentation and flavour of the food.
Take, for example, one of the cafe's more popular starters, calamares fritos. The lightly battered and deep-fried squid rings arrive a pale golden colour, lacking the heavy grease that so often accompanies deep-fried foods. They are cooked to just the right tenderness, slightly firm but not rubbery, and served with a tangy tartar sauce.
The pizzas also manage to bypass the oil factor, with thin yet chewy crusts, and a range of choices such as the Romeo Special, with thin slices of crispy bacon, juicy chunks of pineapple, sliced mushrooms and whole black olives; or the spicy Mexicana with peppery salami, hot red chillies, sliced onion and garlic.
And for dessert, a must-try is the house speciality, the Pennylane tiramisu. Served in a chilled glass, the tiramisu is a rich blend of soft sponge cake, soaked to saturation in coffee liqueur, layered between swirls of creamy mascarpone cheese and topped with a thick dusting of cocoa powder.
"Our restaurant motto is ‘good food at reasonable prices' because I try to ensure that even though we are using the best ingredients and preparation methods, customers should not have to pay ridiculous prices for good food," said Tang.
Pennylane Cafe is located in a leafy garden setting with outdoor and indoor seating at the corner of Streets 111 and 242. Delivery is available at 012 593 000.