Category Archives: Coffee science

10 Tips for Great Coffee

Do you know how to brew a great cup of coffee?

Of course you do!

How do we know that? Well, you’re currently reading the Taylors Coffee blog… which tells us that you’re browsing the Taylors Coffee website… which tells us that you’re interested in Taylors Coffee… which tells us that you have great taste.

In fact, you’re precisely the kind of person who would know how to make a cracking cup of coffee. We wouldn’t insult you by suggesting otherwise.

But have you ever wondered about the fine details? Ever pondered about the perfect brewing temperature, or the golden ratio of coffee grounds to water. Ever brewed it for a little bit longer to make a stronger coffee, then wondered if you might be missing out on an even tastier tactic?

Then have we got the video for you. With the help of Jamie and Jamie from our coffee team (all the best coffee companies have two Jamies) here are 10 quick tips for great coffee.

And you can view more of our lovely videos right here.

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Coffee crossed with tea?

Coffee is made from beans. Tea is made from leaves. And that’s just the way things are.

Or is it?

There has been fascinating news this week about a little-known drink called coffee leaf tea.

It involves steeping the leaves of the coffee plant (which you can see in our picture above) to make a drink with “an earthy taste” and low levels of caffeine.

And according to researchers, who have just released their findings, it’s very high in antioxidants – and therefore very good for you.

“What is amazing,” says Kew Gardens researcher Dr Aaron Davies, “is that there is so much work that goes on into the healthy properties of tea, but coffee leaves have been completely overlooked.”

It’s not a new drink. Coffee leaf tea is popular in Ethopia and South Sudan and, back in the 1800s, there was even an attempt to launch it in Britain.

It didn’t catch on then, but perhaps it could today. Here’s a link to the Telegraph’s article so you find out more about it: coffee leaf tea.

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Face to face with ‘The Gentle Giant’

Our expert coffee buyer, Hannah, recently returned from one of her many tours visiting our coffee growers. This time, she’d been to Brazil, the largest coffee producing country in the world, responsible for providing a third of the world’s coffee. So we’re talking big here.

When visiting a coffee plantation in the Cerrado – a tropical Savannah region – Hannah was confronted by this awesome machine. When we were first shown the picture here at Taylors, we thought it was a scene from Transformers, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Despite its imposing size, this harvesting machine is a pussycat. This gentle giant very carefully shakes the coffee trees to harvest the coffee cherries.

But why use a machine? Well, the Cerrado is so vast an area, when harvest time comes, machines like these can harvest coffee cherries much more quickly and efficiently. Also, this is a more cost-effective form of harvesting which is only possible in large coffee areas like the Cerrado, with flat land.

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Giving Freshness the Seal of Approval

Everyone says there’s nothing like a fresh coffee. They’re right too. Freshness is incredibly important as once coffee is roasted, it starts to deteriorate, especially when it comes into contact with oxygen in the air. Freshly ground coffee goes stale faster than whole beans, but what exactly can be done to preserve that just roasted freshness? Quite a lot, actually.

As mentioned in previous blogs, we grind our coffee directly over our packaging machine and before packs are sealed, nitrogen is blasted into each bag to remove all but 1% or less of the oxygen.

Now our bags are special too. The way they are made reduces the number of seams to just one vertical seal and then they are quadruple-sealed with a crimp top and bottom. Each bag also features a special freshness valve.

The machine above is used to test the integrity of the seams and valves on bags at regular 20-minute intervals. Freshly sealed bags are submerged in a water tank that is then sealed. A pump is activated and the bags are then put under extreme pressure to check whether the heat-sealed seams and the oil sealed valves hold tight. If any air escapes from the bag, our production team investigate and resolve any problems to guarantee the integrity of future sealed packs.

Effectively drowning perfectly innocent packs of our coffee may seem a little extreme but we take freshness extremely seriously. How important do you think freshness is? Please leave a comment – we’d love to hear.

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Can you tell a good coffee from its colour?

With taste and aroma being the two most important factors when enjoying a coffee, is colour unimportant? Well, you’d be surprised. You can actually tell a lot about a coffee from its colour.

Our coffee buyers taste hundreds of coffees each week– from small samples of beans from exporters flown in from countries across the globe through to samples from larger batches that have been roasted in our factory. In addition to assessing their taste and aroma, our experts very carefully examine the colour of each coffee too.

As explained in our recent ‘Bad Beans Box’ blog, visual checks allow us to spot imperfect green coffee beans such as immatures and sours. In addition, once roasted the colour can reveal a lot about the actual taste of the coffee.

In our tasting room, samples of roasted coffee beans and ground coffee are placed in blue trays which enable our experts to compare their colour and also consistency. Usually, the longer the roast, the darker the coffee, however, different coffee beans can roast at different rates so experience is essential.

