Diagnosis: Bad Beans

I got up yesterday and made an espresso. Just a straight espresso - no milk or anything. As I sat down to savour it and took my first sip, disappointment washed over my face; I looked down at a truly awful cup of espresso. 

I thought maybe my grinder needs a cleaning because since I hadn’t performed a thorough cleanings since I got it in September. I carefully disassembled the burr mechanism and chiseled out any caked-on leftover grinds. Try another shot. Disgusting. Readjust grinder. Still awful. It took washing my machine out for the simple and apparent truth to dawn on me: my beans are bad.

Since the wedding, graduating, and the whole moving to Toronto thing, I haven’t been keeping a close eye on the “expiry date” on my beans. That’s the 2-3 week period after I roast them that they’re good for. These ones are sitting at about a month.

I threw them out and am sitting here waiting for new beans to finish roasting. It should have been the first thing I thought of. Besides water, which I filter, the beans are the main ingredient in coffee and a bad cup usually points a finger at your beans.

When Starbucks or Maxwell House or whatever coffee you drink roasts their beans, they usually do it in a country with cheaper labour costs and looser labour laws. The thing is, now that they’ve roasted the beans in Columbia or wherever, they need to ship them to North America, which could taste weeks or months. Then, the beans sit on a shelf for weeks before being purchased. In order to avoid the awful stale taste I experienced yesterday, they burn the beans. I literally mean burn them. When they arrive in your cup, they still have a taste. That taste isn’t the taste of coffee - it’s the taste of burnt - but it’s a taste nonetheless and it’s a far cry better than what I made yesterday.

Anyways, I learned my lesson and my half pound of Columbia fairtrade is almost done in the roaster. The most important thing you could possibly do to improve your coffee is use fresh-roasted, fresh-ground beans. Something I would do well to remember, too, apparently!


Posted on May 31, 2011