Less is More: Exploring the Sugary Coffee Drink Conundrum

The Masquerade

Probably the most brilliant statements ever made is, “Less is more.”  From organizing rooms to cooking recipes using the term “less is more” is a great tool to simplify things. Simplify a room to it’s function and daily use while creating a productive space, for instance, will give you more freedom in your life outside of homemaking or organization.  As for cooking, having too many ingredients in a recipe can be overpowering and take away from the natural taste from the featured entree, meat, or primary ingredient.

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Simplifying coffee is no different than simplifying anything else in your life.  Coffee is meant to be enjoyed in its own without the aids of fancy flavor-laden creamers or mountainous cubes of sugar.  Properly roasted and brewed coffee should exhibit flavors from where the coffee was grown and even from the way it was processed. By taking flavor-rich and delicious coffee out of its natural element, many of those subtle nuances in the cup are subdued or eliminated altogether.  While there’s nothing inherently wrong with adding a little sugar or some cream to a cuppa joe, consider the nature of coffee itself before you add cream and sugar:

If you have to add sugar or creamers to your coffee because you can’t stand the taste, you may very well be falling victim to bad coffee in the first place.

By adding additional simple sugars, creamers, or flavorings, the coffee’s natural characteristics and natural sugars are largely masked by those additions.  Coffee on it’s own already has sugars and other flavors before the bean is even roasted, and thanks to the Maillard Reaction, those sugars are caramelized, refined, and ultimately brought forth in the brewed cup.   If you are hooked on sugary coffee and that’s the only way you can drink it, there is still hope for you!

I once was a frappuccino lover and a latte girl.  Soon after learning how bad sugar can be for your body, I took them out only to leave me with bitter coffee.  Learning what kind of coffee I was drinking, taking out sugar and additives, and letting the coffee speak for itself changed my perception of what good coffee really is.

Healthy Choices

Each little bean of coffee is packed with lots antioxidants, essential nutrients, and flavor.  We call it a bean, but in reality, coffee “beans” are the seeds of a sweet fruit resembling a cherry.  The seed of the coffee cherry as with most seeds in most fruits, is chock full of undeveloped energy stores, carbohydrates, and complex molecules that our bodies use to fight disease, get pumped on caffeine, and make an overall impact in our health!  Adding sugar to coffee counteracts the many of the benefits of coffee and hide the true flavor from coffee.  Studies show that sugar has been linked to cancer, increased insulin levels that can lead to type II diabetes, and is the leading contributor to obesity in both adults and children.

Knowing all the facts and weighing the best option you can easily agree that less is more when it comes to coffee.  When coffee is truly done right, you get real natural flavors the bean itself.  No need to add those bad sugars!

Taste, Flavor, and Louis Maillard

HELLO taste buds! As humans, we crave flavor when it comes to eating and drinking. Coffee by itself has a bevy of flavor profiles such as fruity, woody, nutty, spicy, smoky, sweet, caramel, chocolate, and many others.  Coffee can taste different to each person because we have unique taste buds like a fingerprint.  As adults we have from 2,000 to 3,000 taste buds, and taste buds renew themselves every week, have sensory cells that are responsible for how we taste things, and stimulate the precious part of our brain that says food tastes good.  One of the things that chemically transforms-food and allows your taste buds to go crazy is a phenomenon known as the Maillard Reaction, and we have Louis Camille Maillard to thank for this discovery.

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Louis Camille Maillard is credited with discovering the Maillard Reaction.

The Maillard Reaction is the most crucial reactions occurring during roasting and makes everything delicious!  The combination of amino acid and sugar create aromatic compounds that help pack a lots of flavor, color, and aroma in our food.  Not only that, the Maillard Reaction creates thousands different flavor compounds which means, the possibilities of creating such unique flavors are endless (mind blowing).

