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Why is most cafe coffee crap?

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  • Why is most cafe coffee crap?

    Im sure that this has been done to death so humour me, and get it over with quickly.

    I live in an area where good coffee at local cafes is pretty much non-existent. Even so, I buy one or two cafe coffees per day - or have done until recently. I am almost always disappointed. Ive been watching various local cafes make coffee and pretty much all of them:

    * grind to order

    And, on the whole, use machines with reputable brand names.

    So ... why is the coffee so crap? Why is the coffee so crap at most cafes Australia-wide?

    My view is that its not all that hard to make a very good coffee - maybe not a "God Shot" but very good at the least. Fresh beans, decent grind, well packed/tamped ... voila. A God Shot might well be rocket science, but VERY GOOD (or even excellent) coffee is not. Is it?

    Why is cafe coffee crap (on the whole)?


  • #2
    Re: Why is most cafe coffee crap?

    Lack of training.
    Lack of passion for coffee.

    I hear you. After paying $4.50 for a coffee that tasted like burnt milk with no coffee flavour I decided to get serious about coffee at home. The rest is history.


    • #3
      Re: Why is most cafe coffee crap?

      Milk ... dont get me started on that one.

      But it takes about 3 minutes to learn how to tamp a coffee properly. And if the beans are fresh gound. I dont see how its that hard?

      I have a dodgy coffee machine at home. Ill replace it soon. But I have a good grinder and Ive started buying fresh-roasted beans and even with a dodgy machine and no proper training, Im putting out a standard of coffee that is better than 95% of cafe coffee. And Im not very good/only just getting started/am a complete bloody amateur etc etc!!

      Is it a cleanliness issue? Are most commercial machines riddled with old rancid coffee?



      • #4
        Re: Why is most cafe coffee crap?

        machines and grinders too, all coffee flow paths must be clean; anyone who has opened their grinder after some heavy use knows the oil gunk that builds up...

        not only this but the temp of the machine is often not calibrated for the blend and volume that the cafe does, as often as not there is no-one onsite who can (or can be bothered) tweak for best results, which comes down to a lack of quality training.

        when a business has been doing the same thing for ten years it can be hard to make changes, even for the better, without a great deal of will, and if the business is making money then the people who should care often dont.

        i actually think a LOT of people (used to instant or bad cafe coffee) expect coffee to taste bad!

        even people behind the machine often dont know what theyre aiming at, expecting that because they pay for top bean, the coffee will just be good. when it costs nearly a dollar to make a great double shot the impetus to experiment and throw out sub standard shots is lost, and working on it to make a better coffee becomes prohibitively expensive.

        i have a friend who is fairly fussy when it comes to coffee, and until recently she thought the better machine the better the coffee by default!

        all too often its just that the barista thinks theyre really cool standing behind a fancy machine and just fails to give a sh!t...


        built up oils start to get pretty rank quickly so heads and handles must be periodically cleaned throughout the day to maintain good flavour, often there is no program in place to assure this happens, or the PBTG think theyre just too busy!! personally id wait happily for an extras minute and a half to get a nice clean cup over a rancid one anyday, but many people just want to order and go...


        • #5
          Re: Why is most cafe coffee crap?

          I have done a little looking into my small towns coffee making and makers and operators, couple of things that stand out like dogs bits  

          Cafe owners tend to come from a food background not a coffee background so they view coffee as a way to value add their food sales and not a carrot to sell food.

          Staff training or lack of is one key, cafe owners spend little or no time training staff either because of lack of abilities on their part or lack of care. Typical coffee training would only be in the order of maybe a 3-4 hour TAFE course as part of a broader hospitality course anyway.

          Coffee purchased month at a time so it looks impressive sitting lined up on the shelf, generally in 3-5kg bags with 1-3kg / day turnovers. Half opened bags stored in the fridge for extra freshness  :

          Equipment. Just a few observations here as the list of crimes against the humble bean is long.

          Hoppers filled at the beginning of the day and sat next to the machine to get nice and warm leftovers stay in the hopper and are then topped up the next morning. Dosers left fill till the auto shutoff cuts out or in the case of one local the doser is broken so they spoon coffee from the top of the full doser into the portafilter   .

          Setting up of grinders "we had our technician here last month and he spent an hour setting our grinder" This is extremely common none of the girls who work for me had ever been told or shown why changing the grind over the course of a day or a bag is critical toward getting a good shot.

          Setting up of the machine. Pressurestats set higher than desirable to make more steam for the 1-2 litre jugs of scalded milk from in some cases 2 group compacts, results in hot shots also total lack of understanding by staff of a cooling flush after sitting idle.

