Monday, 7 April 2008 | Tags:

Nothing beats a really good cup of the wonderful black elixir known as coffee. We find out what to look for and if there's a taste difference between specialty, decaffeinated, generic and regular coffee.

The Basics

  • You can develop a palate for coffee tasting comparable to wine tasters. These experts say the four main criteria for assessing a coffee are:

    • Aroma ranges from weak to strong and from floral to winy.

    • Acidity is a good thing in coffee, making the flavour sharp and vibrant.

    • Body on the heavy side is a plus as it retains more flavour when diluted.

    • Flavour ranges from strictly soft to harsh.

  • The amount of time coffee beans are roasted determines flavour. There are three types: Light, medium and dark roast. Dark is considered the most flavourful, but it’s up to personal choice.

  • Quality beans have a nice and fairly uniform shape.

  • Beans have natural oils that come to the surface over time. If the beans you’re buying look oily, they might not be fresh, or could be over-roasted.

  • While grocery stores and coffee houses host many different types and brands of coffees:

    • Arabica refers to the beans that are grown high on the mountains in a purer environment, away from chemicals. Arabica coffee is also handpicked due to the remote location of the plants.

    • Robusta coffee comes from the lower part of the mountains and the plains and is more accessible for machine harvesting. These areas are chemically fertilized to produce large crops. Robusta beans pack about twice the caffeine of Arabica.

    • Blended coffees are mixes of two or more bean varieties combined to round out disparate flavours

    • Varietal coffee is made up of beans bearing the distinctive qualities of a single country or geographic region. For example:

      • Costa Rican coffee is full-bodied with a deep, pungent flavour, excellent acidity, and a bit of smokiness.

      • Kenyan is mellow, with balance acidity and notes of berries and citrus.

      • Estate-grown varietals have origins that can be traced to a particular grower and occasionally to a particular plot on the coffee plantation.

    • Organic coffee is cultivated without pesticides, herbicides, or artificial fertilizers. Even though these substances won’t harm coffee drinkers (there’s virtually no residue in beans by the time they’ve undergone roasting), it saves farm workers and the environment from exposure to chemicals.

    • Decaffeinated coffee refers to coffee beans that have had the caffeine extracted.

  • The best way to buy coffee is as whole beans so you can ensure you’re getting coffee from the same type of bean rather than a pre-ground blend. Fresh roasted coffee keeps for a week to ten days.

  • The ground coffee sold at grocery stores or coffee shops must be vacuum-sealed to protect against air exposure and to give the coffee a longer shelf life. Air is the enemy of coffee as it makes it go stale when exposed, even over a short time.

Other Considerations

  • Health Canada recommends no more than four cups (4 x 250 ml) of coffee per day.

  • You may have heard that espresso has less caffeine, but it actually has about as much caffeine as a cup of dark-roasted brew. And espresso servings are much smaller, so the amount of caffeine per millilitre is much higher than regular brew.

  • Coffee itself contains no calories but it’s what you add to it that does, cream, sugar, whipping cream, chocolate sprinkles turn calories up to 450 or more. Try a cappuccino with skim milk instead.

  • Experts recommend drinking 1 cup of water for every cup of coffee you drink.

  • If you’re pregnant or trying, limit or exclude coffee from your diet.

  • Some studies have shown that coffee is effective in the fight against colonic cancer because it stimulates the mobility of the lining of the colon. There are also studies that show that coffee protects from Parkinson’s disease.

  • For a delicious cup of coffee, follow these basic rules:

    • Buy your beans whole, checking for good beans at the time of purchase

    • Store coffee beans in a cool, dry place and in a sealed container

    • Never store them in the fridge or freezer. Coffee beans have natural oils that should be allowed to come out slowly. If you put them in a cold place you stop this process and the developing of the flavour.

    • Grind only the amount you need for your pot of coffee. Keep the rest whole and fresh until you use them.

    • Keep your coffeemaker clean. Oils and dirt that accumulate can ruin the flavour of coffee.

    • If you live in an area with poor water conditions or flavour, use bottled or filtered water to make your coffee.

    • Enjoy your coffee soon after it’s brewed or pour it into a thermal carafe. Keeping coffee hot on the burner longer than a half-hour or so can make even the best cup taste bad.


We put on some hard hats and invited some local construction workers to compare a selection of medium-roast, Columbian blend coffees:

  • Nescafe Instant Coffee: $4.66/100g
  • MJB: $1.53/100g
  • Generic: $1.07/100g
  • Continental: $2.50/100g
  • Starbucks: $3.15/100g
  • Starbucks Decaf: $3.50/100g

Taste Test

  • Nescafe was chalky

  • MJB was weak and watery

  • Continential tasted good, but a little bitter, like it had been in the pot for too long.

  • Starbucks was good-tasting and strong.

  • The Generic brand was smooth tasting.

  • The Decaf had a nice flavour.


Our testers definitely noticed a difference in flavour between brands. The overall favourite was the Generic brand, but coffee is a very personal thing. Be adventurous and try a variety of different roasts to find your perfect cup.



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