Friday, February 02, 2007

ok ok because you all asked

"mcdonald's corp.'s coffee tastes better and costs less than brew from starbucks corp., burger king holdings Inc. and dunkin' donuts inc., consumer reports magazine said."

i've been mostly ignoring this story because in my experience, consumer reports doesn't really "get" coffee right. i've never liked their machine recommendations, for example.

but a surprising number of people have asked me to comment on it in light of my previous post. so ok.

first, let's get out the scaa flavor wheel, because this will help us be more precise and explanatory. the mermaid's coffee is commonly described as "bitter, burnt, ashy, strong," etc.

let's correlate these less-targeted terms to one that are more helpful. the classic mermaid brewed cup is a dark-roasted sumatra, ok?

the espresso blend will be put aside -- note that the articles don't seem to be comparing the espresso, but rather the drip coffee, just as it was at the 20/20 tasting i attended.

let's start with the strong. actually, this is one thing about the mermaid of which i generally approve -- the brew to the up-side of the brewing control chart, but are usually within parameters close to the scaa guidelines.

so it's not that it's strong; rather it's that decades of cost-cutting and poorly brewed coffee have made americans accustomed to what i've heard germans call "blumenkaffee," flower-coffee, because it's so weak you can see the flowers painted in the bottom of the cup through the liquid.

you know, coffee that looks little different than tea.

since the mermaid dark-roasts the coffee, it does become bitter. the word i tend to use from the flavor wheel is "creosol," from the pungent category of the wheel's bitter taste section.

this indicates a pine tarry-sort, smoky-in-a-bad-way thing. this at first sounds similar to the neighboring term on the wheel, "phenolic."

phenolic also has connotations of tarry, but i think is usually felt to be sweeter and without the piney note. what's interesting is that flament makes clear that in low concentrations, phenol in coffee can have more pleasant associations -- it's the high-amount that gives the negative overtones.

the aroma side of the flavor wheel also gives us two other words for the mermaid's flavor, turpeny and ashy. when asked i always describe their coffee this way, as creosol, turpeny, and ashy.

the distinctiveness of this turpeny is why the mermaid won the public 20/20 taste test -- people will usually say they prefer what they recognize.

in contrast, the other coffees consumer reports tested are more lightly roasted. certainly dunkin is.

dunkin has quite a base of colombian, which is why it's so popular in the u.s.a. and makes such a great morning cup. people love the light, broad colombian brightness in the morning.

compared to the mermaid, the lighter-roasted, mild brightness seen in dunkin would appear to lack "oomph." the dunkin is a pleasant drinking coffee and truly doesn't bang you over the head with anything; it's also a more balanced cup, so nothing is going to stand out to strike you.

i've argued here before that balance is coffee is often an underappreciated attribute. the balance in the dunkin, i would argue, is a positive attribute, altho' of course we're talking commercial coffee here, so my admiration's quite limited.

i've only had one or two cups of the mcdonald's coffee, and i'm not that familiar with it. personally, i would prefer the dunkin myself, but the mcdonald's seemed as if it were perhaps roasted a little more.

i believe the arches is still using gavina as its premium supplier. (long-time readers know i am personally fond of the gavinas.)

so this would explain why i felt that way -- the gavinas have a history of a certain range of roasts, you know?

but in the end here we are talking about commercial coffees. dear readers, commercial just isn't where it's at, you know?

these chains can call their coffees "premium" or "gourmet," but that doesn't really make them specialty-grade you know? and that's the high-quality stuff we coffee lovers should be most interested in. . .

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posted by fortune | 8:35 AM | top | link to this | email this: | links to this post | | 1 comments

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