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Why Office Coffee Tastes So Bad

Cuppa jo.
Starting this month, I'm going to be adding a "weekend" blog entry to SalesMachine. Since I don't work on the weekends, and I assume that you don't either, these weekend posts are going to be a bit broader in choice of topic, and may drift a bit outside the world of selling.

I believe that coffee is one of the necessities for remaining in the business world, and I consider truly great coffee to be one of life's little luxuries. So I thought I'd make your life a little better by sharing what I've learned.

I'm going to explain why the coffee that you get at the office usually tastes bitter -- even if your office has an expensive coffee service. Then I'm going to explain how to make a truly spectacular cup of coffee. Here goes.

Contrary to popular belief, coffee is not bitter. It is supposed to be a naturally sweet beverage. However, the way it is usually prepared tends to concentrate the tanins in the coffee, which makes it unnaturally bitter. Remove these tannins and you get a good cup of coffee.Tannins come from five sources:

  • Exposure to air. The more the beans are exposed to air and light, the more they begin to break down, turning the natural sweetness into tannins. If coffee is already ground, that process is accelerated.
  • Brewing residue. Most brewing methods cause tannins to be deposited on the brewing mechanism where they're transferred into the coffee. Plastic and metal is porous, so even if you scrub it, there's always residue.
  • The brewing process. If the water is not hot enough, the coffee flavor is lessened while the tannins are transferred into the water. Most coffee makers don't heat up the water sufficiently to make a good cup.
  • The filtering process. If the filter is the wrong porousness and not designed to absorb tannins, it will pass them through into the coffee. Many filters just filter out particulate matter and don't absorb the tannins.
  • Time after brewing. If there are tannins in the coffee, they'll spread throughout the coffee, making it increasingly bitter over time. That's why reheated coffee -- or coffee that's been sitting in the pot for an hour or more -- usually tastes so wretched.
The worst-tasting of coffee is stale, pre-ground, brewed in a dirty coffee machine, with a reusable filter, and then has been sitting in the pot for over an hour. That's pretty much what corporate America drinks every day. No wonder so many people are in a sour mood.

To make a good cup of coffee:

  1. Buy beans that are freshly roasted. You can order them online from a number of companies. I use A&E Roastery, which is right down the street from me.
  2. Grind the beans for each pot. That means getting a coffee grinder. You can pick these up at almost any large chain store, or you can order one from J&R Electronics.
  3. Brew in an all-glass coffee maker. The absolute best that I've found is from Chemex. It was invented by a chemist in order to remove the bitter taste. Not automatic, but worth the effort.
If you do all of the above, you'll see how real coffee is supposed to taste. Try different varieties. I'm partial to Ethiopian and (in a pinch) Eight O'Clock Columbian (whole bean), which is about the cheapest bean you can buy.


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