The Not-So Starving Student—Good vs. Bad Coffee: How to Tell?

Prior to starting university, I rarely drank coffee.  In fact, being an underweight, 5’3 sized girl meant my body was highly sensitive to caffeine.  One sip would cause a cascade of events some of which involved jittering, anxiety, and headaches.  However, the strong culture of caffeine on university campuses and in the professional workplace initiated my path to the dark side (literally, as I now drink my coffee black).  Having repeatedly doused myself with cups and cups of Tim Hortons’ coffee, my body is less sensitive to caffeine itself but more sensitive to the particular taste of premium coffee.  While the occasional instant coffee packets used at home work miracles while on-the-go, I’ve learned a thing or two about what makes certain coffee stand out.  What’s the difference between good and bad coffee? For many it’s hard to tell.  However, after asking my friends, family, colleagues and peers, I’ve gained certain consensus among the avid caffeine fans about what good coffee is like for them.

Acidity

Acidity refers to the balance of acidity and sweetness of the brew.  Excessively sour coffee is an indication of brewed coffee that has been left on the heater for too long or under extracted.  If the grounds are not fine enough or brewed too quickly, the sourness will overtake the taste of the coffee.  Cold brew generally reduces the acidity significantly.  On the other hand, excessively bitter tasting coffee means the beans may have been ground too fine or brewed too slowly.  A happy medium exists for certain specialty brews.  For example, trying a French press coffee compared to a regular drip coffee will show you a world of difference between the two brews.

Body

The texture of one sip of coffee will tell you if the content is too viscous, oily, or watery.  The body is determined by the type of processing used.  For example, in typical drip coffee, the water only passes through the caffeine once and without high pressure, extracting very little flavor from the coffee grinds.  Some coffee can be watered down or even combined with brew from a previous day making the content less concentrated with a weaker flavor profile.

Aroma

The reason why coffee beans are used as opposed to ground coffee is the retention of the caffeine aroma.  Most of the aroma is lost when coffee beans are turned to powdery mix.  If you’re looking for high quality coffee, take a close look at whether the shop uses ground coffee or coffee beans.  If the coffee beans are also roasted and milled locally, the flavor will be that much stronger.

Aftertaste

Good coffee should not have a lingering aftertaste.  Is the aftertaste unpleasant and acidic? Similarly, having no aftertaste may mean the coffee is too dilute.

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