Help me learn to like coffee.
June 22, 2008 5:42 PM   Subscribe

CoffeeFilter. I love the smell of coffee but can't stand the taste. Far too bitter for my tastebuds. How can I learn to like coffee?

I want to like coffee so I can use it to feed my caffeine habit (rather than the Diet Coke I use now) but I just can't stand the taste of it. I don't even like mocha ice cream. I really do love the smell of coffee though.

I figure that there must be a way that people like me who find the taste of coffee far too bitter can be accommodated by the coffee companies. Any tips for making it taste better? Any recipes you can share? Let me know!

For the record, I have tried the simple steps of adding more milk, adding more sugar, and a combination of the two, but still no luck. Is this just a lost cause?
posted by Effigy2000 to Food & Drink (64 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Start with flavored coffee--hazelnut, vanilla etc?
posted by Pax at 5:48 PM on June 22, 2008

I add a lot of chocolate. Straight coffee is nasty.
posted by muzzlecough at 5:50 PM on June 22, 2008

Don't do flavored coffee. That stuff's just nasty. Instead, go for mild coffees rather than darker ones. Things labeled "House Blend" and "Breakfast Blend" will tend to be more mild. Avoid "Dark Roast", "French Roast", etc.

If the coffee's just too strong, you can add a little hot water to dilute it a bit. Many people drink their coffee with milk, which is definitely my thing, but millions of people can't be wrong. Sugar also masks the bitterness a bit.

However, if even mocha ice cream is too bitter for you, I'd suggest just trying it a little at a time until you become more acclimated to the taste.
posted by explosion at 5:54 PM on June 22, 2008

I learned to like coffee by starting out drinking the blended "frappechino" style drinks that coffee shops serve when I was younger. They're sweeter and creamier than regular coffee so they're a lot easier to drink, but at the same time they get you used to the taste. You could also try drinking coffee with a shot of Vanilla syrup in it, again it sweetens it and masks the bitterness a little.
posted by emperor.seamus at 5:54 PM on June 22, 2008

I also love the smell of coffee, but hated the taste. I kept adding more milk and sugar, and I hated it more and more. I also hate anything coffee-flavored. Then, one day, I just had a cup of black coffee. It was awesome.
posted by zsazsa at 5:55 PM on June 22, 2008

Man, if even coffee ice cream is too bitter for you, you've got a ways to go... I used to dislike coffee and had to work my way towards it slowly, but I'd always liked coffee ice cream and coffee yogurt.

Do you like chocolate? Maybe do hot chocolate with just a little bit of coffee mixed in, and then try to slowly up the coffee to hot chocolate ratio? (As a bonus you get the caffeine content of the chocolate too.)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 5:56 PM on June 22, 2008

If you don't like Mocha or coffee ice-cream there's a chance you'll never like coffee, in my opinion.

Do you like hot tea or iced tea? Iced tea is a healthier alternative to Diet Coke.

I think the best way to start liking coffee is to start drinking it. Don't overdo the sugar or flavorings, although a little flavor might be good in your case.

How I started drinking and liking coffee. I was probably 19 or so. I had a cup of Folgers at work. One cup of Folgers brewed, a little half and half, and a little sugar. Have a cup a day. It's like starting beer, you just have to drink it. No whining. If you're like me, in a year or two you won't be able to live without it!

But if you don't like coffee, no biggie. Don't force it if it's not your thing.
posted by LoriFLA at 5:57 PM on June 22, 2008

Incidentally, I personally find that adding chocolate doesn't help at all and in fact I've had some mocha's that actually taste more bitter than regular coffee, but that might just be me.
posted by emperor.seamus at 5:58 PM on June 22, 2008

I'm in the same boat as zsazsa. I learned to like coffee when I started drinking it black.

