Tag Archives: instant

Beanless coffee?

So, this is now a real product, being developed on Kickstarter:

Coffee… extract? I suppose. They seem to have extracted the molecules from coffee that produce the nice flavours and aromas, and then mixed them in with some sort of unidentified brown powder. You brew the result like real coffee, and it tastes… like the good bits of coffee but not the bitter notes?

I am totally for getting people not to alter their coffee with cream and sugar, and it is the bitter notes in coffee that people object to most.

But this raises sooo many questions:

What is the brown powder????

Why do we need the brown powder to brew it with? Why not make it soluble? (Answer: because brewing the coffee is part of the experience, apparently… sigh…)

What about the oils? Good espresso – well, any style of coffee really, needs the oils in the bean to produce that amazing body and mouthfeel, as well as containing most of the fragrance and freshness. How does this recreate that component?

Is it caffeinated?

Is it actually coffee???

Just…. WHY?


I am half-tempted to back the Kickstarter just to try some of this stuff.


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Posted by on February 11, 2019 in Uncategorized


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An “expert panel”.

One thing I do appreciate about being a relative “underling” in academic circles still, is that my supervisors tend to fob things off on to me. I presented at a conference about Fairtrade and upset a lot of people because one supervisor didn’t have time to go. I wrote a magazine article on coffee waste because the other supervisor couldn’t be bothered. And this week, one of the examiners from my viva passed on an invitation to go on an ‘expert panel’ hosted by an “innovation consultancy” for an unnamed “major coffee company.” This was the first time I’ve ever done this sort of thing and it was a truly bizarre experience.

As far as I could tell from the enigmatic and brief email invitatiion, I had to go to London Bridge, all expenses covered, be given “drinks and canapes” and be paid to talk “about coffee vending” for two hours. So I did. I made it down there, got on the right tube line but promptly walked the wrong way out of Borough tube station and got a bit lost, finally presented myself at the reception of this huge, posh looking office/studio building, where I was wordlessly handed a white envelope with £150 in cash in it!! I could get used to this!!

I actually really enjoyed the evening, and not just because of the Free Wine and Free Sushi. (I noted they didn’t even attempt to serve us coffee!). I was definitely the Token Academic, but the rest were all from different backgrounds – advertising and marketing people, restauranters, a nutritionist, a trade journal editor and a coffee historian. Given the location and the words “Future Panel” and “innovation consultancy” on the invite, I was fully prepared for an evening of playing Bullshit Bingo. However, I needn’t have feared! It was all very interesting and most of the other panelists were refreshingly cynical, especially for advertising folks.

I have a feeling I talked too much. I hope I didn’t make a giant tit of myself. I did get very, very involved.This tends to happen when I am Interested in something. I hope they realised this.

The discussion was mainly about the Future of Coffee Vending Machines – specifically the self-service ones, with no barista involved like you get at motorway service stations. The “major coffee company” who commissioned this remains nameless but I’m sure informed readers can make a good guess! Although there were at least three unashamed Nespresso machine fans, the overriding impression we had about vending machines was that they were notoriously shit. Not even just the taste of the low quality, cheap coffee that is usually found in them, but the mistrust that they will just swallow your money or give you chicken soup by accident or something. No one thought anyone in this country would be willing to spend serious money in vending machines.This is true. There are lots of different coffee markets to my mind: there are ‘gourmet’ coffee snobs like me who want the best quality and want to see it handmade. People who are willing to pay for, and wait for, espresso. Then there are people who work out of coffee shops who come in for the free wifi and to get out of the house and don’t really care about what they’re drinking. Then there is the social element – friends meeting somewhere that has fewer negative social connotations than a pub or is more family-orientated for example. There are people who have no choice – those dying for “refreshment” whilst stuck on trains or the motorways and are forced to pay for whatever crap is available in a very restricted environment. Finally there are caffeine addicts who just want a hot, wet fix for minimal cost. At the moment, vending machines only cater for the last two groups. But we were asked to think about how they could be developed to access the other sorts of markets.

