A Beginner’s Guide to Appreciating Black Coffee

29 May 2020

It’s been said that coffee connoisseurs only drink black coffee to judge the quality of a coffeehouse and the bean in the brew. So if you’ve been drinking coffee with added milk and sugar your entire life, you might be missing on something great.

Black coffee is simply coffee in its purest form and is healthier than its milk-and-sugar counterparts such as latte or mocha. But many shun away at the idea of drinking black coffee fearing that it’s too strong or tastes bitter.

Starting with the right brewing technique and beans, here’s how to appreciate black coffee like a pro.

For starters, what’s the difference between black coffee and espresso? Black coffee is any coffee brewed without added creamer/sugar/flavouring, whereas an espresso is brewed as high-pressure water is pulled through condensed fine grinds to extract a concentrated shot of coffee.

Only Use Fresh Coffee Beans

coffee beans in a coffee basket
The most delicious cup of joe begins with, no surprise, fresh coffee beans. Photo from De’Longhi

The secret to a perfect cup of black coffee starts with using only the freshest coffee beans. The moment coffee beans are roasted, it begins to lose freshness. This is because when roasted beans are exposed to air, the flavours in them are oxidised, causing it to go stale. For ground coffee, this oxidation process is accelerated.

To ensure that every bag of coffee you buy is fresh, check for the “actual roast date” instead of the “best before” or “expiration” date. Add 4 to 5 weeks to the date of roasting and that’s the period during which you will get the best flavours out of your brew.

Try Different Coffee Beans

As you change the way you drink your brew, this is the perfect opportunity to try out new coffee beans and find out which ones you enjoy.

Factors such as the bean’s origins and growing conditions play a large role in the flavours and aroma of your coffee. As a result, some beans are fruity while others might be smoky with hints of spice.

Two of the most common beans you’ll find in your local supermarket are Arabica and Robusta. On your next grocery run, check the bean’s description on the package and match it to flavours that you already like.

If you are up for more unique blends such as lemon meringue pie or blackcurrant macarons, here’s some coffee bean retailers that you can find online.

Try Different Roasts

coffee beans dispensed from a coffee roasting machine
Avoid dark roasts such as French and Italian to prevent your black coffee from tasting too bitter. Photo from Gregory Hayes

Choosing a roast that is too dark or too light can hinder your transition to black coffee. Various shades of roasted coffee produce different tastes and the amount of caffeine.

If your tastebuds are accustomed to milder and less bitter flavours, lighter roasts will make the cut. On the other hand, beans that have been roasted longer bring out their bold and rich flavours that tend to have a decadent chocolate quality.

Experiment with Various Brew Methods

black coffee in a french press
Many often make the common mistake of steeping coffee grounds in a French press for too long, resulting in a bitter brew. Do it right, and you get a clean, mellow tasting cuppa. Photo from Ivan Calderon

If you’ve ever been put off by the taste of black coffee, it could be due to the method it was brewed. Coffee equipment such as the French press or Moka pot may appear simple to use but in fact, leaves room for error if used wrongly.

Steep your coffee for too long and it’ll become too bitter, whereas not giving the coffee enough time to extract and it’ll taste diluted. Even commercial gadgets such as the capsule coffee machine are less than ideal since we can’t control the amount of ground coffee we prefer.

If you are new to brewing, experiment with various methods to find the right balance between your chosen coffee bean and the brew that your gadget produces. To get you started, here are 5 popular types of coffee makers and how it’s suited for each taste profile.

Ensure that Your Brewing Equipment is Clean

We can’t stop emphasising the importance of a clean coffee maker. Often, a bitter and off-tasting cup of coffee is attributed to a machine that hasn’t been descaled.

To ensure a perfect brew, descale your coffee maker at least once a month to prevent pesky minerals from building up along the inner surfaces. For a step-by-step guide on how to keep your equipment sparkling clean, read more here.

Gradually Reduce the Amount of Milk and Sugar

a bowl of sugar placed next to a cup of coffee
Gradually reduce the amount of sugar and milk added into your coffee. Photo from Maddi Bazzocco

As the saying goes, “old habits die hard.” Change is often easier when done gradually. Instead of eliminating sugar and milk from your morning brew entirely, cut down the amount used in small amounts.

Start with using half the amount of sugar and milk and maintain this routine for a week. Then reduce it again by half each week until you reach the final goal of appreciating your coffee just the way it is.

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