There are all kinds of reasons why your coffee might taste bad.
Maybe your coffee maker is getting long in the tooth, or just doesn’t have what it takes to make good coffee.
Maybe the water in your area isn’t very good, and you should be using bottled water.
But when I read the comment streams on the Q&A section of this site, the most common reason for disappointment is that people’s favorite coffee brand just doesn’t taste good anymore.
This isn’t an idle question, because plenty of people find a coffee they like and then stick with it for years, or even decades. I have read comments from people who talk about how their parents used to drink coffee brand X, and they then followed the family tradition when they grew up.
What does it take to break that kind of habit and brand loyalty?
Well, it takes a dramatic fall in the quality of the coffee.
Not just a small all, because we can usually forgive that. A lot of our favorite brands are not as good as they used to be.
This means the big coffee brands we see on the shelves in our local supermarkets have taken a huge dive in quality, and their fans have noticed. Big time.
Why so bad? It’s all about the money, of course.
Those companies keep trying to shave their cost of production, and hope they don’t lose too many customers in the process.
The first way to cut costs is by using lower-quality coffee beans. Easily done. But for bigger savings, they actually change the varietal of coffee beans they use.
Robusta beans are easier to grow, are more resistant to pests and disease, and can be grown at much lower altitudes. They also deliver more pounds of coffee beans per acre. In other words, they’re easier to grow and cheaper to produce.
Using less Arabica and more Robusta is a great way for big brands to cut their costs and make more money.
The trouble is, when you use too many Robusta beans, the coffee you sell tastes like garbage.
BTW – Robust beans do have a legitimate place in the world of coffee. They can be used as part of a blend, to add extra body to an Arabica coffee. In fact, plenty of blends created to make espresso include Robusta beans for that very reason…for the extra body.
If you have come to hate your favorite big-brand coffee, it’s probably because they use too high a proportion of Robusta beans in the blend. Nothing you can do to change that.
No brewing tricks will make their bad coffee taste good.
What’s a person to do? Well, if you want good coffee, you’re going to have to pay a little bit more.
Look for bags that are marked “100% Arabica Coffee”. And no, “100% Coffee” doesn’t count.
Really…I have seen coffee bags that say that. What they are really saying – or deliberately not saying – is, “Lots of Robusta coffee beans inside”.
And take this opportunity to try a lot of different coffees. If you’re going to break the big-brand habit, you might as well have fun with it and try coffees from lots of different roasters until you find something you really love.
Life, as they say, is too short for bad coffee.
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About the author: Nick Usborne, aka Coffee Detective, is a writer and long-time coffee enthusiast. Read more…