By this point I had got talking to the guy next to me, a historian and magazine editor from California with a passion for coffee who has spent years writing a book on the history of coffee. VERY interesting guy. We were asked to pair up and try to design The Coffee Vending Machine of the Future! Perhaps inevitably, we got sidetracked talking about the history of coffee houses…. To this end, my “made up off the top of my head” vending machine was STEAMPUNK! Only one person in the room knew what I meant by steampunk, and I am eternally grateful to him. Syphon-style coffee makers (like french presses, but sucking water up through the coffee rather than squashing it down) lend themselves to the imagined Victoriana style – all steaming glass tubes, hissing noises and brass plates. Big heavy machines. Mine would be a cylindrical tank with several glass syphons arranged around it, allowing several high quality single origin coffees to be served simultaneously but without the faffing about, waiting time or expensive of espresso. Brass robot arms would then add milk, sugar, cream, flavourings etc. The customer would pull a large lever to start the thing, and set a dial to Weak or Strong. The whole contraption would be encased in a glass booth, with a canopy over it and a small ledge all round it for people to lean on to drink their coffee. It could be a centre piece to any service station, or a talking point in an office block, fulfilling the same role as the water dispenser conversation point does now. Better still, the weirdness and clockwork/steam intricacy of the machine itself would provide the spectacle needed so that people part with quite a lot of money for the coffee it made. You would be paying for the thrill of seeing it in action as well as for the convenience of not having to make coffee yourself. However,  to avoid queues and to embrace modern technology, the machine would work via a barcode scanner. A complimentry phone app would allow you to design your favourite coffee – say “Strong, Costa Rican, no milk, two sugars, 12oz cup” which would then be represented as a barcode on your phone. You’d then find the machine, wave your phone at it, pull the lever, and your personalised, favourite coffee would be dispensed from the test-tube syphons by the robot arms and payment would be taken from your phone bill. Personally, I think this is the future.

More sensible ideas included using face recognition software to personalise your coffee (ie: if it measured large bags under your eyes then it would automatically give you extra caffeine!). Others wanted a machine that took payment only after it made the drink so you never lost money if the machine broke down and so on. However, the main thing to come out of the discussion was that if the company wants people to pay good money for vending machine coffee, the vending machine absolutely cannot look like or feel like a conventional vending machine. They just have too many negative connotations!

I really hope the ‘major coffee company’ take in board all our views, even if we/I did get a little sidetracked and carried away! I was thanked profusely for my contributions but I am never any good at telling whether people are just humouring me or not. But, if a major coffee brand introduces a range of huge brass steampunk contraptions into your office, please let me know!!



Someone has already come up with a similar machine!! I mean like this, but with at least 5 syphons and more arms.

Clicky the image for the artist's Deviant Art page

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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Kenco Millicano

Ok folks, for the sake of balance, I am trying Kenco Millicano coffee. I had already, erm, voiced my somewhat negative opinion of this stuff on Facebook, and they challenged me to actually try it. So in the interests of fairness and the fact that it was on offer in the supermarket, here goes.

The concept of Kenco Millicano is that it supposedly contains ground up, real coffee beans mixed in to the instant granules:
“‘Wholebean Instant coffee’; a clever combination of instant coffee and finely milled wholebeans. It’s the closest thing to ‘proper’ coffee in an instant. ”
As I’ve pointed out previously – most notably when Nescafe tried this with their raw coffee Green Blend – real coffee, whether roasted or green, is NOT naturally soluble. There is a reason why you have to filter it or use an espresso machine! So, if Kenco really have put real grounds into their instant coffee, I ought to get some sort of gritty residue at the bottom of my cup. Lovely, just what I look out for in a good coffee.

It smells awful. The problem with studying coffee and running a coffee shop, is that the more great coffee I get to try, the less I am able to tolerate crap. I did used to drink instant coffee – there you go, I admitted it. To me, Kenco Millicano smells like every other instant coffee – stale, almost like mildew, and at best, like coffee scented candles, that artificially sweet smell you get in interior design shops next to the bath bombs. Anyway, Millicano doesn’t actually smell that sweet, but it definitely does not smell like the real thing.

I hesitantly poured boiling water on to it. The smell gets worse, and then something very odd happens. Somehow, they’ve managed to generate artificial crema! I sincerely doubt that really is the coffee oils rising to the surface. Even if it really does have real coffee grounds in this mix, you don’t often get crema on the top of filter coffee anyway! More worryingly still, the crema was a deep, reddish brown, mahogany coloured. not the golden caramel colour it should be.

