It always amazes me how many people believe that coffee must taste bitter and burnt. Did you know that your great-grandmother knew how to make coffee less bitter.
In fact, your Great-Grandmother never made coffee that was bitter. In her day, coffee was naturally sweet, smooth as silk, never burnt, never ever bitter, with distinct noticeable flavor notes of chocolate, nut, earth, citrus, bark, etc. depending on the origins of the coffee bean.
And how did Great-Grandma accomplish this feat of brewing up a little cup of heaven? She did it the same way everyone did. She purchased green beans, which lasts for years, then she roasted the green beans herself in a cast iron skillet or she baked them in the oven. She never over roasted the beans, always ending up with a medium to dark brown color; never burnt and black.
Additionally, since the roasted beans started going stale and bitter in about a month, she just roasted up a new batch every 3-4 weeks. In a nutshell, Great-Grandma and every else, knew that fresh roasted coffee was the trick to how to make coffee less bitter. The older the roasted coffee the more bitter. The fresher the roasted coffee the sweeter it was.
So, what happened? How did we go from great smooth flavorful coffee to industrial burnt and bitter coffee? Well, you can blame Uncle Sam. When the US entered WWI, (That’s “World War One” for those young’uns taught history in government schools); the war department wanted to send roasted coffee with the soldiers when they deployed to Europe.
The problem was, for the previous 500 years, roasted coffee had a shelf-life of about 30 days. The solution for the war department was to burn the snot out of the beans until they were black and then vacuum seal them into a tin can. And voila! They now had coffee that had a one-year shelf life. Unfortunately, it tasted burnt and bitter, which the soldiers eventually became accustomed to.
Then when Jonny came home from the war, he wanted coffee just like good Old Sam made, hence the birth of companies like Hills Brothers, Maxwell House, Folgers, etc., which created the industrial burnt and bitter coffee that we’ve come to love and hate in the US.
Ah, but ask, “What about Charbucks and their wannabes?” In a nutshell, what they have is, “A better bean” that’s still burnt beyond recognition and vacuum-sealed. The end result isn’t much better than what the doughboys drank.
You may now be asking, “But what about all those fancy roasts, like French Roast, or Italian Roast, or Continental Roasts, or Espresso Roasts?” Good question. So, I’ll give you the short answer and then the more entertaining longer answer. Here’s the short answer. These fancy roast names are 100% bullshit marketing hype.
For the long answer, let’s just take a look at “French Roast”. I’m sure the French feel good about having an American roast named after them, but here’s the entertaining history behind the term “French Roast”.
The Origins of French Roast
During the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, when coffee-trading sailing ships pulled into port, the bottom layer of coffee was often wet and spoiled, thus tossed into the harbor. Late in the 19th century a resourceful French trader decided to take the spoiled coffee and burn the snot out of it and sell it, at a great discount, to the poor. Fast forward to post-WWI America, when industrial coffee companies were looking for a marketing term for their burnt and bitter coffee, they decided to call it… (drum roll)… You guessed it “French Roast”. A turd by any other name still smells as sweet. And old, stale, industrial, burnt coffee still tastes as bitter.
Now some industrial coffee companies pretending to be specialty coffee companies, believe that they can mix a variety of coffee beans and come up with a blend that’s perfect for your palate. Again, and I hate to keep repeating myself, but this is also 100% bullshit marketing. The marketing term “blend” is in reality, “We bought the cheapest damn beans that we could find and blended them together.”
What Charbucks and the their wannabes want you to think is that by blending beans, you’re going to get the best flavors from each bean. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple and doesn’t work that way. What a blend ends up creating is a piss-poor mishmash of muddled flavors.
Single Source Specialty Beans
On the other hand, if you want a cup of smooth coffee with hints of one, two, or three flavors, then you need to start with a bag of beans that all came from the same field of beans that have this one, two, or sometimes three notable flavors. Now this is tough to do. Each plant is different, just as each field is different, just as each region is different, and just as each country’s crop is different. Each is unique. Some plantations produce coffee that’s smooth and others are bitter; some are sweet and others sour; some are nutty and others taste like chocolate. It depends on the area, the weather, the direction of the sun, the heat, etc.
I personally like super smooth coffee, with two or three distinct flavor notes. I do not like bitter coffee beans and I do not like burnt coffee beans. Therefore, after taste testing from hundreds of coffee plantations the world over, I personally prefer coffee specifically from the Amapola plantations in the Tarrazu region of Costa Rica. What I end up with is a coffee bean that’s super smooth with three distinct flavors; chocolate, nut, and citrus. I think this is the smoothest best balance of flavor that I’ve had in my whole life. And that’s where I source 100% of my beans from this specific plantation.
As I’ve pointed out above, I only buy one bean. Additionally, I have only three roasts; light, medium, and dark. And here’s an important note. By dark, I mean a dark “brown”, not ever black. When the roasted beans are black, that’s burnt, which tastes like charcoal. Sorry, but that’s not for me.
Here at Lake City Coffee, I don’t have any fancy names, just plane good old-fashioned coffee. Additionally, since the taste of the coffee starts changing immediately after roasting, I roast and ship the same day, meaning you get the freshest coffee that you’re likely to find anywhere.
How you brew your coffee makes big difference in how it tastes. I like smooth non-bitter coffee, so here’s a list of my favorite ways to brew coffee.
- Cold Brew – The absolute least bitter way to make coffee. See this link.
- AeroPress – For hot coffee, nothing beats the AeroPress ($29 on Amazon) Scroll down to my AeroPress video See this link.
- French Press – A word of caution here. I think the French Press is the purest form of brewing coffee. By pure, I mean, you’re going to get the most and strongest flavor out of this method, but the coffee is also going to less smooth. I suggest a medium fine grind. You’ll get more sludge in the bottom of your cup, but just go in knowing you’re not going to drink that last sip. Also, steep the grinds for only 1 minute. The longer you steep the grounds, the less smooth.
How To Make Coffee Less Bitter
- Costa Rican, Tarrazu, Amapola Beans
- Fresh Roasted – Less than 30 days
- Brew using your favorite method
- Experiment with your grinding, amount of grounds, and brewing methods