Coffee with sugar is especially gross, in my opinion, but I sometimes like it with a bit of cream now. I don't much like coffee flavored ice cream either, coffee candies, or anything like that.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 5:59 PM on June 22, 2008

emperor.seamus brings up a good point. Good chocolate is actually more bitter than coffee.
posted by explosion at 6:00 PM on June 22, 2008

Try a Caffè Americano from a decent coffee shop. It tastes like coffee, but is made with espresso so it has a smoother and, I find, milder taste than regular coffee. I say "decent coffee shop" though because there are a lot of coffee shops out there where the baristas unfortunately don't know the first thing about pulling a good shot, and in that case you probably won't like it very much.
posted by AV at 6:02 PM on June 22, 2008

I had the same problem - and then I worked in a coffee shop for a year. Start with sugar loaded frappe or milkshakes with just the slightest coffee taste. Then move onto the hot variety - the crappy instant (usually flavoured) coffee sachets made by Nestle and such are really very sweet and not at all bitter, although they do use pretty crappy coffee. Then just start weaning yourself off sugar laden stuff, and you'll probably acquire a taste for it (of course, YMMV). I would recommend a nice single cup plunger to make your coffee once you've got a taste for it. Also, certain blends of coffee don't have such a strong taste - go and speak to somebody at a Gloria Jeans (or somewhere similar) and they'll show you some blends that aren't as robust.

Tea is also good for those caffeine hots, if the coffee route doesn't work for you. =)
posted by cholly at 6:02 PM on June 22, 2008

I also don't like the taste of coffee, but without it I wouldn't have gotten through my last year of college. I take some instant coffee (I know, I know, but bear with me) and I mix it into a mug of very yummy hot cocoa (made with milk rather than with water). And that way, you can put two (or more) cups of coffee worth of caffeine into a drink that's actually delicious. Since the coffee is instant, the taste/consistency of the cocoa doesn't get watered down by the coffee.
posted by phunniemee at 6:04 PM on June 22, 2008

A good friend of mine is just like you--she loves the smell of coffee but hates the taste. Don't sweat it, you're not missing much.

Two points:

Have you tried just a shot of espresso with some sugar? I know you say you don't like the bitterness, but if you pour enough sugar in there it satisfies the caffeine prong while still having a sweet coffeeness to it.

Cold-brewed iced coffee is the best method yet devised for enjoying coffee with a
minimum of bitterness. Many of the bitter components of coffee are only released by the hot temperatures involved in brewing. Cold-brewing is basically just letting coffee grounds steep in cold water for a time; no hot water, no bitterness. There's really no recipe or trick to it. Ideally, you start with freshly ground coffee. Combine with water in whatever proportions you normally use. Let steep for 6-12 hours then filter, drink, and enjoy. The catch with all this being that you have to do this at home--but after trying it, chain iced coffee tastes watered down and disgusting.
posted by Brian James at 6:05 PM on June 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

You could try starting with iced coffee - colder things have less intense flavors.

I think repetition often breeds affection with flavors that are alienating at first - so if you really want to like coffee, see if you can push through for a while and just keep drinking it - maybe you'll habituate.
posted by yarrow at 6:06 PM on June 22, 2008

Try coffee brewed from just-ground whole beans, for one thing. Whole bean coffee, freshly ground and brewed, is to Maxwell House as Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese is to a green Kraft can of powdery parmesan-like substance.

Also try different types of coffee beans. Coffee is grown all over the world, and, like wine, different regions and climates produce strikingly different flavors. Some have more acid, some are sweeter, some are nuttier, some are very mild, and some are bold. Some even gets pooped out of the butts of Asian cat-like animals called civets and goes for $50/cup.

Your best bet is to walk into a small mom-and-pop coffee shop, or even a local roaster, if you can find one, and talk to them about wanting to learn to like coffee. Chances are you'll get some really good advice on where to start. (Starbucks is not the place to go for this; their coffee tends to be over-roasted, sometimes to the point of tasting burned.) Coffee nerds love to talk about coffee. Ask them!
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 6:06 PM on June 22, 2008

Learn a bit about the basics, courtesy of Alton Brown. The most important lesson is that using less coffee actually makes the end product more bitter. The best coffee uses a lot of grounds (two tablespoons of grounds per 6 oz of water).

You might also try using a cold brew system, which should extract fewer bitter flavors.