It tastes absolutely vile. Stale sawdust, mouldy, and bitter, with an acrid aftertaste like the taste of paracetamol when you don’t gulp the tablets with water. It is roughly akin to every other instant coffee I’ve tried recently – possibly worse than Nescafe Green Blend, better than the South African Frisco but not by much!!

I couldn’t get to the bottom of the cup drinking this black, so I’ve added sugar. At least the paracetamol aftertaste has gone.

Miranda has just smelled it and screwed her little face up!!!

Glop. Ok, over with. And yes, true to their word, there is some sort of unpalatable, grainy sludge at the bottom of my cup. This, I hope, is the real coffee grounds. I feel sorry for them, that truly was a fate worse than death for those beans.

Kenco – just… WHY? Why muck about with perfectly good coffee? Good coffee is worth waiting for, and making filter coffee is hardly much more hassle than boiling a kettle anyway, is it? NO NEED!!


Posted by on May 29, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Starbucks Via and why I should have done a Physics degree

I am sitting in Starbucks again, contemplating the two cardboard cups in front of me.

posterI am here wearing my metaphorical “suffering academic” hat; this is all in the name of research. Somewhere along the line I have gotten myself on the Starbucks UK mailing list, and lo and behold, I received an invite to the Starbucks Via Taste Test. They are launching their new product, called Via, which although has no mention of being “instant” coffee, comes in single-cup satchets and is completely soluable. Yep, they are figuratively – and literally – scraping the bottom of the barrel and selling instant coffee. Three sticks of the stuff will set you back £1.20 (at the introductory rate, £1.45 in a few weeks’ time.), and I am assured it is made from “100% natural roasted arabica beans – the same high quality as all our coffee.” Now, we can “never be without great coffee” thanks to Via Ready Brew – as if I am going to carry sticks of instant “coffee” around in my bag, like tampons or something.

Starbucks “believe Via tastes as delicious as our fresh filter coffee. But don’t take our word for it. Try it yourself.” they beg. The Taste Challenge involved being given two free ‘tall’ cups (that is code for ‘small’ in here, or “not-served-in-a-bucket” to everyone this side of the Atlantic). One contains their Colombian single origin filter coffee, and the other this Via stuff which is apparently made from the same Colombian beans. Could I tell the difference?
Well yes, of course I could.

The whole ‘blind’ test idea was rendered obsolete as soon as the poor barista had to stir the soluable stuff for me, but even if I had attempted this blindfolded, the differences were immediately obvious.
I can’t be sure on this, but I am fairly confident that the process employed to make coffee soluable results in the loss of any natural fragrance and aroma of the brewed drink, and certainly a great deal of the flavour. Consequently, as I mentioned in my recent rant about Nescafe, any aromas that are present in instant coffee must therefore be chemically added back in afterwards. This is exactly how Starbucks Via smells – artificial. My nose maybe going in to overdrive at the moment with pregnancy hormones, but I could smell coffee candles – that artificially sweet scent with vanilla and malt that makes up most coffee-esque air fresheners and scented candles. As it cooled, I swear I could smell powdered vegetable soup as well. Definitely not natural. On the other hand, the filter smelled extremely citrussy and mildly alcoholic, like dry white wine – to my (limited) knowledge of cupping, that implies overly acidic coffee and possibly over-fermented beans where the cherries have been left on too long.
On tasting it, the Via taste liked instant coffee. There are few other ways of describing it. Flat. Smooth. Not incredibly bitter, almost waxy, if that means anything. And no aftertaste at all – it doesn’t linger in the mouth. The Colombian filter tasted very very bitter in contrast – stronger tasting all round, but with an acrid aftertaste – like the flavour you get in your mouth when you smell burning rubber. It also tasted very “thin” which to my mind, most single origins do. But the overwhelming flavour and smell was just BURNT. In my opinion, Starbucks burn their coffee anyway – that is the way they can guarantee the same flavour in every batch of coffee in every shop in the world. They bake the coffee to effectively flatten any nuances in the beans, to keep the flavours consistant. But even so, the filter was especially burnt – the roast was far, far too dark for filter coffee.

