In an effort to be of better service to our coffee peoples we recently started opening the floor to general questions about coffee. If YOU have a question and want a chance for yours to be featured, post it to our Facebook page or send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. The following were selected at random from what we received in our first batch.
For now sit back, relax, grab your cup of joe and enjoy a little random coffee knowledge….
“Coffee and its acidity. Is less acidic coffee better? Worse? Does acidity change the taste? This is my deep burning question
Acidity…it all depends on what you mean by it.
When you hear a coffee nerd talk about acidity they’re generally talking about the flavor characteristics of the coffee, like it tastes like lemon or orange or even things like white grapes or peaches. This is what we are referring to when we score coffees here at roast ratings, which we consider to be a big part of the flavor balance of a coffee, alongside sweetness and bitterness. You will sometimes also hear this called “Brightness”.
Now, acid content is a different story. What I understand from my “nerd-u-cation” is that coffee isn’t as heavy of a hitter as in the acid department as many people think. In the matters of pH, most coffees are around 5 which does indeed mean that it is a bit on the acidic side. But, keeping in mind that lemon juice has a pH of around 2 and vinegar around 3, it’s not off the charts. Beyond that there’s a whole rabbit-hole about organic acids in coffee to be had here, but we’re going to sidestep the maddening details of coffee wonderland for now 😉
I have always been told that for those who have stomach problems with acid a darker roast is better suited to their needs. Even better yet are coffees that were brewed in water for longer periods of time, methods like cold press (toddy) or Kyoto that brews for several hours. We’ll be getting into how to prepare coffee via these methods in our Iced Coffee series, so stay tuned for more on that front soon.
As far as what’s good? That is up to you! If you like tasting fruit and brightness in your coffee, then you like acidity. If you like something heavier that is better suited for cream and/or sugar then acidity is probably not your bag. Either way it’s your coffee. Enjoy it!
If I’m brewing coffee in a cheap, electric coffeemaker, is there a point where I’m wasting money on higher quality beans and roast? What would be the sweet spot for the casual consumer that still wants to enjoy their brew?
There’s a whole lot of ways this question could be answered, but without budget parameters let’s start with cheap as free and go up from there.
Cheap, electric coffeemakers are all over the place, and fundamentally they do afforadably make a basic cup of coffee. When it comes to construction they all have their variances, but fundamentally they have one overriding issue when it comes to cup quality: water temperature. Most of them just don’t get hot enough to get all the tastiness out of the coffee (aka- extract properly). While you can likely taste the difference between okay coffee and higher quality stuff on this type of brewer, you’re going to be missing out on some of the specific nuances of flavors in higher end coffees.
It’s difficult -nigh on impossible- to address the temperature issue with these low cost brewers…they are what they are. But the budget minded start point is playing with the type of water that you use, as this will help with flavor clarity of your brew. Instead of using tap water play with selections from your local grocery store. They usually carry spring and drinking water, as well as the refillable bottle options. Depending on your tap water you can sometimes add some amount of distilled water to it to get a better balance of mineral content in the water (you never want to use distilled alone).
As far as a few other ways to improve the flavor of your coffee, we have some other suggestions in our article, 5 Tips for Better Coffee at Home. The besides a brewer that can hit the temperature range for an ideal brew, the next step would be investing in fresh grinding. We recommend a ‘burr’ grinder, which creates a more uniform grind size and that helps make for even brewing and a consistent experience, brew to brew. Unfortunately not all burr grinders are created equal, but we’d recommend starting with a Baratza model. While it is definitely an investment, they have a great track record and, most importantly, they have all parts available as well as tutorials for fixing.
Maintaining a casual, worry free relationship with coffee is the goal of many, so unless you are considering becoming a full on coffee hobbyist, our brewer recommendation would be one from the Bonavita line. For our actual brew ratings we use the BV1900TS, their 8 cup offering. The cup quality for the price ($179) makes it a pretty fantastic value. They also have a new 5 cup version coming in around $139.00.
And….if you’re at the point in your coffee relationship that you want to take it to the next level there are endless options open to you. For more on your choices there, we’ll be covering off some lower cost hand brew options in an upcoming post- “Coffee on a budget – $50 or less”
Why must I have my coffee black? What’s wrong with adding cream or sugar to it?
This is my favorite question so far. The short answer? Absolutely nothing.
It is your coffee and therefore your right to like what you like. No one should make you feel otherwise. Truth be told I occasionally enjoy a creamy sweet brew. I give you exhibit A:
It’s not so much that you ‘should’ be drinking your coffee black. There a tons of people who do it daily (65% of US coffee drinkers to name a few) and, aside from that, there are times when this is totally the appropriate move. It mainly boils down to what kind of coffee you happen to be drinking. Just like other food and beverage items out there coffees have varying levels of quality.
Take wines for instance. There are some wines out there that you would use to make sangria or add to the pan for a lovely wine sauce. They may also be pretty tasty on their own. But there are some wines that you wouldn’t dream of adulterating because, on their own, they’re incredibly tasty and not something you’d want to interfere with. Beef is another example. You might buy a few pounds of ground beef for taco night, but you probably wouldn’t sacrifice your USDA Prime filet mignon for the job. No way. That baby’s gonna be juicy and delicious without much help at all!
While there is a certain element of “coffee is coffee” for many out there, there’s a movement in a sector of the coffee industry- “Specialty Coffee” that is usually the one encouraging (sometimes a little too forcefully) the consumption of a black brew. Much like ground chuck compares to a prime filet, Specialty Coffee is a bit different from most of what you see out there in the grocery store. While the beans come from a lot of the same places and are labeled similarly, the biggest thing you’ll notice about it at first glance is that Specialty costs a bit more, but there are reasons.
It costs more because it tastes pretty amazing on its own. Specialty Coffee makes up the top 20% of coffees in the world. The only way to achieve this consistently is through the dedication of a lot of people- from those who picked it off the trees to those roasting and/or serving it- taking the time they need to attend to all of the details*. And while none of them should make you feel weird about liking coffee the way you like it, they have their reasons for feeling that way. It just doesn’t always come across the way they intended. Sometimes it’s for your sake too. Some Specialty Coffees are amazing on their own, but kind of terrible with cream and/or sugar. Ones with a lot of juicy acidity (for more on acidity refer to question 1) taste really funky, like adding milk to orange juice. Some even curdle it…rare, but I’ve seen it. These same coffees, when tasted alone can really open your mind up to a totally new idea of coffee- one of crazy flavors like berries, oranges and plums. It’s all part of the fun that is Specialty Coffee.
So, to go back to the beginning of this rambling answer- nothing is wrong with adding cream and sugar, but if you find yourself in a specialty cafe situation just ask your friendly barista which coffee is best suited for cream. Or alternatively, take a chance and walk on the wild side 😉
*(for more on these details that make all the difference see our article: The Challenges of Coffee)