Grind your own beans or at least have some ground fresh at a coffee shop (one that roasts its own beans!) and use them immediately. Have the coffee shop recommend a mild roast. I would strongly recommend a pure Jamaican Blue Mountain. It's an expensive variety to buy a lot of, but you'll only want enough to make a few cups.

If you are wary of buying a coffee grinder just to try making coffee at home, remember that the grinder can also be used to make freshly ground spices from whole spices, which keep better.
posted by jedicus at 6:09 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I actually didn't start to like coffee until I tried Greek/Turkish coffee. It was strong, but it was the first time that I felt like I was actually tasting something that came close to the good smell of coffee. It usually has some sugar in it.
posted by stefnet at 6:12 PM on June 22, 2008

Like the others, black is the way to go.

I started drinking dry cappuccino's (extra extra dry - spoon-the-foam-on dry) and eventually dropped that for straight double espresso's.

Because I much prefer to stay home and drink coffee rather than go out these days, I make my own coffee using an Aeropress. I prefer bold coffee's, but would suggest something in a medium (not mild) 'strength' if you want to start drinking it black.

The lovely thing about the aeropress is that you lose a lot of the bitterness you get with coffee where the water and grounds spend a little more time together. It's pretty hard for me to drink drip at this point.

I <3 my press!
posted by Incognita at 6:12 PM on June 22, 2008

Cold-brewed iced coffee is the best method yet devised for enjoying coffee with a minimum of bitterness.

Indeed. My iced coffee addiction is pretty serious but I'd rather go without the stuff than drink it warm.
posted by Kwantsar at 6:17 PM on June 22, 2008

Oh, ha! You're in Brisbane so I suspect that you can't find a generic iced coffee unless you look really hard. You may find better availability with an iced Americano, which is more highbrow and perhaps a bit tastier.
posted by Kwantsar at 6:19 PM on June 22, 2008

Here is how I learned to love coffee: gelato affogato ("drowned ice cream"). Put a scoop of good vanilla ice cream in a small bowl. Pour a fresh, hot shot of espresso over top. Consume.

Coffee brewed in a stovetop moka pot will also work for this, but drip coffee is too watery.

I do not like sweet, milky coffee drinks--I like an unsweetened cappuccino and a sweetened espresso--but I do like coffee as an accompaniment to sweet, milky desserts. Maybe you will too.
posted by redfoxtail at 6:20 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

You can learn to like almost any food (or drink) given time and patience. Bitter foods are difficult since we're biologically biased to be wary of them, since bitterness often indicates alkaloid contents and many alkaloids are toxic. In order to like coffee, you need to train yourself to recognise it as safe and then as delicious.

Here's how I'd do it. Make coffee every day. Add as much sugar as you want - it's relatively easy to decrease the amount of sugar later on. Drink as much of it as you can, but at least drink a little bit. You'll find that over the course of a month or two, it'll become more and more palatable, until you start to like it.
posted by xchmp at 6:20 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

A teeny pinch of salt in the pot can really cut down the bitter flavour.
posted by reflecked at 6:21 PM on June 22, 2008

For a different solution, how about buying a pack of those indonesian lollies, Kopiko? Sucking a few of them would get you closer to the real thing, painlessly.
posted by wilful at 6:21 PM on June 22, 2008

I also recommend tea for your caffeine fix if coffee doesn't work out. There are some fantastic black teas that don't have that "hot water" taste most cheap, unfortunately common teas do.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:24 PM on June 22, 2008

I want to like coffee so I can use it to feed my caffeine habit

If you hate the taste so much, why not just keep drinking the liquids you do like and then chew caffeine gum or pop a caffeine pill?
posted by HotPatatta at 6:36 PM on June 22, 2008

Try iced coffee--just strong coffee and ice. The temperature will deaden your tastebuds yet you'll still get the blessed caffeine. Tart it up with milk and/or sweetener and see if you eventually develop a taste.

You may not. I love broccoli raab, sauerkraut, stinky cheeses, ceviche, all sorts of sour/bitter tastes, but I don't like hot black coffee, however artfully brewed. I drink lots of coffee with lots of milk. I'm fairly picky about my hot lattes but I've survived many a summer drinking Bustelo Instant on ice with milk.

