Many People Believe So. The Origin of this Myth Lies in the Explosive Growth of Starbucks.
Every generation, there’s a revolution in the way people drink coffee. And every generation takes a step in the right direction. Many people today think of Maxwell House and Folgers as truly terrible brands. Pre-ground and left in tins for months, they’re blends of low grade arabica beans and robusta, a cheap, disease tolerant coffee species that grows well at low altitude but lacks flavor. The fact is that these coffees replaced even worse coffee. Lots of coffee brands (before Maxwell House and Folgers) had random coffee-like additives in their coffee like bread crumbs and chicory root. It was the coffee equivalent of cutting cocaine with Draino, and practiced on an industrial scale.
Given the competitive pressure, Maxwell House and Folgers did still have to minimize prices. One way to do this is by light roasting. As the bean roasts, it loses a lot of weight. If you buy coffee per pound, and sell coffee per pound, you want to lose as little weight as possible. (This is the same reason why beef jerky looks so expensive. $6 for 1/4 lb looks like $24/lb. It’s not. The beef loses half its weight as it dries out.) So dark roasting didn’t make any sense for the big roasters.
Enter Starbucks (and the dark roast)
Then Howard Schultz came along, bought Starbucks, and did things differently. First he focused on espresso-based drinks, which benefit from darker roasting. Most people who make coffee at home, measure their coffee with a scoop, which is a volume based measurement. When coffee is made in a shop, it’s measured by weight. Dark beans are less dense, so when you measure by weight, you end up using more beans to make the same size cup. And this is where the myth was born that Starbucks coffee is “stronger” or has “more caffeine”. Neither statement is true, they’re simply putting twice as much coffee in your cup. If you doubled the number of tablespoons you put in your Maxwell House coffee, it will be stronger and have more caffeine too. Because Starbucks was synonymous with dark roast, people began to associate dark roast with quality, strength, and caffeine.
The Third Wave
A new generation is now latching onto a new type of coffee, and it’s called the third wave. Third wave coffee moves away from espresso based drinks (which benefit from dark roasts), towards regular drip coffee. It’s also moving towards lighter roasts. BUT it’s not to save money, it’s to maximize flavor. No matter where coffee’s from, will taste the same if it’s roasted very dark. Lighter roasts allow the subtle characteristics of the origin to shine through. In the 60’s, all you could hope for at origin was to avoid defects. Now consumers are discovering the interestingly subtle wine-like characteristics of great coffee. Ethiopian coffee often has citrus and blueberry flavors. South American coffee often has graham cracker and honey characteristics. Indonesia often has an earthy spiciness, and full body.
While it’s easy for us in the third wave to look back on the second wave (Starbucks) and lament on how terrible it was, it’s easy for the second wave to look back on the first wave (Folgers) and say the same thing. But even that first wave was a giant step in the right direction.
If you’re interested in learning more about third wave coffee, Angels’ Cup can help. We ship coffee tasting flights, making it easy to try four different single origin coffees for just $7.99. It’s just like a wine tasting but with coffee.
Click here to learn more! angelscup.com