Chris Zempel

Coffee isn't Complicated

Are you not a "coffee person?" Scared off by all the coffee snobbery? One of the side effects of working remotely is that I've spent a lot of time in a bunch of coffee shops, so I've put in a lot of idle thinking about coffee. Given that I'm also a programmer who mainly focuses on representing the world in ways to make things simple, I've devised an experiment that can help you cut through all the noise.

In an experiment that takes three cups of coffee, in three days, you can produce a permanent quality of life upgrade. People talk about all the thousands of flavors in coffee beans and stuff, but nobody's got time for that.

There are three kinds of coffee #

  1. Coffee that tastes good to you.
  2. Coffee that tastes bad to you.
  3. Coffee that you simply drink for the caffeine.

Once you find a couple varieties of coffee that taste good to you, there will be some similarities, and then you have the basis on which you can know if you'll be happy by ordering something or not.

There are only three questions you need to care about #

First: Do you like light, medium or dark coffee?

(Protip: light coffee has the most caffeine because heat destroys it, so the darker the bean the more heat it's gotten, and thus the less caffeine.)

Second: Do you like more acidic, or less acidic?

If you can identify when a drink is orange juice, you can taste how acidic something is. It's that curl on your tongue after the coffee has left. Some people like more, some people like less. I personally don't like acidic coffee.

Third: Are there any specific flavors that make your brain light up with happy?

Every coffee has some sort of "tasting notes" on its labelling or on the menu. While this is largely BS, on some level, the things they list there do correspond with the actual chemical makeup of what you're drinking, and thus how you derive pleasure from drinking it.

So just pay attention to coffee that you don't feel the urge to add creamer to. For me, I've noticed that I like anything that has "butter" listed in any sort of form on it. So if I see a "medium" or "light" coffee with the word "butter" anywhere in there, and no fruity flavors (that imply acid), that's what I'm getting. Preference goes to cheapest, first on the menu, or however I'm feeling that day.

Or, for example, Starbucks burns the hell out of their beans in order to keep a consistent taste across all their stores even thought hey have wildly varying sources. If you dig this, go for it.

The Experiment #

The experiment is simple. Go to whatever "fancy coffee" place you were initially scared of, and:

Day 1: Order a light coffee
Day 2: Order a medium coffee
Day 3: Order a dark coffee

If they have a bunch of different beans listed and stuff, just ask which ones are which color, and go with the first one on the menu.

Pay attention to what you like, and pay attention to what you don't like. According to the three questions above, you want to figure out what characteristics you don't like, and which ones you like.

If, by day 3, you've learned some answers and feel it was enjoyable enough to continue doing, keep at it. I can't tell you fancy things about coffee or intricacies of the brewing process, but I can consistently pick one off a menu that I know I'll be quite happy with.

If at the end of it you haven't learned anything or you didn't like any of them, now you know. And the next time you go to a coffee place and order hot chocolate, you've the the experimental results to back your decision up.

And that's it. Coffee is really that simple.

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