If you want to get off diet drinks--which is an excellent idea--tea is a good caffeinated alternative, and the flavor range is wider.
posted by dogrose at 6:43 PM on June 22, 2008

Buy better coffee, buy whole bean and make one cup at a time. I love coffee, but pre-ground Folgers/Maxwell House is just way too bitter for me to drink. Whole bean coffees in grocery stores are ok, but it's even better if you get it from a place that roasts its own beans or a good co-op/hippie store.
posted by stavrogin at 6:43 PM on June 22, 2008

If after adding milk you still find it too bitter then forget it. Move on to a more sweet palate friendly caffeine source. Perhaps No-Doze. The essence of coffee is bitter. If you don't like that then you really should go elsewhere for your fix. Anyway, coffee is about the taste, and that is somewhat bitter, at least as much if not more so than about the drug within. If all you seek is the drug, and the beautiful bitter and rich essence that is a great cup of coffee (preferably black and strong) offends your palate then you might find more solace in the pure essence of the drug.
posted by caddis at 6:44 PM on June 22, 2008

I didn't learn to like coffee until after my friends were already drinking it black. Now, I love love LOVE coffee--the blacker the better. I would recommend starting with good coffee first. Buy or borrow a coffee mill and grind some quality beans up right before you brew them. Use good water! If your water doesn't taste good warm, then the coffee you make with it won't taste good either. Use bottled or filtered water. It makes a huge difference, I think. I would experiment with different sweeteners (agave nectar) and creamers - stuff from a natural foods store. Then gradually ween yourself off the adjuncts until you are slurping the black goodness of plain coffee. It is an acquired taste, but once you acquire it, you can't imagine that there was ever a day that you didn't love black coffee.
posted by keith0718 at 7:05 PM on June 22, 2008

I was in your shoes a year or two ago. I also didn't like coffee ice cream and still avoid it, even though I like coffee now. Honestly, what I did was go to Starbucks. That is what they are for- frapuaccinos have very little coffee taste, imo. I tried one for the first time recently and did not like it. Too little coffee taste for me now- a novel concept to my palate, considering. Try those, then move to hot coffee drinks. Now, I like a cinnamon dolce latte. I know this makes me such a poser but hey, they taste good. Sometimes Starbucks can be erratic re: burnt/bitter flavor of their coffee, so try more than once if you get a bad one. Then, once you get used to those try a straight up, if you're brave, or a vanilla/caramel cappuccino or latte at another coffee place that does not put eight kinds of crap in their coffee like Starbucks. Then move on to black coffee or coffee with milk and sugar if you want, but don't feel like you must. Try different kinds- the least bitter coffee I ever tasted was some kind of "Vienna roast"- not burnt and bitter tasting at all. Good luck!
posted by MadamM at 7:11 PM on June 22, 2008

Cold brewing!

And use a mild roast. (Which means not Starbucks; they badly overroast everything they sell.)
posted by Class Goat at 7:11 PM on June 22, 2008

Try an iced coffee from McDonald's. It's not really high-quality coffee or anything, but it's very palatable.

If you actually get used to the taste of coffee, you should invest in a cold brew system. It takes away a lot of the acidity/bitterness that you notice in "regular" coffee.
posted by arianell at 7:12 PM on June 22, 2008

I'm a coffee geek and there are some coffees, and methods of coffee preparation, that I cannot stand. But not all coffee is created equal, and part of appreciating coffee is recognising its diversity and complexity and finding a bean, roast, and brew that works for you. In all cases- ALL cases- you should use fresh (not more than a couple of weeks off the roast, and if you can't find a roast date, on the package or from the reseller, look for another bean) coffee that is ground JUST BEFORE BREWING. NEVER, and I mean NEVER, buy pre-ground coffee- there is no leap in quality, bean/machine/freshness/whatever- that can improve your cup more than grinding fresh. A Panama Hacienda la Esmerelda (the most expensive coffee in the world, right now) that is ground hours or days before brewing is going to taste like stale shit because coffee stales the second it's ground.

