What You Need To Know For A Great Cup Of Coffee – According To Baristas

What is it about that morning coffee that has us longing for it from the moment our eyelids part, lusting after it on the bus and totally unable to function before it’s wrapped in our hot little hands?

Coffee offers gratification on numerous levels. It’s the little boost that gets you through till end of play. It’s an excuse to catch-up with friends, or lock eyes with that cute new barista. And it’s pretty damn good for you too. Back in the ’80s, some studies wrongly linked coffee to a bunch of illnesses like cancer and heart disease, but as it turns out, habitual caffeine consumption actually leads to a lower risk of cancer and type 2 diabetes, as well as a drop in mortality risk (among other benefits, unless you’re pregnant or have an Autoimmune disease).

Before you celebrate by reaching for another cup, there’s still a lot to consider when it comes to your morning brew. We hit up two industry experts for their insider knowledge to help you get the most out of your cup of joe.

#1 Cheaper Isn’t Better

Andrew Kelly of Melbourne’s renowned Small Batch Roasting Co and Auction Rooms café advises to “drink traceable, premium, well-roasted coffee.” Knowing where your coffee comes from and how it was cultivated might not seem all that important when you’re in Struggle Town at 7am, but quality coffee not only tastes better, it has wide-ranging ethical benefits for producers, too.

With coffee, you often get what you pay for; it’s hard not to notice the phenomenal discrepancy in pricing from retailer to retailer – from $1 servo coffees to varieties like Geisha Rojas selling for $12 per cup in venues like Melbourne Roastery, Proud Mary. Price can be a direct reflection of wholesale costs, but it’s more than likely that your tight-arse servo latte is loaded up with rehydrated milk and cheaply-produced Robusta beans, which contain a high caffeine content of around 2.7% (almost double that of dearer Arabica varieties served in specialty venues).

While there’s technically nothing wrong with Robusta coffees, their low market price, harsh flavour and caffeine-induced adrenal rollercoaster makes them the goon bag of coffees. Paying a little more for your morning cup – around $3.50 to $4.50 – affords you a higher-quality product that’s easier to digest, more delicious and generally better for you.

#2 Lose the sugar


Image: StockSnap

There’s no quicker way to get on your barista’s bad side than shovelling sugar into your freshly-made flat white before even copping a taste, but sugar also nullifies some health benefits. “Cut out sugar in your coffee, and if that’s not enough for you, try getting into black coffee,” advises three-time state latte art titleist and proprietor of Adelaide’s Please Say Please, Daniel Freer.

A regular-sized milk coffee such as a cappuccino or flat white already contains around 10g of natural sugar, which is present in the milk (the coffee bean itself doesn’t contain sugar). When heated, this sugar caramelises, making the overall taste sweet (well, sweeter than cold milk).

Also, drinking full cream milk has been given the nod from health experts, as whole milk usually contains less sugar than reduced fat varieties, and vitamins found in dairy like D, E, A and K are fat-soluble, meaning they need fat to be absorbed by the body.

#3 Let’s Talk Temp

Over-heating milk burns off the natural sugar content, causing the milk to lose its sweet taste. Most people then add sugars or artificial sweeteners by way of reintroduction. Mochas, flavoured syrups, cream and co. all inject additional sugar to what is, essentially, a pretty basic, healthy habit. “Keep it simple,” says Freer, “and drink what you enjoy, not what you think you should be drinking for social status.” If you prefer a sweeter coffee, or one that lasts a bit longer, order a full-cup coffee like a cappuccino, flat white or latte. If you’re after a quick fix, try a shorter piccolo or macchiato.

Like things hot? Asking for an extra-hot coffee is essentially asking your barista to burn the milk to preserve temperature while you walk back to the office or read the paper, and it achieves little more than compromising flavour. Well-educated baristas will serve in preheated ceramic cups (to limit heat transfer from the beverage) and are happy to double-cup your takeaway if extra insulation is required.

#4 Fob Off The Foam

barista preparing filter coffee.

Image: Stocksy

Both Kelly and Freer champion non-espresso brew methods as a great way of changing up your routine. Drink more filter coffee,” Kelly advocates,the flavours are more easily perceived because the beverage is less intense than espresso, and it’s served black, making the flavours more evident.” Filter, batch brews (preparing large batches of filter coffee in one, automated go) and cold brews are today commonplace at most good coffee shops and are a great way of developing your palate. “Brewed to a good recipe, [filter coffee] will for most people give a gentle buzz, more like tea, and less like the experience of espresso coffee.” Drinking black coffee is also the purest way to enjoy its health benefits.

#5 Practice Coffee Polyamory

Experimentation is a great way to engage with and understand coffee beyond your standard latte. Single origins (those sourced from one farm or producer, as opposed to a blend) vary tremendously in flavour and experience and are a great way to jazz up your coffee run. So be adventurous: try a filter, try a single origin espresso, try a fully washed Nicaraguan Maragogype. And don’t be afraid to talk to your barista. Kelly revels in any opportunity to recommend or talk through a coffee he has sourced, imported, roasted and/or brewed. Adding even the simplest variation to your routine will make it all that much more satisfying.

Tim lives life between the coffee shop and the cinema. He’s a writer whose words have appeared in GRAM and Broadsheet. Find him on the socials as @timmyvolume.

(Lead image via Unsplash)