Those following me on Instagram (@shareyourkape) probably have seen that I was a tad bit too eager to pull the trigger on buying home brewing equipment, not to mention buying coffee beans frequently. Now that I’m working from home, I can’t rely on Baristas to prepare me good coffee anymore due to lockdown and the need to follow social distancing protocols. I also have more time to learn how to make coffee at home, thus I have no more excuses. So although I started the lockdown drinking instant coffee, I knew it wouldn’t be sustainable (and shouldn’t be). But here’s the thing: I’ve been doing this during one of the harshest summers in the Philippines that I can remember, and I’m still drinking hot coffee – and I think it helps.
This is something I have been thinking of doing since I started my first food blog: have people blind taste three different types of coffee and see what they think they like better. Specifically, will they know what the instant coffee is at least and will they like specialty coffee? Partly I also want to stop the saying that “all coffee tastes the same, no need to buy expensive coffee.”
After 6 years, I finally have three types together at one time: higher grade than usual (still bad tasting though) instant coffee; pre-ground coffee from the grocery; and a Syrupy and Fruity coffee from Kenya. Problem is, it’s still Enhanced Community Quarantine season and I only have two people who can help me with this experiment: my wife who is a coffee drinker but not as crazy as me; and my uncle (technically my mother’s cousin) who helps us out here in the house – he is a heavy drinker of instant coffee, 3-in-1 to be exact. So two people as your test population does not really give you solid, irrefutable findings from a study, but it’s the best I can do right now. Still had some good findings, though, so do read on.
Aside from the instant coffee – which I just took 1/3 of a teaspoon for each test, poured hot water on it, and stirred – I tried to make it as uniform of a brew between the pre-ground coffee and the specialty coffee as much as possible, even the grind.
Now as of this writing, my scale is still “being packed by seller” according to Lazada so I can’t tell you exactly how much coffee to water there is, but I have a system to yield as consistent of a cup of coffee each time in place. Eye balling everything in a shot glass and a small French press, I applied James Hoffman’s French Press technique to both the Pre-Ground and Kenya. Now, I have found that grinding the Kenya beans to medium (maybe even medium coarse) and using this technique yielded the taste of coffee I liked: Syrupy, tastes like brown sugar, with a slight acidity that helps accentuate the sweetness. That would immediately tell you this was specialty coffee so I tried to at least even it out by grinding the specialty coffee similar to the how the pre-ground were: medium fine.
I placed the coffee in three similar tea cups (yes, tea cups from a set of six), remembering exactly where I placed which, let them cool down so they can actually taste the nuances in their flavor (if there are any), and reminded my subjects to slurp the coffee when drinking each one. That is the test. Oh, if you were wondering, I use filtered water. Not sure just how soft it is, but I does not taste bad when you drink it on its own.
Of course the instant coffee, Nescafe Gold to be exact, tasted – well just bitter. I always have to add about half a teaspoon of sugar for every teaspoon of coffee to be able to drink this. For this test, I added no sugar whatsoever. The pre-ground coffee, Gourmet Farms’ Baraco Batangas, still assaulted you with bitterness upon sipping but at least had a chocolatey aftertaste and slightly better aroma – it actually smells like jackfruit (langka). It had no exact roast date but it did say a manufacturing date of 12/28/19 (I bought this April 2020, you really can’t expect much from this anymore) with an expiry date of 12/28/20 (eye-roll). The Kenya brewed this way became more acidic than usual but in a good way. In a way it tasted more fruity than sugary/syrupy. I still like it but I prefer it as syrupy with its body.
Now at the end of this experiment, I asked my wife to switch the cups around without me looking and I was still able to know which was which. It was easy to just spot the Kenya with its color but I had to taste the pre-ground and the instant to know which one it was. I’m not telling you I have the perfect palate, I just know what they taste like when I was preparing the coffee for the experiment.
Not surprisingly, both of them hated the instant coffee, helping my cause of saying that instant coffee isn’t Kape. My uncle immediately reacted to how bitter it was and my wife said it “bit” her tongue, something I also experienced. It was like the instant coffee “latched on” to my tongue for a brief moment. The bitterness also lingered. To be fair, it does taste more like milk chocolate as it cools further, but it still “bites” and still has a bitter aftertaste. It’s in the not instant ones where the results become interesting.
My uncle did not like the acidity of the Kenya. He just described it as “maasim” or sour. From what I read, this is a normal reaction of casual coffee drinkers to specialty coffee: they just lump acidity with sourness. I admit I didn’t brew the perfect cup with this eyeball method, but from my taste it still had a balanced, pleasant fruitiness. He loved the pre-ground coffee, and even asked to have the entire thing for himself. I offered to add sugar to it but he declined from any sweetener.
My wife took longer to decide on what she wanted between the pre-ground and Kenya. This was about 11 in the morning and she had to eat breakfast first before drinking any coffee, and she was still munching on a slice of white bread with chunky cookie butter spread when conducting the taste test. In the end she chose the Kenya as her favorite because of its fruitiness and it going better with her single slice sandwich.
So the findings from this informal experiment:
- It’s not true that the cheaper instant coffee is just the same as specialty coffee, even without people knowing it they immediately hate the taste of instant coffee;
- Indirectly, it proves the theory that people only like instant coffee because of the added milk/creamer and sugar to it;
- Coffee grind, water temperature, brew time and method really do matter
What could be a con from this experiment? If not done properly, like not as good as I could here with incomplete equipment, it could drive people away from specialty coffee more. Yes, you can stop them from drinking instant coffee, but you could just make a case for them to drink pre-ground coffee (the kind you buy from a grocery, still not that much help for the betterment of the coffee industry).
Will I do this again? Absolutely – but better. I recently hit 500 followers on Instagram and to celebrate I went a little crazy on Lazada. I ordered a V60, a scale, and a gooseneck kettle with a thermometer. The scale and the kettle, not the best quality, but at least I can somewhat brew better. Watch out for more experiments!
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I’ve read somewhere that one of the basics of learning how to cook is actually knowing how to use knives. From what knife to use to how should an ingredient be cut/sliced according to how it’s needed in the dish, you have to know how to prepare ingredients using your knives so you can maximize their potential when cooking them. Now going with the theme of encouraging everyone to make coffee at home since they also cook at home, it’s also important to highlight that, like in cooking, we all need to learn how to grind coffee first.
I have my complaints, but I am grateful I have an opportunity to work from home and even more grateful I am living in a home that makes it relatively easy to just #stayathome to help #flattenthecurve. Having said that, it’s not my dream job, but it’s what I have now and it helps pay the bills.
Most people are scared of black coffee because they think it’s (absolutely) bitter. Most people first tried coffee in its instant form. Therefore most people associate sugar and creamer as essential ingredients for a proper cup of coffee. Sugar, aside from the cons of consuming too much, I can understand. Creamers, and I’m talking about non-dairy creamers here, I just cannot.