I have to admit I am now feeling bad about not liking this. Whatever else I can say about this place, the staff are lovely and I kinda feel obliged to enjoy my Third Place experience, or something….Yes, I am weak.
One barista has just said she can’t tell the difference between the Via and the filter!!! I am keenly following other people’s views on this on the Starbucks Facebook page too. There are many, already, who “failed” the taste challenge, and couldn’t tell the difference. This actually frightens me. However, after experiences in Sheffield over the past few days, I am now rekindling my interest in what non-coffee-geek people actually think. I have always tried to avoid customers’ opinions throughout my PhD research because they are just messy, most of the time, and so much has been written on coffee shop culture already. Yet, if I am going to look at ideas of quality, I need to find out if that quality is recognised, appreciated and demanded by consumers. The basic premise of my thesis was that in order to produce high quality coffee, more has to be wasted in the process. But if customers do not actually recognise ‘quality’ and don’t necessarily demand it, then the waste cannot be justified and the extra effort that goes into improving the quality is also wasted. And then we are back to my (now infamous) question at the Ohio conference: Why not let them drink crap if they want to?

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to get invited to see Pollards coffee roasters in Sheffield (actually thanks to a throw-away comment on this blog! yay!). hooverSimon, the owner, seems to be a kindred spirit – ie: equally cynical about many aspects of the coffee industry and proved very very interesting to talk to. The roasting is done on a very hands-on basis still, using roasting machines which are “partially” computer controlled. The computer monitored the time, temperature and energy consumption of the roasting beans, and the roast profile for that particular batch was neatly plotted on a graph on the screen in a neat curve. As the beans roasted, the computer plotted another line showing the actual temperatures of the beans – it was pretty close, although with a few extra wobbles – thanks to the proportion of the blend that came from Honduras, apparently. I asked Simon how he had learned to roast, and all the intricacies that go with it (he had also designed a roaster machine that could potentially run off vegetable oil, and made an ingenious contraption out of plastic piping and a hoover to move the roasted beans around the workshop without breaking any – and saved himself £25,000 in the process). He said most of his knowledge was as a result of his physics degree!! NOW I know where I’ve been going wrong, messing around with arts and social sciences for all these years…..

On the subject of academic research, however, Simon is very keen to do the Quality Test. That is, to get a goodly sized sample of coffee drinkers together, and do a taste challenge a la Starbucks, only offering one very high quality coffee and one low quality (based on price of the beans involved from origin – he will do the roasting and it’ll all be espresso based.). Basically, we want people to tell us which one tastes better to them. This should tell us once and for all, if your average coffee consumer actually notices and prefers “high quality”. This could be EXTREMELY handy for me too – not just for my research, but also for the Doc Coffee van. All being well, I could print posters like Costa’s – 80% of people prefer high quality (Costa advertise the fact 7 out of 10 “coffee lovers” prefer Costa. Tested on 174 people. In Glasgow.). And if the cheaper blend is preferred, I shall jack it all in and buy up loads of Starbucks Via for the van…. ye gads I hope not!!! To this end, I am planning on getting something together at the uni – I’ll hire a room there, Pollards will supply the coffees and the espresso machine, I can bring cups and round up coffee drinking students and university staff. We’ll do this over two days, and it would be great to get over 100 people. I’ll be plugging this as much as possible when we’ve decided a time so if you’re at all interested and fancy a couple of free coffees then pleeeeeeeeeease get in touch, come along, and give us your opinions!

On that note, if you’ve done the Starbucks Via Taste Challenge, PLEASE give your views on here! I’d be really interested to hear from you. Thanks all!


Posted by on March 12, 2010 in Uncategorized


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Nescafe’s “Green Blend”

I regularly scream at the TV every time the Nescafe advert comes on anyway – the campaign about “capturing coffee at it’s brightest” offends the very core of my being, having seen the mouldy, rotten, stinking beans that make their way into instant coffee… However, recently it has got worse. Recently, Nescafe have launched their “Green Blend”
The health benefits of coffee – NESCAFE

