Why our coffee ain’t so hot

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Why our coffee ain’t so hot

It was one of those seminal coffee experiences. There we were sharing a table in the notoriously small ground zero of speciality coffee in London. Monmouth Coffee Covent Garden.

Sitting opposite us the patently ageing, patently displaced New Yorker, with serious hippie aspirations or flashbacks, it is hard to know which, orders her coffee knowledgeably and with a practiced phrase.  “Can I have a cap-pu-chiiino Extra-Extra-Extra hot please?” She turns to us and with an insiders aside, explains that she always throws in the final extra so they know she is serious. The Barista on duty managed to inwardly roll her eyes. An achievement not easily pulled off.

After a brief tirade that she had into Organic, and it’s virtues, mostly vis-a-vis her own longevity, while studiously ignoring the regular milk being served in it, the milk being the thing she was consuming the most of, I let her prattle on about extra hot.

If the goals of extraordinary coffee are flavour not bitterness, the outcome of extra hot is to highlight the bitterness and mask the complexity!

Extra hot is going to come from two sources.

Let’s start with the first. Water that is too hot. Simple, water contact with the beans that is hotter than it should be will “burn” the coffee. Either during extraction, where too much flavour will be drawn out of the water bean infusion. the last flavours drawn are bitters. The other issue is keeping the extracted coffee warm, think those ubiquitous glass filter jugs, propped on their heating elements cooking the good coffee flavours away and supplementing horrid bitterness.

The second source of Extra hot is from the milk. Here the maths is simpler. Take the milk over 80 Centigrade, and the milk loses sweetness as the proteins irrevocably change. Ruins the cup.

So why are we in the habit of wanting our coffee so hot? Think of commercial beers, ever tried one warmer than ice cold? terrible huh? know why? if it warms sufficiently you can taste it properly! our taste buds only work well in a range. Make the drink hot or cold enough and you cannot taste it!

No point in bothering with speciality beans, roasting, or barista technique if you are going to ruin it through pre conceived ideas.

Still want that cup Extra-Extra-Extra hot?


  1. Nawaar says:

    Hi David. When using a plunger to make coffee, they always suggest using the water almost immediately after boiling. After reading this, I think not such a good idea. What temp do you recommend for making plunger coffee? Thanks

    • Hi Nawaar. There are a few theories, but here is my method, Not necessarily the best possible, but the best way to make a Plunger or French Press of coffee that I have tested.

      Step 1. Freshly ground coffee at a ratio of around 60g per liter of water (yes, weigh and measure once, worth it)

      Step 2. While you boil the kettle, add a little cool water to the grinds in the bottom of the plunger, forming a thickish “mud” this mud will bloom. Step 3. Once the kettle boils, start a timer set to 3 minutes, and pour boiled water over the mud, which has now been standing a minute or two, (or longer, no harm).

      Step 4. Plunge and enjoy as soon as the timer goes off.

  2. where can I buy your coffee in Knysna?

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