Because the Maillard Reaction is so integral to cooking, roasting, and other methods of food prep, we can have even more freedom to prepare awesome dishes and excellent (albeit sometimes interesting) foods to put on our plates.  The Maillard reaction allows us to be creative and this is one of the many reasons why we love roasting coffee.  When roasting coffee, cooking time and temperature are key because it dictates what kind of flavor our coffee exhibits.

Maillard’s reaction is one of the focal points to a number of flavor compounds across all culinary arts and is an extremely important part to many artisan or craft food trades.  We see the Maillard Reaction in the browning of bread, color in chocolate, beer, or maple syrup, different flavors of roasted meat, caramel made from milk and sugar, self tanning products, and the color of condensed or dried milk.  This simple, but all-too-important, chemical reaction truly is the difference maker in how we perceive our food.

Now that you understand the Maillard Reaction a little bit better, it’s time to play. The only way to really understand the Maillard Reaction is to practice with something you enjoy eating or drink.  This is great time to explore the different flavors and aromas that food or roasting can offer.  

Explore Your Uncomfortablity

As Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bow-lines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.” This famous quote can used in so many ways of life and challenge us.  To drink a good cup coffee is one thing but to explore coffee is entirely different satisfaction.

One of best ways to explore coffee is to try lots of coffee from different places you travel to and get something you don’t normally get!  If you’re the type to travel globally on a somewhat regular basis, try slipping into a local cafe and trying a shot of espresso.  Get lost in the flavors of a quality pour over at a specialty coffee bar, or experience the somewhat eclectic but ancient art of Turkish coffee.  The opportunities to diversify your flavor portfolio as well as open up your senses to new experiences are endless.  Be an explorer and live in a state of “uncomfortablity”.

Ciclismo Coffee Roasters

Lego Man in search of great coffee.

Don’t be scared to walk into a specialty coffee shop and simply ask the barista to make their favorite drink.  (Don’t even ask them what it is.)  Ask them what’s the most popular choice there and what’s their favorite cup of coffee while picking their brain about their knowledge of coffee.  You’ll be surprised to see how informed and creative the local barista can be.  Through a little curiosity and a lot of desire to learn, you’ll find out more about the cup you’re drinking than you’d ever thought possible.

Understand not only where and how the coffee was roasted but where it was grown.  Every bean has a story and each one has something to say. Have you ever thought about how a coffee cherry is picked?  Most of them are picked by hand–hands that have touched so many hundreds of thousands of coffee cherries that even the faintest touch can tell the picker if the cherry is perfect or not. Get on a plane and travel to a coffee growing region to learn from the farmers exactly what it’s like to produce some of the best coffee in the world.  At a day in age where visiting a destination 1,000’s of miles away is as simple as stepping on a jet-powered vehicle, knowledge and the experiences of a lifetime are literally only hours away.

Final Note: Sugary Coffee Solved

There was a time where I used to spend over five hundred dollars on Starbucks drinks.  Ooh I know, it’s bad.  It’s even harder to type those words than say it out loud publicly.  I’m lucky Starbucks doesn’t have a credit card because I would be a broke girl.  The truth was, I was addicted to sugar and not caffeine in the cup of coffee.  It took my boyfriend at the time, who is my husband now, a whole year of telling me that I was drinking burnt coffee with sugar.  It was truly devastating to know the truth because I was that American girl wearing my scarf and boots running to the opening day of the PSL season.  All those lattes with sugar were not good for my waistline nor my taste buds.  You see, when you have processed sugar in your diet it really changes how you taste food, and when you take out added sugars in your diet you will be able to taste other flavors you hadn’t tasted before. Don’t let sugar steal an amazing cup of coffee from you!

A good cup of coffee doesn’t have to come from across the world.  By better understanding the coffee you’re drinking and the way you’re preparing it will significantly improve the quality of the cup you’re drinking.  Minute changes to the way you brew such as using quality water can make all the difference in the world.  Exploring other brewing methods such as a Bee House or Chemex can significantly improve the product in the cup.  Drinking coffee should be clean, balanced, smooth, have flavor, and most importantly be an experience you never forget.

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