With those caveats- freshly-roasted (again, try to buy not more than 2 weeks after roasting but not less than 3 days, as there is such a thing as "too fresh," too), freshly ground beans (which means: BUY A GRINDER; a burr grinder isn't going to be super cheap but needn't be overly expensive and it will last many years), you can experiment. Try press pots, drip, cold extraction- those are all cheap. Espresso is not cheap unfortunately but is the pick brew for many coffeegeeks (myself very much included), but you can have so much fun with coffee, trying different single-origin beans (brew an Ethiopian Sidamo one day and try a Costa Rican Tirrazu the next- they're as different as Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc), then try them with different roast profiles, then try different blends, then try different roasters... then try those beans in a press pot versus a drip maker...

Oh, the places you'll go! Have fun!
posted by ethnomethodologist at 7:23 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I love coffee. I've always loved coffee, even decaf, even before the caffeine addiction set in. But then, I also love dark beer, olives, broccoli, and I've been known to eat plain squares of unsweetened baker's chocolate. Coffee is bitter, and if you don't like bitter flavors then you're not going to be able to enjoy it on its own terms.

So why force it? It sure does smell good, but smelling isn't tasting. Get yourself a coffee-scented candle and a nice mug of tea.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:43 PM on June 22, 2008

Yeah just drink it black. Goddamn I love coffee.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 7:49 PM on June 22, 2008

I have, occasionally, had a shot of espresso that tastes like coffee smells. Even going to the best (IMHO) places here in Seattle, it's a crapshoot, but it is possible. You might want to see if you can find somewhere that will make a good ristretto shot.

Many people describe Starbucks' coffee as burned-tasting; it's their house style, I guess. Try other places. Tiny shops run by wild-haired coffee fanatics who know (or are) the roaster are, I like to think, a better bet. They're more fun, at least.
posted by hattifattener at 7:51 PM on June 22, 2008

All coffee aficionados rave about the beauty of a dark roast, but I have never been feeling it. Dark roasted coffee tastes like bitter bitter bitterness to me. I suggest buying a nice light roast, brewing it weak to start, and drinking that black until you find some coffee that you like.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:56 PM on June 22, 2008

ikkyu2 makes a good point.
posted by caddis at 8:01 PM on June 22, 2008

I learned to like coffee when I started drinking it black.

I am going to join the chorus of those people who say they learned to like coffee by drinking it black.

Here's the thing about coffee: like many things that are acquired tastes, you have to go through a period of consuming it without understanding what people who like it like about it. Nobody "just likes" coffee when they first try it. Yes, it's bitter. Once you "get" what there is to like about coffee, you will like the bitterness. Coffee isn't like the other beverages that you drink --- it's sui generis --- and you must go through a period of acclimating yourself to what coffee is about, before you begin to like it.

Drinking it black is the best way to learn to like it, because any way you can doctor it up is just masking or dulling what coffee is. I sometimes put cream in my coffee when I'm in the mood for it, but for years I only drank it black.
posted by jayder at 8:08 PM on June 22, 2008

As someone very sensitive to bitter tastes in anything, I have to respectfully disagree with everyone who says "take it black". I still cannot drink even good coffee black, even after 10 years.

Try lots of half-and-half. That cuts the bitterness even better than milk. Once you find a drinkable level, then start dialing it back to normal levels. Bonus: you won't be burning your tongue.

And yes, definitely the non-dark roasts, and a pinch of sugar.
posted by timepiece at 8:09 PM on June 22, 2008

I didn't start liking the taste of coffee until I began working at a cafe where they took coffee and teaching baristas to pull a decent shot very seriously. Good coffee, and well-brewed espresso, are far smoother than the swill you get at Starbucks or its ilk. As others suggested, I would find a very good coffee place by you and try for an iced Americano, with maybe a shot of flavoring.
posted by schroedinger at 8:10 PM on June 22, 2008

I think there are two, almost opposite ways to have coffee. One is to supplement the flavor with things that mask the bitterness. That includes iced coffee with cream and sugar (tastes kinda like coffee ice-cream), lattes, etc. I would suggest starting out with drinks that don't have all that much coffee in them, such as single-lattes, so that you get the smell and flavor, but it's more of a coffee-flavored drink than actual coffee.

