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When you get coffee in the office, you don’t expect a high quality specialty brew. But why is office coffee often so down right terrible? There are a few reasons for this. Check them out.
The biggest reason why office coffee is bad is because the coffee (beans or brewed) is stale. Besides that, it might just be cheap or the wrong type of coffee for the used brewing method. If the coffee is kept hot for a while, that’s a big reason for bad tasting coffee as well.
There are a few more reasons and details that you can use to diagnose your office coffee’s problems. Keep reading to find them.
1. Stale coffee
One of the biggest contenders for the reason why office coffee is so often terrible is the fact that the coffee is stale. Coffee doesn’t really go bad, or at least not very quickly, but it does go stale. And it does so faster than you might think.
Coffee beans need about four days after roasting to develop their best taste. Coffee beans taste keep tasting their best about 15 days after roasting. After that they’ll degrade slowly in taste but up to 30 days after roasting the beans are still good.
Many office managers buy in bulk to save cost. That means that you might have coffee that’s been in the cupboard for months. Before it arrived at the office it might have spent a few weeks in the shop or distribution center. Before that it will have taken a few days to get there from the producer.
While freshly roasted coffee beans need a bit of time after being roasted to taste their best, that amount of time is not 6 months. After a few weeks the best taste is gone. So if your beans have been in a cupboard, even vacuum packed, they won’t taste that good anymore.
The reason for the taste getting worse is not necessarily that there are bad things happening inside the bean. The bigger reason is that compounds and aromas in the beast start evaporating and oxidizing. So even if the beans are stale, it’s still safe to drink.
2. Pre-ground coffee
If you have pre ground coffee, that process happens even faster. Basically, the flavor can escape even faster since there is more surface area. This results in an unbalanced taste which is what makes coffee taste bad. There are over 800 compounds in roasted coffee that make up the flavor. Many of those flavors and aromas are volatile which means they want to leave the coffee grounds.
This is the same as in whole beans but, by grinding the beans, you give those aromas many more doors to leave through, which means it happens faster.
As with beans, it’s a good idea to keep the grounds stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. The fridge is actually a good option, as long as the container you put it in is really air tight.
It has to be air tight because coffee grounds are hygroscopic. This means they attract water from the air around it. That water often has other compounds and aromas in it you don’t want in your coffee. That means the coffee grounds will absorb the liquid, tastes and smells of things near it. You probably don’t want your coffee to taste like yesterday’s leftovers.
In the end it’s very difficult to prevent any of this from happening. Freshly ground coffee is at its best up to 15 minutes after grinding. After 15 minutes a practiced taster can already start noticing the difference. So you can imagine that a bag of coffee that has been open for 2 weeks is really starting to degrade.
That doesn’t mean nobody likes ground coffee from a bag. There are good and bad ones and the way it’s treated after opening makes a difference. However, the way it’s treated in an office usually means it doesn’t taste good.
Maybe the coffee in your office is old and maybe it’s just not very good coffee. You’re going to have a hard time making a good cup out of it.
Office managers tend to be, let’s say, price sensitive. And that’s fine; it’s part of their job. But often saving the few bucks on a cheaper coffee has a significant effect on the taste. However, there isn’t always a direct correlation between price and taste. Some brands just charge more for the same thing.
But other times it’s cheaper because they use lower quality beans. Robusta beans are quite a bit cheaper than Arabica beans but don’t taste as good. If you buy a coffee that’s significantly cheaper, chances are that there is a larger part of Robusta blended in. This still doesn’t have to be a bad thing because it can be used to balance out the taste of a coffee but often it does affect the taste in a negative way.
There is a huge difference in the types of coffee machines for offices. It’s safe to say some are better than others. Some machines just get the balance of water temperature, brew time and grind size wrong.
However, it also has to do with the coffee you actually put in the machine. Especially if you use ground coffee, the grind size and roast might be the wrong one for the machine. See if there is a recommended type of coffee that goes with the machine. Some machine’s manuals give recommendations for coffee.
If using the recommended coffee makes it taste better, that’s a good place to start from. See if you can discover why that one tastes better.
Below are a few other factors you could influence in your office.
The roast of your beans might not be the right one for the brewing method that is used. The roast of a coffee bean has a big impact on the final taste. The same beans with a light roast will produce a very different tasting cup than with a dark roast.
It seems logical to think that a lighter roast has a lighter taste but that’s not necessarily the case.
Yes, a lighter roast tends to result in a thinner bodied brew but, it is also higher in acidity and caffeine than a darker roast. So if the coffee is sour, try a darker roast next time. A dark roast tends to have less caffeine and acidity but more bitterness.
There is a time and place for every type of roast but that doesn’t mean all of it is good in a coffee machine. You’ll have to adjust the water temperature and brewing method to get the best out of it.
6. Grind size
While most ground coffee will say on the bag what its best use is, not everyone looks at that and uses the right one for the right application.
For example, espresso grounds are really fine. But putting espresso grounds in a machine for normal coffee isn’t going to give you espresso. It’s probably going to give you something very bitter. Most of the time the coffee will be right for the machine but you never know what the person who ordered it did to save a few bucks.
If your office has a machine that grinds fresh beans, check if the grinder is adjustable and what size it produces now. If you feel confident, you can try adjusting it. Maybe do it when nobody is looking so you don’t get the blame for it when the coffee tastes worse. Not all machines have a grind size adjustment though.
Some office coffee machines don’t even brew coffee. They just add water to a thick coffee like syrup. These machines don’t us beans or even ground coffee. It’s just a box of very concentrated coffee.
This type of machine doesn’t create a drink anyone wants to go near. It’s a caffeine delivery method to keep the employees fueled up and ready to work.
This type of machine has become less popular and for good reason. The coffee that comes from them is sour, bitter and barely resembles coffee. If you like your employees, get something better.
It tastes so bad because it’s very old coffee. It’s made and then concentrated, packaged, transported and reheated with extra water in the coffee machine that doesn’t do any favors for the taste.
8. Wrong extraction
Extraction is a complicated topic. If you get the extraction wrong, you can get a sour and/or bitter taste. This doesn’t only have to do with the heat of the water but also the roast, brew time and grind size. All of those things have to be balanced to create a good cup of coffee.
In a coffee machine at the office, you usually don’t have a lot of control over any of those things. The two biggest complaints about office coffee are usually that it’s too sour and/or bitter.
Those two characteristics can be a result of over or under extraction. In general, a sour taste means the coffee is under extracted and a bitter taste is over extracted. That’s a generalization though.
If coffee grounds are under extracted and thus sour, you can try to get a coffee that’s ground a bit finer. This will help extraction. If you can adjust the water temperature, set it a bit higher but this won’t be possible in most machines. If the coffee is too bitter, try the opposite.
Heat and a smaller grind size make it easier for the water to extract all the flavor from the coffee grounds and so balance out the sour taste. But if it’s too bitter, you’ve start extracting too much.
If you’re really unlucky, you don’t have a machine that makes coffee per cup on demand but a big pot of coffee that’s made in the morning. This is pretty much the worst thing you can do to coffee.
The bad thing here is that the coffee will be kept hot on a hot plate for hours. Keeping coffee hot will bring out the worst in any coffee, no matter how good it is to begin with.
Reheating does a few things in coffee. The main thing is that reheating starts oxidizing several compounds. Other compounds and aromas evaporate leaving the taste imbalanced. On top of that there are two acids that develop in the coffee, creating a very sour taste.
All those things leave you with a pretty nasty cup of sour black water after a while of keeping the coffee hot. Make fresh if you can.