The experts at the independent London coffee chain Grind bust the most popular coffee myths so you can enjoy your brew without the shot of fallacy. It’s time to wake up and debunk the coffee.
As a nation, we Brits get through about 2.8kg of coffee each every single year. From espressos to flat whites and long blacks to macchiatos, we can’t get enough of the caffeine kicks. But as with everything, our morning cup of Joe comes with a price – and we’re not just talking about the £3 a day that comes out of your bank account before 9am has even reared its head.
We spoke to Grind’s Head of Coffee, Sam Trevethyen and Head Roaster, Howie Gill to bust some of coffee’s biggest myths and discuss whether we should be buying sustainable or organic.
Bean or berry?
First things first, let’s talk about the coffee bean. Which actually isn’t a bean at all, and is in fact a coffee seed. The coffee “bean” is the seed in the middle of the coffee fruit – much like a cherry or a plum. Glad we cleared that one up.
Sustainable or organic?
“Sustainability in coffee is often governed by buzzwords – fairtrade, organic, rainforest alliance – but I don’t that’s a fair way of talking about it,” says Howie, “For example, if you farm organically in Guatemala right now, you’ll simply lose all of your crops due to leaf rust.” Oh right, so when we’re talking coffee, organic isn’t necessarily the best way forward.
Let’s break those coffee myth buzzwords down for you:
An organic coffee has been grown in an area with natural soil activity and a cycle of resources – obviously both great. Regulations state that no synthetic agrochemicals can be used when growing, packaging, and handling.
While all this is to be praised, many small, natural farms simply can’t certify themselves as organic because of the area restrictions that USADA have put in place. If a neighbouring farm is using pesticides on their crops, a coffee plantation that uses on natural processes isn’t “organic” due to geography that they simply can’t control.
The Rainforest Alliance is all about conservation, respect, and decent pay. The coffee farms are built in areas where forests, soils, wildlife, and rivers are conserved and the workers get a fair wage, have the right equipment, and are given access to medical care and education.
Fairtrade is an approach to trade that is given to farmers’ cooperatives and not to individual farmers. It defines itself as “an alternative approach to conventional trade that aims to improve the livelihoods and well-being of small producers by improving their market access, strengthening their organizations, paying them a fair price with a fixed minimum, and providing continuity in trading relationships.” And while Fairtrade encourages farmers to use eco-friendly techniques and processes, there’s nothing to say they have to, and there’s nothing to say that the coffee has to be organic or not.
They’ve all got their pros, but sometimes these buzzwords have more of a marketing punch, and less of a real-life impact.
At Grind, they know that by sourcing their coffee from small, independent farmers they’re getting the best beans and sustaining a family run farm “that has been run generationally for years and years and years”.
So the moral of the story? Ask your barista where your coffee’s come from. Any coffee shop that’s worth it’s java should be able to give you a pretty comprehensible run down of it’s single shots, filters, and house blends.
So, on to the questions that’s been on all our minds:
What actually is a flat white?
“A flat white is just a latte with a little bit less milk,” says Sam. “At Grind, all the drinks have the same amount of coffee in them, we just change the milk to change how strong they taste. A flat white’s the strongest with the least milk, latte’s the weakest with the most milk – it’s really super simple.”
But at the end of the day, Italians do the best coffee right?
“This is the biggest coffee myth of them all”, eye-rolls Howie, “Italian coffee is traditionally very dark roasted and that’s the equivalent of saying that the best steak in the world is one that is really over done. It’s not.”
Every coffee has an optimum extraction time based on everything from the date that the coffee was roasted, the temperature of the water that you’re pulling through it, how fine or chunky the beans have been ground, and the number of seconds that you spend pouring water through the coffee. And in the words of Howie, “Why would you overcook something that’s so damn nice?!”
Some call it science, others call it art, we call it delicious.