The alternative is to find a source of really good coffee and take it straight. Believe it or not, espresso does not have to be bitter, though 95% of the cafes I've been to can't make it right. If you find some really, really high quality coffee, I think you will find it much less bitter than you expect. Finding a cafe which makes really good, non-bitter espresso, is quite a quest though ...

Speaking of dark roast -- I never got it. For a while, I had the attitude of "I'm a man -- I'll have the darkest possible coffee." And I was wondering why a lot of the coffee tasted burnt. Again, the reason is that dark roasts are, in general, more bitter; but also harder to get just right. Once I got past wanting a stiff shot of coffee, my enjoyment significantly improved. Very often, places over-roast their coffee, as it lets them use fewer beans to get a large amount of beverage -- but of dubious quality. In my opinion, Starbucks is horribly guilty of this.
posted by bsdfish at 8:19 PM on June 22, 2008

Apologies if I missed someone who said this already, but I think I have the magic bullet. Sounds like adding various parts sugar and milk don't work; for me, going with iced blunts the smell too much. So if you haven't already, try coffee with chicory, perhaps prepared in the Louisiana style. I love black coffee, so I am not the best judge, but to me it makes it taste lots less bitter.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:55 PM on June 22, 2008

So, to not answer your question, coffee does indeed taste like ass. If you want caffeine without drinking diet coke try black tea. If you get a strong black tea there's a reasonable amount of caffeine in there. I find a couple cups of tea to be more palatable than any amount of coffee and it is a reasonable pick-me-up. A cup of strong tea has more caffeine than a can of diet coke according to this list of caffeine content. And don't get herbal tea or green tea or any of than nonsense - get some Twinning English Breakfast or some Tetley or some other decent, basic black tea. Much better than coffee in terms of taste, not as much caffeine.
posted by GuyZero at 9:34 PM on June 22, 2008

So, to not answer your question, coffee does indeed taste like ass.

You've obviously been around a much more succulent brand of ass, or done something to offend your local barista.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:15 PM on June 22, 2008

I'll chime in on cold press coffee... I started drinking it last summer after reading this article and recipe, with the following additional notes:
1) I didn't order any fancy mail order beans. $5 for a pound can of Luzianne at my local Yankee supermarket did fine.
2) I find the 1/4 cup amount to be just right, either as-is (like a cold shot of espresso) or mixed with 8-12 oz. vanilla soy milk. (Regular-er milks are also good, but vanilla makes it super yummy.)
3) Be sure you have good sieves for the process. Cheesecloth works well as the fine-mesh.
4) You end up with a lot, which you can then share with friends.
posted by knile at 10:39 PM on June 22, 2008

Apologies if I missed it in the previous comments, but the first thing that sprang to my mind is you gotta lay off the Diet Coke if you want to have a true appreciation for coffee or anything else that rolls over your tongue. You have become accustomed to a brew of artificial flavor and fake sweetness. By all means, stick with it if you like it. I'm just saying...
posted by quarterframer at 10:43 PM on June 22, 2008

I can't be bothered reading through all of these, so someone may have given the same advice, but when I was in university, I felt the same way about coffee as you. I taught myself to like it by drinking hot chocolate and adding a dash at first and then a little more coffee to it every day. Now I'm a double espresso straight-up kind of girl.
posted by heffalump at 1:24 AM on June 23, 2008

Have you tried a coffee Breaka? Ice Break is quite strong, but coffee Breaka is a good gateway caffeine delivery system.
posted by goo at 1:34 AM on June 23, 2008

'As someone very sensitive to bitter tastes in anything, I have to respectfully disagree with everyone who says "take it black". I still cannot drink even good coffee black, even after 10 years.'

I agree with this. Are you a supertaster, perhaps? That would explain the extreme sensitivity to bitterness. I seem to be in this situation as well (which is sad, because I am married to a beer aficionado, and alcoholic drinks in general are too bitter for me). But I love coffee and am able to drink it, though never, ever black.

