America's Test Kitchen tests, well, guess :P

Caffe Latte

New member
May 10, 2004
New York City
Visit site
So they tested different brands of coffee to be used in regular coffee (sorry all you espresso only people)

Interesting results came out of this.

What I find to be quite interesting is how much change came about when they added milk. :!:

To view the whole article you have to sign up with an email addy. it's free. but below is the full article anyway :) ... &iSeason=7

Coffee--Tasting Supermarket Whole Bean Coffee
from the Episode: Lighter Desserts

We secretly replaced our tasters' favorite gourmet coffee with supermarket beans. Could they tell the difference?

For related information, see The Truth about French Roast Coffee, Supermarket Coffee, and Coffee Beans vs. Preground.

We secretly replaced our tasters' favorite gourmet coffee with supermarket beans. Could they tell the difference? Our taste tests yielded surprising results.

My daily coffee ritual begins promptly at 6:30 A.M., when I plunk down $3 and change for a customized, 15-syllable concoction laced with enough caffeine to get me through half the morning. Hours later, I retrace the two-and-a-half-minute trek from the test kitchen to the local Starbucks coffeehouse, where my dealer (aka barista) starts portioning out my usual fix before I even make it up to the counter.

Trembling with product satisfaction, I stock Starbucks beans at home as well; given my daily routine, it's quite convenient. Ironically, it's when the company took the convenience factor up another notch-offering its whole beans at the grocery store-that my eyes began to wander. Amid the instant-coffee "crystals" and the tin cans of preground coffee sat several shelves' worth of whole-bean coffee brands. Some hailed from other coffeehouses, vying (like Starbucks) for a piece of the lucrative coffee-aisle action; others were straight-ahead supermarket brands, priced per pound at less than what I normally pay for a single iced-venti-no-foam-latte.

Could any of them compete in taste with my old standby? To find out, I bought eight whole-bean coffees at the supermarket. For each brand, I chose the "house blend," or whatever medium roast was widely available.

Tasters' Choice(s)
Test kitchen staffers first tried the coffees brewed regular strength. The differences were striking. Some coffees were strong and smoky, others tasted light and "chocolaty," still others boasted hints of caramel or molasses. For a few of the brands, the tasting sheets overflowed with invective decrying bitter, rancid, or harsh qualities. Most surprising, Starbucks came in not first but fifth out of the eight samples. "Burnt, with a bitter aftertaste," said one taster. "Like gnawing on charcoal," said another. Top honors went instead to Green Mountain Roasters and Eight O'Clock, which tasters found complex and well balanced.

By no stretch am I a trained coffee expert, but I also wasn't convinced that I've been blithely sucking down "burnt coffee" twice a day. So I devised one more test--a tasting of coffee with milk. Why? An informal poll revealed that more than two-thirds of the Cook's staff (including me) add milk to their coffee, and it seemed only fair to try the brands that way, too. So I brewed up eight more pots, added 3/4 cup warmed whole milk to each, and summoned 25 soon-to-be-jittery tasters into the test kitchen for another tour.

Sure enough, preferences changed. This time, Green Mountain and Eight O'Clock, the plain-coffee champs, ended up in the lower ranks--bland and insipid, according to tasters. In contrast, Starbucks landed near the top, along with Millstone and Seattle's Best, two other fairly assertive coffees. The bitter, burnt notes that had menaced tasters in the first round were suddenly "robust" and "complex" when tempered by the milk. Simply watered down? Not quite. Additional research revealed that the proteins in milk (and cream) bind some of the bitter-tasting phenolic compounds, reducing the bitterness and intensity of the coffee flavor.

Dark Matter
So far I had based my analysis on tasters' subjective descriptions. But there was a better way. In general, the longer a coffee bean roasts, the darker and more strongly flavored it becomes. Although it's possible to make a rough comparison of roast darkness by eyeballing alone, experts use an instrument called an Agtron to measure exactly how much light the beans reflect. The higher the Agtron reading (that is, the more light the beans reflect), the lighter the roast: An Agtron reading of 85 would indicate an ultra-light, almost tealike coffee; the darkest French roast out there would be closer to 15.

