A first world problem, more pertinently, a first world teachers problem. Life is too short to drink bad coffee and the day is too long to not drink coffee at all. I wake up excited to grind and experiment with extraction times each and every morning (weekends and holidays I experience an elevated level excitement). I have a modest set up on my kitchen bench which over the years has paid me back 10x over in delicious coffee. Saying this though, the lifelong search for the perfect espresso to kick start yet another amazing morning is real. Coffee is more than a drink to me. It’s a science, a passion, an experience. For me the notion that coffee is a plain, dark roasty liquid often bitter and dulled with milk and/or sugar couldn’t be further from the truth.
One of the biggest coffee misdemeanors we as teachers are guilty of is the consumption of instant or reconstituted coffee. It is an easy and quick fix when all you have is 2 minutes between class and lunch duty. However, instant coffee sits at ground zero on ‘The Coffee Continuum’ and if you respect your taste buds you should really give it a miss. Unfortunately instant’s been around for over 100 years. The most recent form having come about in the 50’s after Nestle worked out how to produce it from straight coffee with no additives. A+ Nestle! It’s basically brewed coffee freeze or spray dried into powder or granules which is then reconstitute in your cup with the help of hot water. Yum.
It could be said that instant is the most processed coffee you can drink. We are coming to understand the value of unprocessed foods on our health and the inherent higher nutritional value and composition of these when compared to it’s equivalent processed version. Processing also has a major impact on flavour. You just need to look on the back of many products to see the amount of flavours added. What would these products taste like without them? Cardboard? Sawdust maybe? Anyway, I would argue that coffee is no different. In my opinion the less processing and mucking around with the bean the better. This goes from the planting of the tree, to the harvesting, to the way it is processed, shipped, roasted then packaged. Fresh is best- right? Natural whole roasted coffee beans have a used by date of around 4 weeks after roasting, at which time you will begin to experience loss of flavour and a flattening out of aroma. By contrast, instant has a possible shelf life of up to 20 years. Wow! Makes it a great option for doomsday bunkers or lockdown rooms, but that’s about it.
The final nail in instant’s coffin is the bean used to make it. Robusta is a higher yielding crop with about half the sugar content and almost double the caffeine content of Arabica coffee. It’s mechanically harvested and mass produced. Robusta beans are almost always dark roasted in order to mask the real flavour of the bean. The use of Robusta makes for a consistent cup of potent, cheap, burnt tasting coffee. Alternatively you can venture up the coffee continuum and experiment a little with flavour and your daily coffee ritual to experience a sweet and nuanced cup of deliciousness. I’ll share some un-instant ‘desk coffee’ techniques shortly. In the meantime, SAY NO TO INSTANT.