It’s no secret that coffee in the workplace has a reputation for tasting down right horrible. And while that reputation was earned years ago, it doesn’t have to be that way. Good news – many of these reasons can be easily & inexpensively resolved.
1) Dirty Equipment
Coffee is naturally oily. These oils get left behind on any surface that the coffee comes in contact with. The most common surfaces are under the brew basket (where the water comes out), the brew basket itself and the coffee pot or carafe. Over time, the oils will build up and go rancid, which negatively affects the way your coffee tastes. If you notice that the coffee at your workplace has taken on a bad taste, take a look at these areas to see if they are clean. As part of their ongoing service, some office coffee providers will ensure that the brewer is cleaned, and pots or carafes are exchanged with each delivery.
2) Ratio of Coffee to Water
Brewing a great pot of coffee starts with ensuring you have the right ratio of coffee grounds to water. Using too few or too many grounds can result in coffee being poured down the drain rather than enjoyed. Taste is a personal thing, so it is common in offices that use a bulk container of coffee to have very inconsistent tasting coffee, as each person will make the coffee to their own preference. The best way to avoid this is to use packages of coffee, which have a pre-measured portion of grounds for water your brewer uses.
The coarseness of the grind is just as important as the coffee to water ratio. The general rule of thumb is that the coarser the grind, the longer it will need to be in contact with the water to extract the flavours. If you are using pre-ground coffee, either in bulk or portion packages, it will likely be a medium grind (gritty texture like coarse sand), which is used in most commercial drip brewers that use flat bottomed filters. But, be sure to read the label for notes on the coarseness of the grind, especially if you are buying your coffee at a grocery store. Some companies will have their coffees ground for home brewers that use a cone filter and require a fine grind. If you are using a grinder to grind your own beans, ask your office coffee provider if they have a portion grinder. Portion grinders automatically dispense a pre-measured amount of coffee set the desired coarseness. This will ensure consistency in both grind and portion from pot to pot.
4) Water Quality
In most areas of Canada, we are fortunate to have great tasting water available to us for drinking and making coffee. However, water can vary greatly from region to region. If you can enjoy a glass of water out of the tap without noticing significant tastes or scents, then it should be fine for brewing a pot. If you don’t have enjoyable water out of the tap, look at installing an inline filter to supply filtered water directly to your coffee brewer. If your brewer requires you to pour the water in with each brew, a filtered water cooler will give you access to water for your brewing needs.
The temperature of the water also can affect how your coffee tastes. If the water is too cold (lower than 195°F/91°C) then it won’t extract properly. Too hot (higher than 205°F/96°C) and you’ll burn the coffee. Water temperature is one more reason not to store your coffee beans or grounds in the fridge or freezer as cold grounds will reduce the temperature of the water at the time of brewing and affect the taste of the coffee.
As with most perishable food products, the fresher it is, the better it will taste. Coffee is no different. Ensuring that the coffee you purchase is fresh will go a long way in brewing a great cup of coffee. While many coffees on the shelf at the grocery store have freshness or best before dates, that isn’t always the case with coffees packaged and sold by office coffee companies. Be sure to ask what their policy is on ensuring the freshest possible coffee gets to you. Bulk ground coffee, while great at reducing packaging waste, means that the coffee is exposed to oxygen every time the container is opened. Pre-portioned packages are filled with nitrogen which keeps the coffee fresher longer. Using whole bean coffee can also mean fresher coffee, if it is properly stored prior to being ground. Store beans in a dark, dry, cool place such as a cupboard or pantry in a resealable container to minimize their exposure to oxygen.
Imagine eating the same thing every day for every meal. How appealing does that sound? Drinking the same coffee day after day at the office is no different. If you’ve been serving the same coffee at work for a while, it may just be time to change things up and try something different. Another way to keep things fresh, is to brew more than one coffee at work. Some offices decide that they will brew up something different on a certain day of the week (e.g. on the day your staff meeting is held, or on a Friday to have something to celebrate the end of another productive week). Other workplaces make it a practice to brew up both a medium and a dark roast to please more palates.
Solving the mystery of why the coffee at your office is terrible doesn’t need to be a daunting task. Rule out the possible culprits one by one and soon you’ll be enjoying the daily grind instead of dreading it.
If you’ve been serving the same coffee at work for a while, it may just be time to change things up and try something different.