What I found is that espresso tastes far less bitter to me than standard coffee, unless it's Starbucks-type espresso which is bitter anyway. So I stick with espresso. Originally I would get lattes with a single shot but more milk than usual, and add a bunch of honey. This would kill the bitterness (except at Starbucks, where the bitterness is eternal) and I could drink the coffee and still get enough of the flavor and aroma to enjoy it.

As time has gone on, I have been able to cut back on the milk and sugar. Now I usually have a cappuccino in the European size (one shot and a little bit of foamed and steamed milk) and less sugar than I used to have, and it's good. Not usually bitter any more. And my new favorite drink is an espresso macchiato marked with half and half instead of milk, and a little sugar -- it's just a tiny bit of half and half, but it kills bitterness nicely. I have my own espresso machine and I make drinks that are very much non-bitter.

However, your sensitivity to coffee bitterness seems even stronger than mine. If adding more milk and more sugar isn't doing the trick, I'm not sure... but try espresso of the non-overroasted variety, with milk or half and half plus sugar, and see if you can get it to a point where you can tolerate it. It is odd that espresso is less bitter to me than plain coffee, since it is strong, but considering the typical method of making it, I guess it would bring fewer of the bitter compounds out of the beans than a longer brewing method would.
posted by litlnemo at 4:10 AM on June 23, 2008

I learned to love coffee during the week I spent on a boat where there was no other source of caffeine.

(Grammar, much? MORE COFFEE PLZ.)
posted by shiny blue object at 4:50 AM on June 23, 2008

I'll pass on my experience. For more than 20 years, I've been trying to acquire a taste for coffee - some times more actively than others. In my case, it was mostly for social reasons than anything else, as most of my family and extended family are heavy coffee drinkers.

I too love the smell of brewing coffee. I love the smell of freshly ground coffee beans. I love the smell of a good, hot cup just poured.

I can't abide by the flavor. It's just nasty and bitter. Even strong, it tastes watery and bitter. Coffee may as well be bilge water to me.

Ah, but here's the rub: I love coffee ice cream. It's one of my favorite flavors.

So, for many years I applied the same technique that I applied to other foods I couldn't stand - I just stubbornly kept trying them until I acquired a taste for them and would tolerate or even enjoy them. This has worked for cauliflower, broccoli, black olives, lamb and a number of other foods. Stubborn persistence always paid off.

Not with coffee.

I talked to coffee lovers about it - and each claimed that maybe I've just never had "good coffee" and I've turned that around to them - "fine then - bring me good coffee." Fail, fail, fail and more fail.

There has been success only once. I challenged the barrista at Cafe Barrone and she mixed a concoction that was essentially, lightly sugared coffee with cream with a heaping pile of heavy whipped cream piped on top. She essentially made coffee ice cream. I could've chilled this and churned it into coffee ice cream - so it was really a technical fail (or success) depending on your point of view.

At this point, I can discretely sip a cup down in a social situation - but that's about it.

My advice - try if you wish, but look to another caffeine source is that's what you want/crave/need. Mine is diet soda.
posted by plinth at 5:52 AM on June 23, 2008

I want to second one thing, and add something else. First - make sure you are buying good coffee. What is "good coffee" is a harder question, and depends on your tastes. Second - while this probably won't help the "bitterness" aspect, I found a whole new world of coffee after I started making it (or even getting it made) in a French Press. Starbucks in a lot of places will do this for you, and while i'm not a huge fan of Starbucks coffee, the difference between the "standard brewed" coffee and the french press is huge.

