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How important is the milk?

As a coffee roaster I disagree strongly with American author David Lynch who stated that “bad coffee is better than no coffee at all.” I stopped for a cappuccino last week at a local fuel station and watched incredulously as the barista scorched the milk. My fears were confirmed when I eventually tasted the tongue-scalding and distasteful brew. Milk, if heated more than the 65/70 deg maximum, can completely overpower a good quality bean and spoil your coffee.

A roasters responsibility has to stop at some point and this is where I’d like to focus this week, on the extraction and optimisation of the bean flavour. Unlike with instant coffee, extracting the maximum flavour from ground pure coffee is complex. There are only a limited amount of dissolvable solids (TDS) in pure coffee and one needs to extract as much flavour as possible from these in order to optimise the taste. The cheaper automatic machines usually achieve extraction levels of 3-5%, stove-tops and better machines reach 4-7% with the traditional style machines achieving 7-10% when skilfully operated.

The third wave

In the coffee world, the “third wave” refers to a movement with its origins in North America which focuses on coffee as an artisanal foodstuff rather than a mere commodity. From the farm through to the moment of serving, the third-wave encourages participants to strive for culinary quality. While there are many individual steps which combine to achieve these artisanal goals, there can be nothing sadder than seeing all the work being undone by an untrained barista.

Looking backward in the process, the third-wave focuses on artisanal roasting where each bean is roasted according to its individual characteristics and most importantly, not over-roasted or roasted to a point where the bean flavour is indiscernible. Sorry Mr Lynch but stale and over-roasted coffee which is poorly extracted coffee and mixed with scalded milk is certainly not “better than no coffee at all.”


Alan Hawkins is a the chief roaster of Cutman & Hawk Coffees and founder of the East London Coffee Co. www.elcoffee.co.za


Milk frothing and temperature - a key element of good coffee

Coffee- which milk?

Full cream fresh milk is the best but most milks work well with fat-free being the last option.

Milk adds a little sweetness to your brew (usually enough if the coffee is of a good quality) and in most drinks, milk adds a lovely satin like texture when frothed well with NO large bubbles please!

An article by Alan Hawkins as published in the Go!&Express newspaper (Times Media) April 26th 2017.

Barista skills - learn how to make better coffee.