To find out how roast darkness lined up with taster preference, I sent the samples to a lab that specializes in coffee analysis. The Agtron readings differed markedly. From darkest to lightest: Starbucks (34.9), Millstone (36.5), Seattle's Best (40.0), Chock Full o' Nuts (40.3), Green Mountain (48.0), Folgers (48.9), Eight O'Clock (51.4), and Dunkin' Donuts (59.9).

From this data, I made two important discoveries. First, according to coffee-industry standards, the four darkest coffees in our lineup (Starbucks through Chock Full o' Nuts) are considered "dark" roasts, while the remaining four (Green Mountain through Dunkin' Donuts) are "medium." Second, roast darkness correlated with our tasting-room experience: Green Mountain and Eight O'Clock, both lighter roasts, triumphed in the plain tasting yet proved too mild in the milk round. By contrast, the three darkest roasts (Starbucks, Millstone, and Seattle's Best) were the milk-round champs.

Still troubling was how to explain Chock Full o' Nuts, Folgers, and Dunkin' Donuts--three brands that stubbornly refused to play by the light-roast/dark-roast rules.

Grounds for Dismissal
Luckily, some of the best discoveries happen by accident. The lab I hired to measure roast darkness had included several other tests for the same fee. Most of the data seemed better suited for a coffee dissertation than a magazine article-"package integrity" scores, moisture levels, and so forth. When I reached the last line, however, I noticed an odd-sounding measurement: "6 quakers," read one report; "1 quaker," read another. I had no idea what a quaker was, but given that my three problem coffees--Chock Full o' Nuts (7), Folgers (8), and Dunkin' Donuts (9)--had the most, I was determined to find out. Turns out, a quaker is coffee-industry jargon for an underdeveloped coffee bean that fails to get sorted out before the roasting stage. Less dense than a regular, mature bean, quakers can wreak havoc on the coffee's flavor profile, imparting a spoiled taste to the brew. So desirable is quaker-free coffee that beans are graded based on quaker count, and buyers are willing to pay a premium for beans that come up clean in spot tests.

The lab had found quaker counts in our coffees ranging from 0 to 9--based on a 100-gram sample (just over a cup). Do those numbers really matter to the casual coffee drinker? In a word, yes. In a 1-pound (455-gram) bag of Millstone coffee, you would expect to find just 4 1/2 quakers total, while in a 1-pound bag of Dunkin' Donuts coffee there might be 40.

How much training would I need to identify quakers? None at all, said Mané Alves, the lab's director. "Open up any bag of [one of the high-quaker-count brands]. You will see them--beans that are lighter colored than the rest." So I dumped several bags of coffee onto the countertop and, sure enough, the coffee was crawling with them! I began sorting and an hour later had a cupful of quakers. How awful could these pale beans really be? I had my answer minutes later, when I brewed a fresh pot of coffee made entirely from quakers. The smell was putrid enough, but the first taste dispelled any suspicions that quaker count was merely some academic exercise. The experiment isolated a taste I've always associated with bad gas-station coffee but conflated (incorrectly) with the burnt taste that comes from leaving the pot on the burner too long. Suffice it to say a quaker is indeed something best avoided.

Beyond roast darkness and quaker count, the experts also acknowledged that the brands in our lineup draw from raw (or "green") beans of varying quality. But spending a mint on prime beans doesn't guarantee a tasty brew. For example, says Alves, Starbucks and Seattle's Best "consistently buy better green beans" than the other brands, but the dark roasting they undergo obscures many of the nuances.

So where did we come out? Turns out it is possible to get good whole-bean coffee at the supermarket, but you may have to spend close to Starbucks prices. Millstone ($7.99 for 11 ounces) and Starbucks ($9.39 for 12 ounces) were our favorite darker roasts, while Green Mountain Roasters ($7.49 for 12 ounces) and Eight O'Clock (a cheap $4.99 for 13 ounces) were the best for light-roast fans and those that drink their coffee black.

a pdf ... Coffee.pdf


New member
Apr 4, 2006
Austin, Tx
Visit site
Would have been interesting to know which roast specificaly they used. Seattle's Best is definatly the cleanest franchise beans I have used but they are correct in that it lacks nuance. A very basic flavor.

Latest posts