          Tamping "Oh you mean the thing on the front of the grinder"   or "Oh that little plastic thing that came with our Expobar" less than 20% of the nearly 30 espresso machine here have a decent tamper or staff who know how to use them !!!

          On scalded milk the non use of thermometers at any stage even to recalibrate hands of more experienced user resulting in screaming milk with milkshake bubbles  :P

          CLEANLINESS !!!! Another whole topic in itself.

          ........ etc etc etc.


          • #6
            Re: Why is most cafe coffee crap?

            I think the number one reason is that they dont know that the grind needs adjusting let alone how to adjust it.
            This results in gushers of bitter coffee.


            • #7
              Re: Why is most cafe coffee crap?

              Excellent responses. Thank you. I have learned today.

              Question 1 - Ive only ever made coffee at home, so its easy enough for me to adjust/throw things out if a cup doesnt turn out right. So its news to me that when youre making hundreds of cups in a day, that you have to adjust the grind periodically ... is that because the grinder warms/heats up? Whats the reason for this?

              Comment 1 - I reckon that too many people like weak or overly milky coffee, and this helps encourage bad coffee making. But Id hope that whether weak or strong, people can tell when the coffee itself tastes bad.

              But then ...



              • #8
                Re: Why is most cafe coffee crap?

                CM, re. question 1: as temperature changes through-out the day so to does humidity, which in turn effects coffee which is hygroscopic and wants to absorb the moisture. when starting in the cool of early morning, pours that are spot on will tend to get slower as the humidity increases, the coffee is absorbing moisture from the atmosphere and will stick together more tightly. in professional espresso techniques david schomer recalls the story of working at the onset of a storm, from one shot to the next, perfect to totally choked. while this is a fairly radical change, regular minor adjustments are absolutely required to keep it spot on, assuming all other variables are equal


                • #9
                  Re: Why is most cafe coffee crap?

                  What Zane said

                  I did a recent outdoor job, Temp variation from 17 in the mornings to high 30s and humidity changes from 30-98%. The grinders were being tweaked almost all day and by big chunks in some cases to get a consistant pour.

                  This meant remaking shots in some cases but that is the difference between showing a little care and attention to not giving a damm like in most cases. BTW drank a few of the slow pours (40+ seconds) and they were not to bad either very dark and syruppy

                  Inside with the Aircon on much less variation in asmospherics so much less playing. As a home user you may still find some variation in grind needed between the beginning of a bag and the end of a bag too.


                  • #10
                    Re: Why is most cafe coffee crap?

                    Great stuff. Thank you.

                    Are you referring to a book by david schomer or is that from some other source?

                    Thanks again,



                    • #11
                      Re: Why is most cafe coffee crap?

                      yep: Espresso coffee, professional techniques, by David Schomer


                      • #12
                        Re: Why is most cafe coffee crap?

                        imo too many people in the cafe industry think they make the worlds best coffee already and therefore have no interest in finding ways of making it better.

                        It is arrogance coupled with ignorance and a total lack of curiosity in their work. Im sure I am not the only person who has worked in a cafe whos boss already thinks they do the best coffee in town because they have one factor covered. Ie Most expensive beans or best equipment money can buy. They then forgot everything else that needs to go into a good cup.

                        The other thing that might be happening is you just dont like the blends some of these cafes are using, ie dark italian with robusta. There is nothing wrong with this per say. But it has not followed the general trend in specialty coffee that is to roast lighter, bitterness which was once a feature is not as popular anymore. There was a time where if you served up a latte that had no bitterness it would be sent back for being too weak.


                        • #13
                          Re: Why is most cafe coffee crap?

                          Reminds me of the quote "the best farmers are the most observant farmers".

                          Some very interesting points raised here. Thanks!


                          • #14
                            Re: Why is most cafe coffee crap?

                            Where I work the boss thinks the coffee is amazing, the grind does not get changed (I have gone to change it and co workers go what are you doing dont do that you will screw it up), the tamp doesnt fit very well, the machine does not get the settings change. Noone else noticed no matter how it was tamp the coffee was a gusher. But yet lots of coffees still are sold. But it may just be personal preference but I prefer the coffee I make and roast at home, as opposed to that company that supplies the umbrellas and starts with V


                            • #15
                              Re: Why is most cafe coffee crap?

                              Its really sad how uneducated people are about coffee.
                              I hear this alot: "We have to keep LOTS AND LOTS of coffee ground in the grinder because you cant get the correct amount of coffee otherwise"

                              As soon as they walk away, I throw out all of that coffee and start fresh