Blind Taste Test of Brewing Methods
October 13, 2010 1:08 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone ever heard of a blind taste test for coffee preperation methods?

My roomate and I have had quite a few conversations about his coffee predilections. Brewing coffee now requires 3 pots in our house. An electric kettle, a pour over kettle, and a chemex.

I'm pretty certain this produces no noticeable difference in flavor in comparison with a drip machine however I am unable to find any brewing method blind taste tests online. Ideally it would be the same bean prepared in 4 or 5 different ways. Vacuum Pot, Pour Over, Chemex, Mr. Coffee Style Drip, French Press, or Percolator.

In general I think the only brewing method that one would be able to detect is french press, and then only because of the presence of grounds in the coffee. If it was filtered prior to being served I would wager the taste would be indistinguishable.

I realize with coffee purists this is a bit of heresy, but I am not interested in opinions only cold hard facts. Even if you are absolutely sure you can taste the hard work put in. My guess is that unless you are a supertaster, or have spent a LOT of time trying to learn the flavor profiles of each method, that people will not be able to accurately distinguish between them.

My google-fu has failed me, but perhaps some of you mefites have looked into this and can point me in the right direction.
posted by sourbrew to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
For me, coffee is coffee. I don't really care where it comes from. I drink it black, and in a cup, and that's all I care about. Then I had coffee from a French Press. I don't even know what I normally drink every day, but it sure as hell isn't coffee.
posted by sanka at 1:20 PM on October 13, 2010

There is a blog report of a blind taste test here.
posted by jade east at 1:22 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

You may be interested in the triangle test, which can be used to determine whether a detectable difference exists.
posted by exogenous at 1:23 PM on October 13, 2010

Of course the taste of coffee depends on how you brew it - you're extracting organic chemicals from solids in an aqueous solution, which (as a matter of fact, not opinion) depends on temperature, pH, and all sorts of other stuff. It's not a blind taste test, but here is a scientific article from the MIT "Department of Food Technology" about precisely these issues, and how the various processes are perceived to affect the end result. Yes, it's from 1958, but we're talking about coffee here, not DNA reverse transcriptase. Maybe it's even better that it's old, as it therefore definitively predates the onset of hipster coffee fanaticism.
posted by rkent at 1:28 PM on October 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

rkent, that article's behind a paywall – can you summarize it?

Vacuum Pot, Pour Over, Chemex, Mr. Coffee Style Drip, French Press, or Percolator. In general I think the only brewing method that one would be able to detect is french press

Don't leave out cold-brewing! Without the acids that heat releases, you can drink much stronger, richer coffee. Cook's Illustrated said of one cold-brew system:
After comparing cold-brew coffee steeped for 24 and 72 hours with coffee from a traditional drip machine, we found that the Hourglass Coffee System did in fact deliver a less bitter, less acidic, smooth beverage. Lab tests revealed it also had less caffeine (about 60 percent of drip when steeped for 72 hours and diluted according to manufacturer recommendations).
posted by nicwolff at 2:07 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

This isn't a definite answer for hard facts, but I like to think of coffee brewing methods on a sort of gradient scale.

There are coffee shops where you can buy one type of coffee and try it cold brew, french pressed, run it through a chemex and have it as espresso. You'll notice the biggest difference in flavor if you try the cold brew and the espresso back to back. Still the same coffee, some of the similar characteristics, but overall wildly different in experience and overall taste. When you taste a french press and chemex back to back, you won't notice as much between the two, but they will come out different. Eventually you'll find coffee brewing methods so close to each other that you won't taste the difference.

We have run non-scientific blind taste tests around the office here for fun, between a chemex and a one-cup paper filter. It's easy to tell there's a difference, but it's really hard to tell which is which. The characteristic that changes the most from filter to filter isn't the flavor per-se, but the actual viscosity of the coffee, or the body depending on how much of the oils are filtered out of the final cup. The quality of the filters plays a pretty large role too...some really cheap paper filters give off a really nasty chemical tastes that even my grandmother complains about with her foldgers.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:50 PM on October 13, 2010

I'm not gonna go off on a tangent here, but my wife and I would get along well with your roommate... I notice subtle differences between all brewing techniques, usually.

Not sure about a blind taste test (why not just do one on your own?) but I know that the Chemex filter is designed differently than regular paper filters. It's supposed to filter out the acidity... I think if there are scientific grounds for differentiating between different brew methods, this is the one.

Other things to take into consideration are water temperature, grind technique, filtered vs non-filtered water.. There's a lot that goes into brewing the perfect mug!
posted by Glendale at 4:43 PM on October 13, 2010

Not to over simplify, but the obviously some people are able to taste things that others cannot. Why not conduct your own taste test? Do it with a double blind or at least a tasting "booth" because people will be able to pick up on your preferences if you're just handling them one at a time. Electric kettles are easier to clean, but drip machines can build up minerals in the boiling chamber that might effect how some people taste the coffee.
posted by Locobot at 4:47 PM on October 13, 2010

I've taken a coffee science class. (Alright, afternoon seminar.)

The biggest difference, all other things being equal will be:

1- Water temperature. Hotter is more acidic and more "oily" tasting. The "black" flavor of coffee. Lower temperature will be less of that, more of the "brown" coffee flavors. You need more contact time to break even, the lower the temperature.

2- Contact time with the grounds.

Try this some time: when you brew the coffee with the complicated contraption, there is brown foam on the top of the grounds as the water drains down. Taste it. Pretty fucking nasty, isn't it? Do you want a coffee brewer that mixes that all in?

Also, cheap (large pore) filters go quicker, but let some little bits of grounds through. Taste those some time. Also pretty nasty.

All that said, the best coffee that can be produced is via a proper, giant percolator. But that coffee can go wrong in a matter of seconds, so nobody ever bothers any more.
posted by gjc at 6:21 PM on October 13, 2010

Not sure about a blind taste test (why not just do one on your own?) but I know that the Chemex filter is designed differently than regular paper filters. It's supposed to filter out the acidity...

Glendale, I couldn't find that claim on their website, and that's good, because it's impossible to filter out acidity. Acidity is the proportion of free hydrogen ions (unassociated protons) in an aqueous solution.

The site does claim their filters reduce the bitterness, which is caused by (filterable) alkali molecules, some of which may leach out of the grounds that end in your cup.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:50 PM on October 13, 2010

I use taste test data at work often, though I don't conduct them. If the different products/foodstuffs have not been prepared identically, we do not consider it is a fair comparative test - unless the claim is 'as good as fresh coffee', for example.
posted by mippy at 6:40 AM on October 14, 2010

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