Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Secret of Sugar

It’s funny to see that more and more I’m confronted with the fact that people (either friends, family or customers) seem to think I have a kind of teacher function and I may even hold them accountable for how they drink their coffee. Of course this is complete nonsense…

One of those things is: sugar. Some people drink coffee with sugar, some don’t. Personally I don’t but for instance my husband does like some sugar in his coffee and we even have friends that kind try to saturate their coffee with sugar. But when we’re on markets with our mobile espresso bar we get customers ordering an espresso and then look at me in an apologizing way saying that they really want to have some sugar in their coffee “although they realize that is not how coffee should be drunk”. Well….let me put it like this: you should drink it the way you like it most, independent of what others think is good. It makes little sense, in my opinion, to drink coffee the way others expect you to drink it and actually dislike it.

But I’m wandering off. Sugar is a taste enhancer that happens to taste sweet just like salt is a taste enhancer that happens to taste salty. That may sound all very obvious, but what I’m trying to say is that we can add sugar or salt to food in order to make it taste either sweet or salty, but we can also add them to food just to enhance the taste. For example, bread contains salt but bread doesn’t taste salty. However, leave the salt out and it really tastes horrible (well, I think it does). This counts for many food products that contain salt without tasting salty.
However, we can also do this with sugar, though that may be more rare. But let’s now take coffee: we can put in enough sugar so that our coffee tastes sweet just because we like sweet. But I would like to challenge you to have a coffee and actually put in very little sugar: typically something like 1/8 of a teaspoon for an espresso, maybe slightly more for a filter coffee. This is so little that the coffee won’t taste sweet at all, but you may discover a dramatic change of taste!
Sugar has the ability to really enhance the acidity of coffee. So a rather bitter coffee with the smallest amount of sugar may actually significantly improve in taste and become very nice and balanced. Of course we cannot do this for every coffee. A coffee that is very dark roasted and has almost no acidity left cannot be made into a balanced flavoured coffee: the sugar enhances the acidity, but if there is no acidity left there is simply nothing to enhance.

So to everyone, whether you drink your coffee with or without sugar, I would suggest to give it a try. Start with a coffee without sugar, have a sip, add a very small amount of sugar, have another sip, add some more sugar etc. You will notice the coffee change flavour until at some point the sweetness of the sugar becomes noticeable and the flavour of the coffee remains the same. It’s an interesting experiment, especially with strong coffee drinks like espresso or from a mocca.

Now next time someone tries to convince you that real coffee drinkers (whatever that may mean) drink their coffee without sugar you can tell them: a) sugar in small amounts actually enhances the flavour of coffee and b) you drink coffee the way you like it, and not the way other people think you should like it!



Value for money

It has been a while since my last post and I sincerely apologize for this. The last 2 weeks before Christmas were honestly quite frantic with an overwhelming amount of roasting to be done. As in the previous years we do not roast or send coffee from a few days before Christmas until new year’s day for the simple reason that we cannot guarantee the delivery. After a negative experience a few years ago of a customer ordering coffee just before Christmas and actually got it delivered on January 4th made us do so. The customer complained (I probably would have done the same) but there was very little that we could do about it. Hence, from that year we decided to simply close for Christmas and new year.
So what does one do if the business closes: go away for a break! And so we did. We worked our way done from our home town in The Netherlands to Barcelona in Spain to spend christmas there and we made it back on time for new years eve.

On the road we regularly stopped for a coffee, well, usually an espresso or a cappuccino. Not along the motorway, of course, because what they manage to serve in cafeterias along the motorway only has the colour in common with real coffee. No, we passed through villages and towns and visited local (espresso) bars to get our daily dose. And of course one cannot stop noticing things.
In the Netherlands, but also in Belgium, we found espressos to be large and rather watery. In fact, they were more like lungos but then with the ground coffee insufficiently tamped in the porta filter. Hence, the water run through too fast with too low pressure….and too much water. Why would that be the case? We started brain storming and came up with the plausible conclusion that it’s all related to value-for-money. In this part of the Europe the value of a product is unfortunately often measured as quantity rather than quality. So a real espresso, only being 30ml large, is a bad deal for 2 euro. A lungo, that is more in the order of 100ml, then seems to be a far better deal. Whether this is the initial though of the cafe owner or he started with real espressos and changed to watery lungos after complains of customers about their small espressos we don’t know, and didn’t dare to ask.  Unfortunately this principle is also applied to cappuccinos, and a watery lungo with a splash of milk is really not that good.

Moving into France, however, things improve significantly. Espressos are real espressos and cappuccinos are real cappuccinos. Apparently in France value-for-money is not just about quantity and people do value a good espresso highly. Is it all paradise then? Well, personally speaking, no. We, that is my husband and I, generally find that espresso in France is from too darkly roasted coffee and therefore quite bitter. Don’t get me wrong, it’s our personal taste: we prefer a bit more acidity in our daily brew.
And so we finally arrived in Spain. Spain for us, at least when it comes to coffee (and wine, tapas and some other food related things) gets quite close to paradise. We’ve been there many times and drank coffee in all sorts and sizes, but a place where they really serve bad coffee in whatever form we’ve never been able to encounter. Nothing beats a good cortado (an espresso with a small amount of milk) after dinner…. Then let it be 3 euros….to us it’s real value-for-money!

And so just being in Barcelona for christmas was of course waaaay to short. But then, it’s not so far and we know all the good places, so we’ll probably be there another time this year…

Happy 2014 to everyone,