Seven Deadly Coffee Sins

Having just returned from our college weekend away I’m convinced of many things – this is not the chief amongst them – but it is important nonetheless. Bad coffee is a sin. Mikey has spent the last couple of days blogging about coffee (and here). But he’s said a few things I disagree with – chief amongst these is that you should drink instant coffee in certain situations, he also suggests that if you want good coffee you should go to a cafe.

Bad coffee is a sin. Good coffee is good hospitality. Having lugged my 100kg machine up Mount Tambourine to provide good coffee for my college brethren I want to take a stand on this matter and provide the seven cardinal sins of coffee. I hope this list will contain some helpful tips for people wanting to avoid the sin of bad coffee in their ministry… when it comes to coffee there are sins of omission and sins of commission.

  1. The sin of Instant Coffee – Instant coffee is the chief among the cardinal sins of church hospitality. We are so far past the need to provide instant coffee at church events that its like putting songs on an overhead projector rather than data projector. There are degrees of coffee sin – International Roast is not coffee at all. Do not serve instant coffee in your church or house. This is not loving. Buy a plunger – source some real beans – or stick with tea. It is better to offer tea than to risk offending your guest with instant.
  2. The sin of Stale coffee – Instant coffee is bad, real coffee served stale is only marginally better. Coffee starts going stale almost as soon as it is ground. As soon as those particles of coffee start feeling a breath of fresh air the coffee is going stale. It’s a chemical reaction. It’s unavoidable. Don’t buy your coffee from the freezer. Don’t buy your coffee in volumes you can’t consume in a week. Don’t put your ground coffee in the freezer, don’t buy ground coffee. Grind it yourself. The closer to roasting the better. Coffee beans need to rest for a couple of days after roasting – but once that time has passed it’s a case of the sooner the better when it comes to consumption.
  3. The sin of off, or burnt, milk – Nothing ruins a good coffee like off milk. Read Ben’s account here. Burning the milk is inexcusable – if you can’t tell that your milk is too hot by touch then get out of the game or buy a thermometer.
  4. The sin of burnt coffee – Burnt coffee (or “over roasted ash” like Starbucks sell) is bad coffee. Burnt coffee under the guise of “quality control” in the roasting process is unforgivable. It’s one thing to have a machine that runs hot – or to use water hotter than 98 degrees in your plunger – it’s another thing entirely to produce black beans intentionally. Which is what Starbucks do. They roast any original (as in “of origin”) characteristics out of their beans so that they can produce a consistent flavour using beans from different origins. Unfortunately this results in consistently bad coffee.
  5. The sin of unethical coffee – I am yet to find “ethical” instant. It might exist. But coffee is not like eggs. I’m happy to buy caged eggs, but I won’t drink coffee produced by the slave like conditions of many mass production focused coffee plantations. This doesn’t mean I’m a fan of “Fairtrade” coffee – ethical coffee has many labels – and I’d much prefer “relationship” or “direct trade” coffee given the choice, and Rainforest Alliance stuff failing that. If the church wants to take social and culinary responsibilities seriously there is just no place for instant or unethical coffee to be served from your church kitchen or conference.
  6. The sin of adding sugar – This one is not so serious – but unnecessary sugar is bad for your health and my mum always said if you were not adult enough to enjoy coffee (or tea) without sugar you were not adult enough to enjoy coffee.
  7. The sin of not sharing the gospel of coffee – Mikey made one valid point – if you’re going to be a coffee snob at a conference be a coffee snob who shares. Bring some for everybody. Sharing the gospel of good coffee is not only good for the hearer – but for the friends of hearers also. Instant coffee will not disappear if people aren’t shown the light. The principles of good coffee are simple and easy to share – and good coffee done well will actually be cheaper than good coffee bought from cafes. Good coffee saves money – even taking into account the cost of equipment.

Someone on camp asked me how much my coffee habit “costs” me – it doesn’t cost me. It saves me. Before I started roasting my own beans I was buying two large coffees a day at $4 each. That’s $56 a week. $2912 a year (if you take into account the one coffee my wife would drink a day it’s $4368 a year).