We have a special colour meter which is calibrated and operated by Heather and the other Coffee Technicians. Heather takes a sample of ground coffee and planes it flat to create a level surface. This is then placed in the colour meter which precisely scans the sample. The scanner assesses the specific colour value and this has to be between certain tolerances to comply with our strict quality specifications. Any coffees that fall outside these tolerances are then referred to our experts and assessed individually.

So there you have it. Colour does matter and can be a good indicator of roast and taste and aroma, as can the quality and appearance of green beans before they are roasted.

What do you look for in a coffee? Do leave a comment, we’d love to hear.

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The Green Bean Moisture Machine

There’s a real art to roasting and blending coffee, however, science plays a big part in maintaining consistently high quality.

Before we roast our coffee, the beans are green and this is how they leave their countries of origin. When we receive them at Taylors, we check them for many things including their water content using the Rolls Royce of moisture analysers – the SINAR AP6060. Too much information? Okay, but what the machine does is extremely important.

Green beans contain water and the amount is crucial. Too much – greater than 12% – and the beans can deteriorate due to bacteria, mold or yeast. If the moisture level is too low – lower than 9% – and the beans can shrink, become misshapen and lower quality.

So, we carefully and accurately measure the moisture of samples of every batch by analyzing a handful of green beans using the machine’s special moisture-sniffing probe. Only those that pass the test make it into the roast. When it comes to quality, moisture matters.

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The Bad Beans Boxes

People often ask us why our coffee tastes so consistently good, cup after cup. Well, there are lots of reasons, but the main one is that we always select the very best quality green beans for roasting.

It sounds a perfectly logical and simple answer, but not all green coffee beans are what they seem. Developing long term trading relationships means that our suppliers know Taylors’ quality standards and only ship coffee that they know makes they grade.

But just in case, we actually have a ‘naughty cupboard’ in the Taylors tasting room. In there are two compartmentalised boxes that contain ‘bad beans’ – samples of beans that simply aren’t up to scratch. We use these to compare any suspicious looking beans that we might discover during testing. They also help our experts to educate trainee coffee buyers to spot any that might crop up.

Coffee beans can be affected in many ways. They can be damaged by fungus, insects or moisture. They might be old, sour, withered, broken or chipped. There might be ‘quakers’ in a batch, which are un-ripened coffee beans, or inferior quality, low-density ‘floaters’. They might not be green beans at all, such as white or black beans – which are much easier to spot.

All these checks are in addition to inspecting and tasting samples before we buy, before they are shipped, when they are landed in Teesport and when they arrive at our factory. Then, after they have been roasted, ground and packed, there’s a whole series of other checks from our Production and Quality Assurance team… but that’s a story for another day.

So when you open your pack of Taylors Coffee, you can be assured that we’ve done everything we can to ensure it contains nothing but the very best quality coffee. Which is more than can be said for our Bad Bean Boxes.

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The Things We Do For Freshness

There’s nothing like the smell and taste of fresh coffee is there? When you open a pack of our coffee for the first time, you just can’t resist taking in the aroma, can you? But to give you that full fresh coffee hit, we do lots of weird and wonderful things. One of them in particular looks rather painful.

Our oxygen test does look like we’re giving a bag of coffee an injection, but it’s actually the reverse. Before they are sealed, every bag of Taylors coffee has nitrogen puffed into them to get rid of virtually all of the oxygen. Why? Well, oxygen makes coffee go stale, so by removing the oxygen, it stays fresher for longer in its sealed bag. There’s also a special valve on each bag of Taylors coffee which keeps freshness in.

The photo above shows Heather, one of our experienced Coffee Technicians, checking the level of oxygen in bags taken from our production line. First Heather places a ‘sticky fixer’ on the bag to ensure that no air escapes when she inserts the needle (it’s a bit like when you put sellotape on a balloon if you want to put a pin in it without bursting). The testing machine then extracts a sample of the air from the bag using a very special needle, which is incredibly fine and delicate. The machine then measures precisely how much oxygen the air sample contains.

The sample has to contain 1% oxygen, or less, for ground coffee to pass, or 2% for coffee beans as beans are more robust. If it doesn’t, then in come the coffee buyers to taste it before we decide if the entire batch needs writing off. It does sound pretty ruthless, but it’s all in the name of freshness.

Do you love that coffee aroma hit when you open a new pack of our coffee? We’d love to hear.

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To Grind Or Not To Grind?

That is the question. Well, do you buy your Taylors coffee ground or do you prefer to grind our beans yourself? They’re both fantastic, but if you’re thinking you need to grind to ensure you get great tasting fresh coffee, read on.

