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The Art of Coffee |February 7, 2023

For The Love Of Cream (in 100% Kona Coffee)

In the coffee world, we must learn to love our coffee black and to evaluate it on its own merits. If you have always consumed your coffee with a splash of milk or a spoonful of sugar, for many “drinking it black” is a horrible experience to be avoided at all costs.

Certainly, poor quality coffee would not reveal subtlety or complexity straight black, but even if you are new to specialty coffee, I encourage you to always have a sip of your specialty coffee black, and little by little learn what it may be saying to you. It is said that the Dutch ambassador to China, Johan Nieuhof, was the first to put milk in coffee, mimicking the Chinese custom of the aristocracy to put milk in tea. This was around 1660. He didn’t however cause a revolution. He is just called the first.

In the late 1500s and early 1600s coffee was consumed mainly black or with a little sugar. The Turkish governor served this beverage to no other than Suleyman the Great, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The beverage became so beloved that special copper pots were crafted in which to boil the grounds and pour out the coffee. Coffee houses sprang up everywhere. In this case, it was usually made with a little sugar. See here for a traditional Turkish Coffee recipe.

Many Europeans found this beverage unpalatable and described it as a vile poison or a nasty sludge. When coffee made its way to Vienna, the very dark and bitter Turkish coffee needed something to appeal to a wider Christian audience, and adding milk and filtering the coffee (through a linen sock) became commonplace. This evolved to coffee houses having a color chart, that would indicate the amount of milk you would want in your coffee.

After moving through Europe all through the 1700s, an incredible assortment of drink names in France, Greece, and Italy became recipes for different quantities of milk in coffee. In the modern-day United States, according to a 2017 public health survey, 67% of coffee consumers put something in their coffee.

What changes when you add milk or cream?

1. Black coffee has no calories or carbs. Adding a spoonful of milk will raise it by 30 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, and a bit of protein. Milk, heavy cream, half and half, and alternative milk products (soy, oat, almond) will all slightly vary.

2. Black coffee is mostly water, and as such has a light (watery) mouth feel. Adding milk to coffee changes its viscosity which feels a bit thicker on our palates and can enhance the texture of coffee. Foaming the milk, as is done in many café drinks creates velvety textures that are prized in café drinks.

3. Milk/Cream may add some essential nutrients to your coffee like calcium, potassium, and vitamins A and D.

4. Hot milk, as it changes the viscosity of coffee (slows evaporation) is known to keep it hotter for longer.

5. Adding milk to your coffee does change the way you experience it. Milk contains fats and proteins. The proteins will bind with the tannins in coffee softening the bitter notes. The fats in addition to a creamier mouth feel will activate the fat receptors on the palate and isolate particular flavors.

6. Adding milk or cream to your coffee for some people may have negative consequences. For many, dairy can be linked with inflammation, lactose intolerance, and may contribute to diabetes and some cancers.

Related Blog Article: What Cream And Sugar Does To Coffee

The Professionals

What is interesting to note is that specialty coffee is universally evaluated black. Q-graders learn to examine coffee in terms of flavor, aroma, body, acidity, finish, and linger. They judge the intensity and balance of the natural sweetness, bitterness, and acidity.

They discern individual flavor notes (from flavor wheels) and describe and compare the nuances of what is innate to the bean and its terroir. When I meet purists who insist that “black” is how the professionals drink it, I always need to remind them that there is no right or wrong way to enjoy your coffee.

Part of coffee’s allure is how customizable it is to a wide variety of human beings.

One more Consideration

If I could add one more note to this discussion it would be this; When you think back to the days when we as a society drank lower-quality coffee, phrases like “one lump or two” or “ Leave room for cream” made sense. When drinking higher quality coffee (like our 100% Kona Coffee) I feel it is important to know the roast level and be light-handed with the milk.

In certain coffees (our Peaberry, Medium roast, and High Mountain Harvest) you almost have to eye dropper in the milk. Start with less and sip until you find the right balance. These coffees will lose most of their subtlety quickly with too much cream. In the medium-dark category (Full City Roast, Private Reserve, Onouli, Jeni K. ) you might be able to add a bit more cream but still start with the smallest amount you can, sip, and add from there little by little. These coffees are smooth and sweet and while milk can surely bring out some of the sweetness, you don’t want to tip the balance away from the caramelized sugars and soft acidity.

The Dark and French roasts will stand up better to more additions and that’s why we often use this roast level for café drinks. In the end, coffee should be about enjoyment and relaxation while lifting your spirit. Do what feels right for you!

3 thoughts on “For the Love of Cream (in 100% Kona Coffee)

  1. Tom says:

    2 tablespoons of half and half is considered a serving. I only use 1 tablespoon. More than that obscures medium roast Kona’s delicious flavor. If I have to suffer Starbucks I add a lot more cream.

    If you are stranded in the wilderness McDonald’s coffee is preferable to Starbucks. I was helping a friend on a project outdoors. His wife went to get sandwiches and asked if I wanted coffee. Boy was I upset when she returned with coffee from McDonald’s. Turned out is was not that bad.

  2. mark c farmer says:

    Hi Matt my name is mark farmer I’m a roaster from Iowa city ia and I was told today at your shop that you have two roasters, a 30 pound and a 100 pound, I use a 6 pound San Franciscan roaster, can you tell me what models you use? Thanks

  3. Tatiana Weiss says:

    What a great article addressing the phenomenon of milk in coffee! I used to have mine black in my 20’s with a teaspoon of sugar, I eventually ditched that when I became hooked to Greenwell Farms Estate blend in 2003 after visiting your farm. I absolutely agree that so many of the subtleties are lost with any addition. Maybe black coffee is more of an acquired taste? Subtleties can be lost when the coffee is brewed differently too! Over the years I’ve experimented with several brewing methods and settled on the Breville Barista as it allows me to accurately brew the Estate Blend, Peaberry or MidCity as accurately ground and expertly poured as each one deserves to be. Does this make me a coffee purist? The texture is critical for me as it disperses the nuanced flavor in the mouth upon sipping and THAT is what it’s all about THANK YOU FOR YOUR COFFEE!

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