The sad bitter truth of undrinkable coffee

tax-dodging Starbucks serving cheap over-roasted bitter coffee

In May, I met with a friend in a coffee shop in Cyprus.

Where we met in Cyprus, Robustos in Paralimini is a rarity, a speciality coffee shop that serves decent coffee.

Cyprus has more coffee chains than can shake a stick at. Chains you may have heard of, chains you will never have heard of, Costa (now owned by Coca-Cola), tax-dodging Caffe Nero, tax-dodging Starbucks, Coffee Island and Coffee Berry, the Greek versions of Starbucks, Second Cup, the Canadian version of Starbucks.

My friend Georgia does not like coffee. I explained why she found coffee to be unpleasant and bitter, poor quality coffee, bad machine, brewed by someone who not a skilled barista, too hot. Yes, she had found coffee to be served scalding hot, and yes, it was unpleasant and bitter.

Owner George joined us for a chat and I asked him to make Georgia a cappuccino. To Georgia, I said please try, if you do not like it, you are not obliged to drink it.

Georgia took a tentative sip, found it to be OK. Only when her cup was empty and she had said she enjoyed it, did I point out that that she had not had to add sugar.

The only reason chocolate is dumped on a cappuccino, sugar and syrups added, is to mask the taste of bad coffee.

Visit a speciality coffee shop, they will source their beans from a quality coffee roastery, who sources quality beans from a farm. The roast will be light to medium roast to bring out the characteristics of the beans. The roast varies with each batch of beans. It then takes a skilled barista to bring out the best from the beans, and the skilled barista needs a quality grinder and quality espresso machine. Any error en route from farm to cup will ruin the beans and produce a poor cup of coffee.

The coffee chains buy cheap low quality beans. These are over roasted to hide any defects in the beans. This though is not the only reason for the dark roast, it gives uniformity of the beans, a burnt coffee bean is a burnt coffee bean, it requires no skill on the part of the barista, a robot could do the job, the only reason McWorkers are employed they are cheaper than robots.

An analogy would be McDonald’s. All their burgers are identical, maybe 200 cows in one burger. No skill required to cook the burger.

Brian Stoffel from the viewpoint of a coffee farmer in Costa Rica explains in an excellent article The Bitter Truth About Starbucks Coffee why cheap coffee is dark roast and preferred by the global coffee chains and speciality coffee a lighter roast.

In a dark roast, bitter is the predominant flavor. That’s because bitter is the flavor you get when things get burned.

At El Toledo, he demonstrates to tourists how the beans change over the course of just a few minutes of roasting, and what those few minutes means for the taste that ends up in the cup. Beans sampled at one-minute intervals, beginning 15 minutes into the roasting process.

The main difference between the three different roasts (courtesy Brian Stoffel):

  • In a light roast, the flavors are more fruity and acidic. That’s because the coffee cherries that the beans come from are fruity and acidic.
  • In a medium roast, the coffee tastes more balanced and sweet. That’s primarily because the glucose has been heated up and activated, but it also hasn’t burned away yet.
  • In a dark roast, bitter is the predominant flavor. That’s because bitter is the flavor you get when things get burned.

Two speciality coffee shops to try light roasted beans, Base Camp on Steep Hill in Lincoln and Outpost Coffee in the Lace Market area of Nottingham.

Dark roasted coffee can be tried in any coffee chain, and sadly too many indie coffee shops that buy cheap rubbish catering supply coffee. One of the worst I have tried, Jacobs coffee served in an indie coffee shop in Cyprus, the coffee undrinkable, the beans, black, over roasted and the disgusting smell of the beans turned the stomach.

To buy quality coffee beans, from most speciality coffee shops or direct from the roastery.