I do have to have my coffee really sweet before drinking it. I usually do this with a lot of Splenda.
posted by arimathea at 6:07 AM on June 23, 2008

See if you can track down some Brazilian coffee. It doesn't have to be anything fancy. Anyone who visits us is amazed by how different even our cheap grocery store brands taste. They lack the bitter taste and acidity that you usually associate with coffee. Now when I go back to the U.S. I only drink espresso (and variations thereof) because I can't stand the flavor of good ol' brew.
posted by wallaby at 6:12 AM on June 23, 2008

Nthing trying really good coffee. I had Jamaicain blue mountain a few times, and it's really good. It's the only coffee I tried that actually has a good after-taste to it. High quality means really expensive, so I suggest trying it in a cafe/coffee brewery first (Over here it's about 7$ for the equivalent of 2 cups)
posted by domi_p at 8:09 AM on June 23, 2008

Even the finest mild roast coffee prepared with clear spring water in a pristine brewer tastes a little like it’s drunk from an ashtray that was cleaned with diesel fuel. Coffee is nasty. How I became addicted, I’ll never know.

Hot foamed whole milk, white sugar, cinnamon, maybe some cardamom or even a teeny bit of raw shaved coconut and drinking it very hot help smooth it out. But it’s still nasty. And not good nasty like blue cheese or grapefruit juice. If my innards would cooperate, I would go back to tea in a heartbeat. I keep a couple of cinnamon sticks and sometimes a vanilla bean in my coffee at home.

As to adding milk and sugar: You can’t put in enough sweet to cancel out the bitter, just add a little sweet for that extra flavor. If you add cold milk, the whole thing gets colder and therefore nastier. (Just reading the posts about cold coffee makes me slightly ill. Bleech.) My best is maybe a ¼ volume-wise of foamed milk. (This also adds air which has no taste at all – there may be some magic involved.)

For my money, cream is too fatty and the thing turns into an oily mess. A “shot” of anything turns my cup into a streaming brew of foul cough syrup.

I do find South and Central American coffee is less offensive than African coffee so if you are bound and determined to gag down some java, that’s my advice. If you can avoid coffee, run and don't look back.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:59 AM on June 23, 2008

I'll second the Aeropress, it really eliminates the bitterness. At some point last year I decided to go on a diet and that meant no more milk or sugar in my coffee (I found out that coffee is less than 10 calories that way and an excellent appetite suppressant) The problem was I found black coffee too bitter. I did some research on the net and found that people were raving about the Aeropress. It wasn't too expensive so I bought one. What I've found is that by tweaking the temp of the water, the amount of coffee, the time I take to grind etc I can make coffee exactly the way I like it every time. If you are a closet scientist this is the coffee maker for you because there are unlimited possibilities to tweak each cup.
posted by any major dude at 7:16 PM on June 23, 2008

Thanks for all these suggestions guys. Sometime over the next few days I will try each of the following things to try and get myself into coffee...

1) Ground coffee, black. If that doesn't suit, I'll try black with two sugars.
2) I'll try and find a great coffee shop here in Brisbane that does a Caffè Americano.
3) I'll try an iced coffee.

I'll let you know how I go, and assign best answers to match.
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:50 PM on June 23, 2008

A little late in the game, but I'd also suggest pairing coffee with food. Here's a chart with some ideas. Some foods really compliment a coffee and can taste like a different (tastier) coffee altogether.
posted by unsigned at 9:16 PM on June 24, 2008

Oooh, I like that questions are open for a year! So, how did you go, Effigy2000? Have you learned to love coffee yet? You said you'd post back....

(x-posted to MeMail)
posted by goo at 4:43 PM on January 9, 2009

goo: "So, how did you go, Effigy2000? Have you learned to love coffee yet? You said you'd post back....)"

I ended up trying an Iced Coffee first. Didn't really like it at all, and to be honest, it scared me off trying 1 and 2. But it's a new year so I may try 1 or 2 sometime soon. Just a bit gun shy at the moment, I must admit.
posted by Effigy2000 at 6:15 PM on January 9, 2009

Ah, cool. Maybe try a cafe iced coffee (with heaps of chocolate and whippped cream) or the chocolate-covered coffee beans - but your profile lists you as living in Brisbane so it's not like you are short for choice (in chain or independent coffee shops), or even the supermarkets - you can grind your own beans and let us know how you go!

Heh, nah - it can be an acquired taste. I wish you all the best in your search for good coffee, and wish I was tasting it for the first time to be able to help you more!
posted by goo at 6:51 PM on January 9, 2009

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