Coffee Corner: My coffee is cold

Post by Grant Mouton

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So I was asked by Mark to write about coffee. At first I was overjoyed at the thought. This was, after all, what I had wanted to do for ages. So I got sucked in; I put my head down and I wrote. I put together a little over 1500 words and I reread it. It was gibberish, strewn with jargon and technical talk, laden with scientific references. It was too much, but then where does one start with coffee? Well, at the beginning of course, the beginning being the flavour of coffee and in this article I am going to focus on how temperature affects flavour.

Customer: “My coffee is cold”

This is something one hears all too often, and you begin to think as a consumer these baristas really ought to know how to steam milk to the right temperature – heck it’s their profession! What you’ve just done is stumbled into a great coffee shop, riding the 3rd wave of coffee – you’ve just had a cup made by a coffee specialist and know that there is method to this madness.

The first point to consider is how your tongue works. Simply put, it registers flavours better in a certain temperature range. If we use ice cream as an example; One does not taste the sweetness when it is frozen, only once it melts on your tongue (Go get an ice cream, I’ll prove it). Similarly, melted ice cream can be hard to drink because of its intense sweetness.

Beverage producers in the modern era focus less on quality and flavour and more on ensuring the beverage is served at a certain temperature. I call this the “warm beer phenomenon”. In my home country there is a very popular malt beverage and the company advertises its flagship bottle being drunk in frigid conditions. The merchandising team stocks bars with powerful sub-zero fridges and the design team has even put a large snowflake on the label that turns blue when it is cold enough to drink. They are planting the seed that this has to be served extra cold.

Ok, so what does this have to do with coffee? The answer is as follows: the colder the beverage the less you are actually tasting (your tongue works best tasting things between 15-50 degrees). Once the beer in question warms slightly you will more than likely throw it out.

Larger coffee chains use this technique too. Their hot drinks are scalded and their cold drinks are over iced – you will even see crushed ice being used instead of blocks. This crushed ice has an increased surface area in contact with the liquid so you have significant, rapid cooling.

What it boils down to is this: These coffee outlets are hiding their flavour, likely because it is bad. They are serving super cheap beans on subpar machines with undertrained baristas, but you the consumer are left unaware as you cannot taste much and that’s exactly what they want. The consistency is also much greater, they are consistently bad.

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The second reason certain shops serve warm coffee is this: Heating milk to and not above a certain temperature enhances the inherent sweetness. Above 65 degrees you start to breakdown the lactose present in the milk (lactose can be thought of as milk-sugar). This as well as other reactions occur at higher temperature and affect not only sweetness, but also texture. Overheat your drink and you are left with milk that has terrible texture and much lower levels of sweetness.

But what if my coffee is served without milk, it’s still not hot enough?! Well, the same applies with regards to tasting only between a certain temperature range. However, if actual ground coffee is subjected to temperatures above 93 degrees, you start burning the coffee and this inevitably results in a bitter, over extracted drink. This is similar to what happens when one steeps their tea for too long.

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So before sending your warm coffee back next time (and you may, you are entitled to whatever temperature you wish – you are paying for this drink), take a sip, think about what you’re tasting and know that you will sacrifice this fantastic orchestra of flavours, aromas and textures when overheating your coffee.

Post by Grant Mouton
Self–proclaimed coffee guru, coffee education addict, SCAA/SCAE accredited. Brand manager at % Arabica.


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19 comments, add your own...


  1. Saiyan96 says:

    Thank you for this post! It’s so hard to tell people that coffee isn’t supposed to be scalding hot. Heck, it should be perfect at the first sip. Not wait a couple of mins for it to cool down to then finally ingest.

  2. John says:

    Interesting Read…. Loved reading it as I am a tea lover…

  3. Silver Espada says:

    Nice input out there.

  4. Lulu says:

    I’m no coffee connoisseur but this was very interesting

  5. MousePotao says:

    Interesting. Would love to hear your opinion on Yemeni Coffee beans.

    • Grant Mouton says:

      I’ll be sure to include some information on Yemeni beans in a future article! (You can’t really talk about the history of coffee without Yemen).

