How coffee should taste.

13Mar08

How coffee should taste.

I’ve just read an interesting article on the Times website about the quality of coffee here in the UK and overseas. Jeremy Torz, who is the co-founder of Union Hand-Roasted was bemoaning the size of the drinks offered by the main retailers. Apparently the large, very milky drinks favoured by much of the population came about as a way of being able to charge more for our daily cup.

“It would be difficult to sell a small 6oz cappuccino, the traditional Italian size, for much more money, so to make a viable business out of it, they started to make the drinks bigger. And how do you do that without overdosing everyone on caffeine? You add more and more milk.”

140445235_e6231a91751.jpgPhoto by Csaba Bajko

The result is that all the wonderful flavours traditionally found in coffee are swamped by lots of sugary milk. This could be seen as a dumbing down of the flavour, instead of complex notes we get just plain old sugar. People seem to like it however, coffee sales have never been so high. Even independent coffee houses are benefiting from the influx of Starbucks, Neros and Costas around the country.

These are the tastes and aromas which coffee tasters look out for:

coffee_tasting_flavor_wheel.jpg
Here is what an average Latte provides (can you tell I have a degree in art?)
untitled.jpg

Torz suggests we are become more choosy about who prepares our drinks

“Watch your barista and see how much attention he pays, if he can’t do a standard espresso right, no amount of milk is going to make it any better.”

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18 Responses to “How coffee should taste.”

  1. 1 1dumblonde

    I drink mine unadulterated but my partner uses 10 teaspoons of sugar (white, refined–the sugar and her). Is there a normative order for coffee? You have me pondering. I love the art work/graphs.

  2. 2 Thomas

    “the sugar and her” : )
    Wow 10 spoons, so she has a little coffee in her sugar? I think to get the full taste experence it should be drunk as-is. I normally take milk and sugar in bad coffee (to mask the taste) but the good stuff I drink neat, with my pinky finger extended.

  3. I’m partial to adding a good wallop of Brandy to mine – thats where these lily arsed coffe shops faile – no licence.

    Suck a Bean.

  4. 4 andomeda*art

    i have worked in numerous cafe’s here in California and lived in Italy for a while. our espresso is nasty by comparison. however, most american’s believe this is what espresso should taste like (and cost) because they 1: believe starbucks is god and will never drink a REAL italian shot of espresso. (most call it EXpresso too which grates on my every last nerve.)

    Torz it right however, watch the barista. i stopped ordering espresso drinks because most barista’s don’t wipe off the top of the porta-filter before sticking it in the machine causing a weak seal and the pressure to overflow the cup and wash a whole shit-load of grounds in the shot. and it ruins the machine by degrading the rubber seal so eventually, even if the top was wiped, all is lost and there WILL be grounds in the shot anyway.

    as you can tell, i have given the issue a lot of thought. :) now i make my own drip at home and take a bit of cream. in contrast, my husband likes a little coffee with his sugar and milk. i’m not sure he knows what coffee really tastes like.

  5. 5 andomeda*art

    oh, i like the “colour wheel of coffee goodness” too.

  6. 6 O'Maolchathaigh

    “Coffee should be black) as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love” is a proverb commonly attributed to the Turks. (In Turkish: “Kahve cehennem kadar koyu, ölüm kadar güçlü ve aşk kadar (da) tatlı olmalıdır”).

  7. Here in the Northwest US (home of Starbucks) we are lucky to have many small local roasting companies, all with multiple varieties of “the good stuff” making standard drip coffee a delight for the senses. <> Recently roasted beans have such a smooth and non bitter taste. I agree cream and sugar are good for masking the bad stuff, otherwise I like it black. I like to make my coffee at home, but when I do go to the espresso place (they are mostly drive-throughs around here) I go for mochas. So has coffee overtaken tea as the drink of choice in the UK now?

    I see you have David Byrne on your blogroll as well. That journal is a fascinating read, isn’t it?

    Cheers

  8. 8 Thomas

    It is certainly a lot more popular then it has ever been. People still drink a lot of tea at home and at work. I get the feeling that as a nation, we are a little behind. I’ve heard people in coffee shops complaining about their coffee being white, when in fact it just has crema on top. I can remember being served instant coffee in a cafe when I was younger :(
    Byrne is great, it seems like he always has something insightful to say.
    Is beatgrl a music or literature refernce?

  9. 9 Thomas

    “most call it EXpresso too which grates on my every last nerve.”
    I was going to write about this also. I always avoid drinking coffee in places where they can’t even pronounce it!

  10. It is a music reference. Well, and it also comes from the title of a campy 60′s movie we like. I play in an afrocuban jazz band. I think I was influenced by David Byrne as a kid (the Talking Heads) and later from his amazing international music compilations.

    Hey, what happened to my comment that disappeared from between those brackets? It should have said: –takes a sip of Mokka Joe Shackelton Stout–

  11. 11 jonesview

    I think that the water you use to brew the coffee is another import thing to consider for taste. Great post.

    http://www.jonesview.wordpress.com

  12. Starbucks recently went to a stronger flavor in a company-wide initiative to improve quality. I have to say, you can taste the difference. I live in Seattle, and there are coffee houses and shacks everywhere. Yet the coffee now tastes watered down to me. (Ironic, since most serve Seattle’s Best Coffee, a Starbucks brand.) There is a distinct advantage to providing more coffee flavor for the dollar.

  13. 13 roshanss

    coffee

  14. 14 O'Maolchathaigh

    You are absolutely correct jonesview; the water used is vital to good-tasting coffee. Never, ever, ever – did I mention never? – use tap water to make coffee. You can always tell the difference. There are usually too much dissolved minerals in tap water. Although I like tap water, it just can’t be used to brew coffee. Most coffee carts use purified, filtered water now. A filter on the tap at home will improve your home brew (coffee) an order of magnitude.

  15. 15 Thomas

    I agree, but then again my tap water in undrinkable unfiltered anyway.

  16. Dear Thomas,

    Much of what you have said here is insightful, and quite helpful for those who have explored little of coffee’s broad range and depth of characteristics. That said, however, it seems to me that you have neglected to view the pure (or close-to-pure) coffee options that exist in many cafés. While I do not live in the United Kingdom but rather in Latin America, where, ironically, much of the best quality coffee is exported and so is hard to come by in a local coffee shop, many cafés which offer espresso-based beverages which are — shall I say “tainted”? — by high quantities of milk and sugar do tend also to offer milk- and sugar-free options, such as the naked espresso, a café americano or the equivalent, and/or a simple drip coffee.

    Ultimately, the quantity of milk and sugar that the customer consumes is up to her or him — in ordering a Mocha or, a Starbucks favourite, a Caramel Macchiatto, the consumer is choosing to swamp “the wonderful flavours traditionally found in coffee,” as you say. While I am in firm agreement that a barista can make or break the finished product (and I admit that I am rather exigent when it comes to the quality of the coffee served me), she or he cannot be blamed for following through with the beverage ordered.

  17. 17 Drew

    I love when people try to pretend to be real coffee connoisseurs and say “I drink it black with no sugars”. Ruining possibly good coffee by drinking it black like that. Ask any Italian, Turk, or even the French and they will tell you it needs the sugar. It’s like a good whiskey drunk neat, water is required to bring out the flavor. I pour-over brew my coffee to the European strength (30 grams of beans/half liter water), two sugars, a few grains of salt to drop the acid quotient (darn tasty), and a bit of hot water to bring it to American strength.


  1. 1 Tesco Finest Espresso « Words about things.

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