My first reaction was of course What the….??? (less politely, obviously)
But you better believe it baby… Nescafe are in fact trying to sell you coffee that is 35% RAW, on health grounds.
This is utter rubbish.
1. It is a fair assessment that the process used to create instant/soluable coffee would remove any nutritional value anyway.
2. I am fairly certain it isn’t possible to make instant coffee with raw coffee beans:
 -> Green coffee beans are inert – the human body cannot digest them. It’s a little like eating raw corn, it just goes straight through you.
Instant coffee is made by grinding roasted coffee, making huge batches of filter coffee from it, the boiling and boiling the filtered coffee until only a dry residue is left, which is then put in to jars. This is the only way you can make coffee completely soluable -and also why instant coffee tastes nothing like the real thing. Some companies (and I don;t know about Nestle, so I can’t prove this) – actually have to recreate the smell and taste of real coffee by adding artificial flavourings back in to it afterwards, since the process of making it soluable removes so much of the flavour. This is perfectly legal, and they can still claim it’s ‘made using 100% arabica coffee beans.”… But anyway – roasting is vital to this process, because without roasting, the coffee cannot release any of its oils, flavours, acids or nutrients into the water when making the filter coffee. If you mix water with ground up green coffee beans, you just get water with green beans in it. Therefore, if Nescafe are actually adding 35% raw beans to their blend, it means they’d just end up with instant coffee with a third less flavour than normal. OR, they could be adding the green beans after they’ve made the roasted ones soluable – in which case when you make a cup of this stuff, you should end up with green grit in the bottom of your cup. I shall have to dare to buy some and test this theory.

3. The health claims are also a)entirely unnecessary, and b) entirely meaningless. More on this later on. Nescafe seem to have borrowed a cupper to test their latest product – which is akin to getting a professional sommelier to taste Lambrini. But point being, you can’t taste green coffee for the reasons given above, and you certainly can’t taste anti-oxidants….
Here are some reactions to Nescafe’s promotional video from other people which I rather liked:

 “I love the expert view at the bottom. A nutritionist?!? The word is dietitian.”

“To claim oneself to be a dietitian, is to say that you have a degree in dietetics and are a registered health care professional with all the responsibility that goes with it. – ANYONE can claim themselves to be a nutritionist or nutritional therapist – the terms are not protected – it’s a bit like claiming yourself to be a spirit medium.”

“It’d be interesting to know how they claim to add the green beens… You could always call them up and ask them to send you information in connection with your doctorate… see if the bumph they sent you held up to scrutiny. Doesn’t half indigestable coffee count as speciality?”

“The whole idea of adding anti-oxidants to food is erroneous. The body produces its own antioxidants and releases them as required at any one time. Eating more doesn’t mean they even go into the blood stream -they are much more likely to be excreted. Ina large scale trial of giving antioxidants to a group of people who were smokers was abandoned after 6 years as unethical because those in the group that got the antioxidants were 46% more likely to die of lung cancer than those who were given placebos! And yet we’re still getting adverts for foods with added antioxidants.Blah!”

Herein lies the rub.
Even if anti-oxidants are good for you – there are more anti-oxidants in roasted coffee than green coffee anyway. AND you can actually digest them!
Here’s the proof:
Coffee Science Information Centre’s study of antioxidant levels in coffee
It’s a long and pretty complex study, and backed up by a lot of different tests. However, this is the crucial bit:

“The roasting of coffee beans dramatically increases their total
antioxidant activity. A roasting time of 10 minutes (medium-dark roast)
was found to produce coffee with optimal oxygen scavenging and chain
breaking activities in vitro (6). A study of robusta and
arabica coffees from six different countries showed that robusta
samples contained significantly more reducing substances than arabica
samples and that protective activity measured ex vivo was
significantly greater in roasted samples than in green coffee (7).
Using the ABTS•+ method (the gold standard), it was confirmed that
light roast or medium roast coffee has a significantly higher
antioxidant activity in vitro than green coffee (8). This
difference was observed despite a 19% and 45% decrease in the
chlorogenic acid content of light and medium roast coffee respectively
implying that other compounds make significant contributions to the
total antioxidant activity of roasted coffee. Melanoidins are brown
polymers formed by the Maillard reaction during the roasting of coffee
beans and account for up to 25% of the dry matter. It has recently been
shown by the ABTS•+ method that coffee melanoidins have significant
antioxidant activity in vitro (9).”

So, where did Nescafe’s idea come from??? GREEN blend sounds eco-friendly. I bet they couldn’t market it as “Nescafe RAW blend”. It also sounds healthy. People think they need anti-oxidants. The most well-known source of anti-oxidants is green tea. Coffee, on the other hand, has always been accused of being unhealthy because of the caffeine content… so, why not make the coffee green too??
And, I suppose, what really swung it for Nestle was that green coffee is cheaper than roasted coffee, and this way, they can sell a new exciting blend for more money, when it may actually be a third cheaper to produce….

God I’m a cynic….


Posted by on February 5, 2010 in Uncategorized


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