      • craftandtea says:

        I also have an anecdote and a follow up question about Yemeni coffee beans. After trying a very expensive bag of Yemeni coffee beans that was more expensive then any Geisha on the market I asked the roaster to justify its high price. The answer was that it is rare and Yemen is in war and drought. In short, the answer was that it was hard to export. So I immediately was sceptic thinking to myself that we have Yemeni coffee all the time and it is really cheap. So I went to get my Yemeni coffee and the first lesson I learned was that Yemeni Coffee as a term used in the Middle East refers to the mixture of coffee beans with ginger and salt which is brewed as with all Arabic Coffees. In a way it is like Turkish coffee where Turkish does not refer to the beans but process. Nonetheless, I asked the people there about Yemeni Coffee beans and they said that I can find some down the road, which is found in abundance. This brings me to my point, even with the political turmoil that Yemen is in at the moment they are still exporting coffee, so what makes their coffee beans expensive as has been publicised in various articles in Sprudge and other coffee blogs and websites?

  6. cajie says:

    I love my lattes, but even after reading this, I will probably still be the customer who tells his Barista that the coffee is cold, if it is served at a temperate lower than I am used to.

  7. Khalid says:

    This made me wanna go pick up some coffee from Arabica. Good thing I work across the street from it!

  8. Joseph says:

    Loved the article. Only a few months ago I have become a hot coffee addict, until then the only thing I liked was Cold Coffee. Now I am excited to try out the new roasts a place is brewing. Thank you so much for the article it makes a lot of sense for my coffee journey. Cheers!

  9. Karen says:

    What an excellent read Grant. Very informative and well written. In South Africa we often have customers complaining that their coffee is cold, so this article really struck a cord with me.
    There is nothing more valuable in this world than educating people and sharing your knowledge and passion.
    Well done and Thank you xxx

  10. q80 says:

    A great post, enjoyed reading it!
    Waiting for more new posts from you Grant!

  11. Sh says:

    This is good Grant. Hooked.

  12. DeViL says:

    First of all Welcome aboard Grant! I love coffee once in a while but generally avoid it on daily basis. Could you recommend a brew for me in latte, I suffer from sleep disorder and high BP. I like to drink them at moderate temperatures say about 45-60 deg C.

    • Grant Mouton says:

      Hello DeViL! Thanks, it’s good to be here. What I would suggest is to stay away from South/Central American beans. These varietals are naturally higher in caffeine and will keep you up if you have a sensitivity. I too have a Circadian rythym abnormality, so this works for me. (I do still struggle as I need to drinks excessive amounts as part of the job)

      What I would recommend is an African bean (Ethiopia, Keny, Rwanda & Uganda), also look for med-dark roasts. Reason is the darker the roast, the lower the caffeine level.

      Also, eat a banana before or after your coffee. The high levels of potassium can aid the body in processing the caffeine more effectively.

      • DeViL says:

        Thank you so much Grant! Could you start a series where we start from the beginning. Say, from the history of coffee and coffee for beginners, instant coffees, different brews, region specific brews. It will be really informative and give the readers pleasure of graduating from one level to another.

        As of now, I just enjoy a cuppa chino at Burger King, Starbucks, Barista(about once a week). Generally, I let others order for me as I have no idea. Now, I will give it a try as you suggested – African bean, medium dark roast.

  13. Khan says:

    Hi Grant, awesome article. I would love to hear your opinion on Nespresso. Do the capsule expressos come anywhere close to what an experienced barista can brew?

    • Grant Mouton says:

      Hello Khan,

      I must say that I think Nespresso did well in trying to bring better quality coffee into the everyday home. They are simple, stylish and easy to clean. That being said, you will never get specialty quality coffee out of them.

      First you have to look at the dosage; specialty coffee stores will use anywhere between 16-22g to make your espresso. Nespresso capsules contain no more than 5.5g. So right off the bat you can see you won’t get the same depth of flavour and mouthfeel from it. When I visit my partner and use her machine, I tend to use two to three capsules and still it doesn’t quite match an espresso machines quality.

      The other thing you need to look at is the company. It’s Nestle. From that I can assure you that you good quality beans. They more than likely blend a number of beans from within a certain region, regardless of quality and do so in order to have a constincy between batches. This is a similar approach certain winemakers use.

      Lastly, I have actually made my own capsules in the past. You need to know that to have them put in a capsule, you have to degas the beans for a minimum of two weeks. So your coffee is stale.

      I’d highly recommend going for manual brew instead. Have a look at something called an Aeropress.

  14. SMS says:

    Excellent read.
    Shukran.

    Al Rifai sells French coffee. Any info on how to use it best.


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