Grinding coffee is the last thing you do to a coffee bean before you finally brew coffee, and the fresher the coffee, the better the taste. Ground coffee deteriorates faster than whole beans because grinds have a greater surface area that is exposed to oxygen (which reacts with the coffee’s flavour-containing oils, giving you a stale tasting cup of coffee). However, there are several things we do at Taylors to ensure our ground coffee reaches you as fresh as it was the moment we ground it.

If you have a grinder, where exactly do you keep it? On the worktop next to your coffee maker? Well, our three coffee grinders are absolute beasts and would struggle to even fit in the average kitchen. They are huge and each sits directly over the machine that packs the coffee. We actually grind our coffee directly into each pack so it doesn’t hang around deteriorating in a warehouse waiting to be packed. The entire process from whole beans to sealed packs, on average, takes just 2 minutes.

They’re no ordinary grinders either. Our powerful Colombini grinders use grinding plates that spin at 1450rpm only a few millimeters apart from one another. They get so hot that they have to be cooled by liquid nitrogen!

Talking of nitrogen, just before we seal each pack, we do something rather clever. We blast the nitrogen gas from the cooling system into each pack which reduces the oxygen level to less than 1%, vastly reducing the coffee’s exposure to oxygen, meaning it stays much fresher for much longer inside the packs. Clever eh? Also, every pack has a special one-way valve that for extra freshness.

Most inexpensive home grinders will happily produce a coarse or medium grind, though to achieve a uniformly consistent fine or extra fine grind for espresso, you need a good quality grinder.

Coarse and medium ground is great for coffee made in cafetières and percolators. Medium suits filter coffee makers, while fine and extra fine are perfect for espresso.

We’d love to know how you like your grinds and what type of grinder and brewing method you use. Why not leave a comment below?

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Harrogate Harvest Part 2: The Verdict

Well, it’s moment of truth time for our Harrogate-grown coffee beans. You may remember we grew, harvested and processed the coffee from our own plants and managed to create just half a kilo of precious green coffee beans.

This week, Emily, one of our expert coffee buyers, was both nervous and excited about ‘cupping’ the coffee beans, but first she had to roast them. She decided to create a Dark, Medium and a Light roast of our Harrogate Harvest beans.

Once roasted in special mini sample roasters in the cupping room, four 10g cups of each of the three different roasts of the Harrogate Harvest beans are weighed out then ground to a medium filter-style grind. Freshly drawn and boiled water is then poured over the coffee. The grounds form a crust on the surface and are left to brew for four minutes.

Emily then works her way along the 12 cups, divided by roast onto three trays, with her nose almost touching the surface she breaks the crusts with her tasting spoon to release the aroma and she analyses each cup. First impressions?

“The dark roast is nice and clean. The medium has a pleasant sweetness. The light roast is quite disappointing. It’s thin with no character to it.” said a discerning Emily.

After skimming off any foam, and whilst waiting 5-10 minutes for them to cool a little, Emily explained how the coffee Taylors buys is graded so beans are a uniform size and density. This means when roasting, they all roast at a similar rate. The Harrogate roast wasn’t graded though as we didn’t have enough coffee and therefore irregular sized and density beans mean we won’t have a uniform roast so some beans may be a little ‘quakery’ (under-roasted) and others might catch a bit and create a slightly sooty flavour.

With the coffee now at the correct temperature, Emily moved onto the taste, rapidly slurping then spitting out spoonfuls from each of the four cups from the three different roasts, from the light roast up to the dark roast and then back down to the light.

“The light roast is clean, with some good acidity but no sweetness to balance it, this makes it quite astringent and it’s lacking complexity. There’s no aroma and it’s a bit thin.

“The medium roast is very different. It’s slightly honeyed. There’s a nice pleasant aroma of stone fruit with some sweetness to it – quite plummy. This is most likely a symptom of the ‘pulped natural’ process we used where some fruit is left on the parchment of the coffee beans. As for the dark roast, it just doesn’t suit the bean. Some beans have caught a bit and it tastes sooty. It’s gone to far.”

Coffee normally grows in the tropics.  The best quality coffees are found above 1000 meters above sea level, usually under the shade of indigenous trees in rich, fertile soils.

“Harrogate isn’t exactly tropical and at barely 150 metres above sea level, our home grown coffee beans weren’t grown at high altitude. So the Harrogate Harvest coffee isn’t particularly well-balanced or complex like East African or Central American coffees, but it’s not bad.”

A beaming Emily was upbeat; “I’m very proud. We didn’t think it could have been done after last year’s disaster where the beans rotted and stank. Next year we’re going to keep a closer eye on them and pick them as they ripen. Hopefully we’ll have enough to grade the green beans to achieve a more uniform roast. We might keep the fruit from the pulping stage and dry it. In fact, the tea experts next door might want to try making the fruit into a tea infusion.”

So there you go, it can be done, but it’s very much a work in progress. Hopefully next year’s harvest will be even more fruitful. Naturally, we’ll keep you posted.

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