Why is Whole Foods' coffee so delicious?
August 20, 2011 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Why is the coffee at Whole Foods so delicious?

I recently had coffee from the coffee bar inside our local Whole Foods and was really impressed with the quality. Way better than any chain coffee place I've ever had, almost as good as my favorite local espresso bar. So what's their secret? Is it something I can replicate? I have a Moka stovetop, several French presses, a vacuum press, and a decent grinder. I've long ago given up trying to make drinks on par with my favorite coffee house, but I'm wondering if I can aspire to the WF kind... Mostly I'm loving the way it didn't taste bitter/burnt to hell (as opposed to delicious regular coffee bitter). Any ideas, hive mind?
posted by incountrysleep to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
The "not burnt" taste is something I associate with lighter roasts made popular by the current wave of coffee purveyors like Stumptown and Intelligentsia. If your coffee ordinarily tastes burnt and bitter, you're probably drinking a dark roast. You can absolutely make a fantastic French press brew at home with fresh quality whole light roast beans that you grind just before brewing.
posted by chrchr at 1:59 PM on August 20, 2011

I know that Whole Foods' Allegro uses (or at least used to use, when I was involved in their coffee racket) fluid bed/forced air roasters, which produce a less-burned, more nuanced roast than the drum roasters that most commercial roasteries use. This is generally more suited to highlighting the flavor profiles in single-origin/varietal coffees. Additionally, some stores do all their roasting in-house; your store may get all their coffee produced on site, which would make it extra-fresh and small batch, which ensures greater roast-oversight and attention to detail.

But I haven't worked there in a while, and when I was leaving, the regional coffee people were talking about switching over to drum roasters, so I may be leading you astray.

But as to a couple suggestions: do a little research, see if you can find coffee that was produced using a fluid bed roaster, and try to buy lighter roasts, specifically Central American single-origin beans. Most home grinders are blade grinders. The heat they create can alter the flavor profile of the beans, and leave the coffee even darker/more bitter. It's best to use a burr grinder. If your home grinder is not a burr grinder, have the coffee ground for you at the store, and be sure to tell whomever is grinding what type of machine/filter you are having it ground for; it makes more of a difference than you would think. If at all possible, have it ground on a Ditting; I think they are more accurate/consistent. French presses, since they don't have any sort of filter to absorb the oil, can also make your coffee more bitter-tasting. Stick to a machine that has a filter or uses paper filters. For the smoothest cup, consider getting a toddy maker. They really produce an excellent end result, and are useful for far more than simple iced coffee. Toddy espresso is freaking delicious.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 2:21 PM on August 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

Have you tried asking if they sell those beans in the store?

By the way, it is possible to make delicious coffee using just a regular old drip coffee pot or pour-over filter (that cheap plastic one-cup Melitta thing works great if you do it right!). Grinding just before brewing isn't even necessary if you've got good fresh beans and use the right measurements.
posted by wondermouse at 2:27 PM on August 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

In our local WF and many in the (SF Bay) area, they actually have a sign on the self-serve carafes that tell you what variety it's from. We really like the Extra Dark French Roast from Allegro, and I like the lighter Tanzania variety.

I don't think it tastes bitter, especially compared to the Peet's and Starbucks roasts. And we use a really crappy grinder and an even crappier $20 Mr. Coffee standard drip machine FWIW.
posted by guster4lovers at 3:17 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I strongly recommend getting yourself a hot air popcorn popper, a tin can that fits in it that doesn't have a plastic lining (to give yourself more of a chimney), and getting some green beans and roasting them yourself. Not because you'll end up drinking home-roasted coffee all the time, but because you'll learn things about the flavors inherent in the different beans and what roasting to various darknesses does that will greatly enhance your enjoyment of coffee.

And I'm a funnel and a filter and a pour-over guy now.
posted by straw at 3:32 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

A recent air-popper convert here. Found a used burr-grinder (Bodum) on CL for $40 and a West Bend Poppery II on fleabay for $30, and the coffee I've had in the past 2 weeks is the best I've ever had!

No to mention at about $7/lb shipped, it's half the price of store-bought.

Nothing like the smell of a fresh roast the morning after roasting. And I'm another paper filter / cheap drip coffeepot user, nothing fancy there.

Definitely a high-quality coffee upgrade!
posted by scooterdog at 4:42 PM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ask the employees. His entirely depends on where you are in the country. In Portland Oregon, all WF stores rotate roasters, and use their allegro brand. So theoretically you could be trying several different roaster's coffee. Ask them what coffee they use. Armed with that information, get yourself a good pour over like a v60 or a chemex. This will let you mimic their execution, which is assuredly a drip machine.
posted by furnace.heart at 4:58 PM on August 20, 2011

Yeah, roast your own coffee, then only you're sure it's fresh. Takes 5 minutes to roast! An air popper can be often found for $15-25 but be sure to get the right kind, sweetmarias.com has some details on how to choose.
posted by rainy at 5:34 PM on August 20, 2011

Are you talking coffee or espresso here? If it's espresso you probably can't replicate the exact thing without an espresso maker, but there's no reason you can't ask the barista what beans they're using and buy some to experiment with.

If it's coffee, again, ask what beans they're using and buy them. You're probably most likely to duplicate their brewing technique with a pour-over, but coffee is all about figuring out what works for you.

I'm not sure why you would immediately jump into roasting beans in order to duplicate a WF experience. They sell the beans they use right in the store!

Lucky you for having a decent WF cafe. We have a Miss Silvia so rarely buy cappucinos there, but the last time I bought one at WF, the guy making it made the espresso and then poured it in the milk and steamed it. I didn't realize this until ten minutes later (!) I looked closely at the milk and asked him why it was brown. Cappucinos there have always been bad, but this one took the cake.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:01 AM on August 21, 2011

Thanks for all the great feedback. I will definitely research those beans!

I'm also intrigued by the idea of roasting my own at some point, though I'm not sure I'd want to do it all the time.
posted by incountrysleep at 12:43 PM on August 21, 2011

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