Serious Eats: Drinks
5 Coffee Myths Debunked
Coffee misconceptions are as ubiquitous as Starbucks locations: Every time you turn around it seems like someone's spouting off about this or that "fact," the latest (probably not-peer-reviewed) health study, or cockeyed interpretation of "tradition." Today we dispel five common old wives' (or maybe "old baristas'") tales.
Espresso has more caffeine than drip coffee
Espresso may have more caffeine by volume on account of its concentrated nature and small serving size, but numbers-wise, the two preparations can be relatively comparable, depending of course on the coffee's variety, roast level, age, and the quality of the brew. According to the USDA, 2 ounces of espresso contain about 120 milligrams of caffeine, which is the rough equivalent of a 10-ounce cup of dripped or steeped coffee.
Understandably, some people confuse the strong flavor of the espresso concentrate with a higher potency, while in fact many people probably somewhat offset the lively properties of the stuff with the hefty amounts of steamed milk that are added to the bulk of drinks that feature it. (Find you're sleepy after a latté? That's probably not caused by the trace amount of tryptophan that's present in milk, but rather by the sort of lulling affect that being warm and full can have.)
Arabica is king
Well, yes and no. If we're talking about quality, it's safe to say there's no real contest, as robusta's naturally somewhat rubbery or acrid taste has always been considered a step down from the more nuanced (and less caffeinated) cousin arabica. Arabica even, technically, wins on quantity in general, as about 75% of the world's coffee producers grow the more valuable coffee on their land.
But when robusta's market share is compared with the cream of the coffee crops, robusta is leaps and bounds ahead of specialty-grade and certified coffees combined, as it claims a full 35% of the global coffee market. (Specialty coffee accounts for about 20%, and certified coffees have a much smaller share, according to environmental historian Stuart McCook.)
Italians only drink espresso
Actually, despite the near ubiquity of coffee bars (there are more than 150,000 nationwide), approximately 2/3 of the coffee Italians consume is drunk at home, either in the morning before work or after dinner—and almost nobody owns a countertop espresso machine. Instead, the most common kitchen appliance is a moka pot, or stovetop 'espresso' machine; though these pots make a quick and strong coffee using steam pressure from water heated on the range, the result isn't nearly as viscous or concentrated as in a commercial espresso bar.
Moka pots are so popular for home use that many Italian stoves come equipped with a smaller burner and grate specifically for the purpose.
Decaf is for weaklings
Decaf gets a bum rap, and the folks who drink it find themselves made the butt of all kinds of lazy and cliched jokes all the time. It ain't fair, I tell ya: People avoid caffeine for myriad great reasons, like pregnancy, heart conditions, allergy, sleeplessness, ideology, and a plain ol' aversion to even socially and legally acceptable recreational drugs. Some people just find that it gives them unpleasant jitters or agita, neither of which are especially appealing.
That doesn't mean, however, that those people don't also simply enjoy the taste of coffee, and would like to enjoy it without all the stimulating effects. I'd argue that these folks are actually the true coffee lovers among us, since they drink the stuff for the sake of pleasure, not addiction. Why should that simple fact relegate them to the loser's corner? Why should they always have to endure stale coffee badly brewed in unclean urns?
Keep your heads held high, decaf drinkers. You and I know the real score, and your time is nigh.
Fancy coffee is too expensive
I've said it before, and let's face it, I'll probably say it again—in fact, I'm about to. Not only should we collectively be paying more for high quality beans that are planted, weeded, harvested, pruned, sorted, processed, and sometimes even packaged by hand, but we should also be coughing up more for the roasting and, yes, in more and more cases, the brewing of said beans.
Every step a truly top-notch coffee bean endures on its journey to your cup is a labor-intensive one, and many hands do much work to ensure your mornings start off right. The raw materials are valuable enough on their own, but when the craft of roasting and the skill of brewing (when the brewing really is done with skill) are added to the mix, well, the result is almost priceless—though it comes to us pretty cheap, relatively speaking. Most of the world's finest coffees are still way cheaper than, say, the shmanciest beers, and most of the time all those require of a bartender is a clean tap and a good pour (or a deft flick with a bottle opener).
Any other coffee myths you can debunk? Share 'em in the comments.
About the author: Erin Meister trains baristas and inspires coffee-driven people for Counter Culture Coffee. She's a confident barista, and an audacious eater, but she remains a Nervous Cook. You can call her just Meister.