In James Hoffman’s undeniable coffee journey, ‘The World Atlas of Coffee’, the first line reads: ‘Coffee has never been better than it is today.” The trouble facing the industry is that in a time of grab-and-run coffee dispensers and take-away cups, the art of enjoying coffee is gradually slipping away. So, as the next part of our Introduction to Coffee Series, we thought we’d lay down the rules over a couple of posts: How to Drink Coffee – starting with The Aim.
Understanding The Aim
The first step on the way to properly enjoying your coffee is to understand what it is you’re trying to get out of the experience. For some, coffee is about a caffeine hit. For others, however (a group of which we hope you’re a part) coffee gives the chance of an experience. So what should you be looking for?
Three basics to watch for are strength, measurements and additives (think milk, cream and sugar). After this it becomes more detailed which we’ll get to, but first we’ll cover these.
What To Look For:
Strength: Whilst we do use this as an indicator on our branding to help customers in their orders, the traditional use of the term refers to a cup of coffee’s percentage amount. That is, a strong cup of coffee will have more dissolved coffee in the water, in the same way that a 5% strength beer will have more alcohol in it than a 3% beer.
Measurements: Or, to be precise, Exact Measurements. Minor alterations in how coffee is brewed can have more of an impact on the taste than you might think. To improve quality and control over a cup of coffee, be aware of how much water you’re using by having scales at hand. As a tip, one milliliter of water is equivalent to one gram. How much water you use when brewing is one of the major variables for a good coffee.
Additives: A widening gap between professionals and consumers in the coffee industry is that of the role of milk and sugar in a cup. For purists, these ruin coffee. For the majority of customers, however, it can be the difference between enjoying a cup of coffee or having a bitter aftertaste to deal with. This is something to consider when drinking and tasting coffee. A good line of thinking is that if your coffee needs additives to lessen the bitterness or make it drinkable at all, it is probably poorly roasted or badly brewed or both. High quality coffee should be drinkable for most of us without additives.
How to Drink Coffee
How to drink coffee - it seems like a fairly simple phrase. But coffee has so many variables and so many elements to look out for that it is, in fact, more of an art than a solution. In many if not most societies around the world, coffee drinking has become a ritual of many types, and to get the most out of the occasion it’s best to know what you’re looking for in an enjoyable cup.
When we drink coffee - particularly in the Western world - it is normally with a few friends whilst chatting, or whilst reading the newspaper or working - but what if we actually concentrated on the drink like we do wine? If you’re looking to get further down this rabbit hole, read on.
It’s in the mouth and the nose
Your tongues and your nasal cavities are where you will be picking up the senses that enable you to judge your cup of coffee. It’s best, however, to take them both on separate accounts as this makes it easier - particularly if you’re still learning - to work out what it is you’re sensing.
On the tongues, you are looking for tastes like bitterness and acidity, and sweetness and savouriness. You can also pick up the saltiness of the drink. As for the ‘flavours’ people talk about, like chocolate, vanilla, cherries and berries - they’re all in the nose, which you’ll pick up on a secondary basis after the taste. Attempting to take all this in at once is a mistake - your senses will be overwhelmed and it makes it difficult to work out what you’re experiencing.
Before it reaches you, it’s tested
Before the coffee you’re tasting reaches you, the consumer, it will have been tested and tasted and reviewed by coffee professionals. They will make notes based on the following aspects (plus some)
- Sweetness, which is desirable in most coffees
- Acidity, which can be either good or bad - good if it’s crisp, bad if it’s sour
- Mouthfeel, in whether it’s light and delicate or creamy and heavy - normally the higher the quality, the less heavy and higher the acidity of the cup
- Balance, in that is it hard to assess due to a myriad of tastes that don’t help each other, or is it harmonious in its senses like a well-conducted orchestra?
- Flavour, which gets easier with experience!
Here you’ve learned about the final cup and what you should look out for when drinking coffee, but before it gets to this stage, coffee is roasted. This plays perhaps an even bigger role in what you taste in that cup, so we’ll look at that in detail.
Until then, keep coffee & carry Hoxton!