Competition season often leaves me with an uneasy relationship with a drink I usually find very enjoyable. Â I should add that my own view is in no way representative of competition judges, or competitions or anything like that – just a thought rolling around my head.
Generally, it seems, we treat milk as an enemy. Â People talk as if steamed milk is trying to hold a pillow over the face of coffee flavour. Â We talk about whether or not a coffee “cuts through” the milk. Â I’ve never really been thrilled with that phrase or way of thinking about coffee but I have to accept that I am in the minority here.
To get a blend to cut through milk we have a few choices:
By and large we end up with a flavour in coffee that is often described as having notes of chocolatey, nuts or Â caramel. Â These flavours are generally a byproduct of roast – results of maillard/caramelisation/strecker reactions. Â Roasting coffees a bit longer will create more of these, losing more of the original characteristics of the coffee and increasing bitterness. Â The argument has often been that milk combats the bitterness and allows these kinds of flavours through. Â Fair enough – I can’t really argue this point.
Often people use very heavy bodied coffees in blends designed to be used in milk drinks. Â Typically either coffees from Indonesia/PNG that will have heavy, earthy or woody notes or a robusta. Â The woodiness of the latter is extremely present through milk, an easy to get “coffee” flavour – though whether or not you find it pleasant is a whole other thing.
It seems to me that whatever we do we end up with a fairly homogenous tasting global cappuccino – speciality or not it is likely that we are all using a fairly small number of descriptive terms to communicate the most purchased and accessible espresso based drink in the world. a
Adding milk to coffee is a good thing. Â As much as I am pro-purity in coffee, I am more pro-enjoyment. Â Most people like adding coffee to milk, it adds sweetness and reduces bitterness and intensity.
I can’t help but feel that milk could also be a great vehicle for getting people to explore coffee further. Â If you brew a wonderful citrussy washed Yirg as espresso and add milk surely you could sell a cappuccino that tasted like a lemon posset. Â A massively juicy coffee from Nyeri turned into a drink that is reminiscent of fruit compote and icecream. Â If we stopped looking at milk as getting in the way of coffee flavour, and instead saw it as a very accesible way to deliver coffee flvaour then would we start using more varied and exciting coffees alongside more traditional ones?
- I am gambling on the fact that globally cappuccinos just edge out lattes, like they do in the UK (back)