18gms of coffee is required to create a single double shot of espresso. That means you get 55 coffees per kilo (assuming you waste none). The average boutique roaster sells 1kg of coffee for $30. That’s $1.80 for two shots. That’s $1300 a year for the coffee part of my four shot a day habit (milk is also expensive and should be taken into account). By home roasting rather than buying supermarket beans (or boutique beans from artisan roasters) I’m saving about $18 a kilo (including the cost of the roaster). Which means converting to coffee snobbery is cutting my personal cost of coffee down from $2912 a year to less than $520 per year. The $600 I’ve spent on my machine, $475 I spent on my roaster and $600 I spent on my grinder has paid for itself in less than a year (not to mention the money it has made me through selling coffees).

There really is no excuse to drink bad coffee, and less excuse to drink instant.


Kirsten says:

I love how you are so passionate about coffee Nathan. You make some very valid points. Instant coffee is just so wrong!

AndrewFinden says:

When you visit Findo's ask Tim for instant – he actually gets it all the time!

Re: #2 – could you elaborate on grinders? Getting the grind right is so important, and most of the cheaper grinders can't do it. For me, the compromise is getting getting enough coffee for the week (500g) ground at the roasters and then using an air-tight container.. not perfect, but I don't know of an affordable way to grind well at home.
I'd also be interested to hear more about your ideas of ethical coffee? (Our old church did drip filter with )

queen stuss says:

Spend a few days in Gympie downwind from the International Roast factory and you'll know for certain it's not coffee. It's disgusting.

I don't understand why anyone would drink instant when grinding a serve of beans and plunging them is so quick and easy.

Good coffee doesn't need sugar! I still have about a half teaspoon in a plunged coffee. Gloria Jeans coffee needs one and a half. I'd hate to know how many I'd need to put in Starbucks. Though, the last Starbucks coffee was far to weak and milky.

What's your thoughts on storing coffee beans when it's impractical to buy freshly roasted beans on a weekly basis?

Mikey Lynch says:

Let the flame war begin…. mwahahaha!
My recent post Cute graph of Taylor Swifts discography

Nathan says:

Andrew – I'd suggest finding a hand cranked grinder that uses burrs. It's more reliable than a spinning blade grinder… and you can always attach a drill if you get sick of turning the handle. They're also portable.

Stuss – Airtight containers are fine. And you've actually got a window of about 14 days (after resting) before the beans are noticeably not as good (I think they peak in quality at about 10 days after roasting.

To make that last statement simpler I think the timeline is something like this:
1-4 days post roast – resting and degassing.
4-18 days post roast – store in an airtight container, quality peaks halfway into this period.
19 days – coffee starts tasting like the stuff you get from Supermarkets.

queenstuss says:

I usually buy a 500g bag from Coffee Dominion roughly fortnightly, and it definitely tastes better in the first few days after I’ve bought it compared to when I’m getting to the end of the packet, but it is still miles better then than the ’emergency coffee’ that I buy from Gloria Jeans if I’m running out and can’t get over that side of town!

A good hand cranked grinder isn’t cheap. I paid around $80 for mine a number of years ago, but it had a ten year guarantee on it. I think it might be made by Zassenhaus. I bought it from a speciality coffee shop, and highly recommend one if you are just grinding small amounts of coffee.

Stuart says:

I just think of instant coffee and made-from-beans coffee as unrelated beverages (indeed, it might be best if we just came up with a new name for instant coffee). It's like Milo and Nesquick — it's simply a category mistake to compare them. This allows one to enjoy both (if indeed one likes the taste of both) without having to decry the other or fall into ad hominem cries of "Snob!" or "Philistine!"
My recent post The tyranny of pink?

AndrewFinden says:

The term 'instant' is very misleading anyway.. by the time you've boiled the kettle, I can have an espresso shot pulled.

Stuart says:

P.S. Didn't mean for that blog link to come up. I hadn't noticed the little check box there. And it looks like I can't delete my post and do it again. What if I click 'submit' in anger?

Nathan Campbell says:

It’s alright Stuart – I thought your pink post raised some important questions and is worthy of a link.

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