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What's the dealio with not-so-hot coffee?

Oh, don't get me started. This was the bane of my life as a barista, and I know it frustrates baristas on end in the international industry. However, I'm not here to simply rant and complain at people, but instead I'm here to talk to you a little bit and tell you exactly why your coffee is, well, not so hot.

Now, don't get this confused with cold coffee. Seriously, just don't. Your coffee is warmer than lukewarm by quite a considerable amount, but this doesn't stop many a customer coming up and arguing that their beverage is cold. But this isn't a post about iced lattes, so we'll leave that negativity at the door.


The general consensus is that coffee should be steamed with the machine until it reaches 60 degrees (celsius boys and girls, otherwise - yes, that would be cold!) although there is room for difference, with baristas saying anywhere from 50 - 70 degrees. Technically, milk continues to heat up for a short period after you stop steaming, and therefore what you may believe will be a 60 degree drink will actually hop up to about 70, so just bare this in mind.

On the other hand, Costa Coffee, Starbucks, and non-specialty shops in general (large or small), tend to ignore this and steam that milk into oblivion. Why is that? Well, I'm not entirely sure why, but whatever they did has now paved the way for many a customer complaint to these poor baristas.

Now, we're not just being pretentious baristas and not allowing you your drink in the way that you demand it (and it usually is demanded). Instead, we're actually trying to look out for you, which you may struggle to believe (but honestly, it's the truth)! Truth be told, and trust me on this: your coffee will taste much better if it's at a lower temperature. And to be honest, there's quite a simple bit of science to support this.


So milk contains proteins - and most of you will already know this. As milk is heated up, what were once tightly coiled protein molecules slowly uncoil, wrapping around air bubbles and creating that awesome microfoam texture hard to achieve with any alternative milk beverage. However, heat the milk too much and the proteins will break down and uncoil completely, making the texture of the milk much harder to work with (and much less appetising). Therefore, the temperature to which your milk is heated determines the mouthfeel of the drink, and how satisfying that will feel. Those milky lattes will feel much more creamier.

Another reason, and probably the most commonly expressed reason, as to why milk is not, and should not, be heated above a certain temperature, is down to its perceived sweetness. The carbohydrates in milk are gradually broken down when heat is added to the liquid, instead breaking down into smaller 'simple sugars'. Although the same level of sugar is still there, the smaller the chain of the carbohydrates/sugars there is, the easiest it is for us to taste. However, there is a breaking point. Heat the milk up to too high of a temperature and the molecules will break down the proteins - resulting in a curdling effect. This in turn, will make your coffee taste burnt. Lovely jubbly.

The last thing to consider is the fact that our tastebuds can only identify flavour to a certain temperature, and after that we simply detect heat. If a coffee is ordered 'extra hot', the customer cannot taste the beverage that they are consuming until after it's called down to the temperature the barista recommends. However, once it reaches that point it's too late - as the proteins have curdled and the milk has been over-steamed, the coffee tastes bitter and burnt - unlike the creaminess of a less-hot-latte.


So there you have it - a little conversation about the reason your coffee shop drink may not be as hot as what you may expect. I promise you it's not us trying to be snooty, and it's definitely not us trying to get as many people in and out of the doors as we can in a day. Baristas are passionate about their cups of coffee that they create, and burning these drinks after all of that handicraft hardwork with their espresso does dampen spirits if you start obliterating drinks with 'extra hot' variations.

But hey, I don't want to start upsetting people. If you like it extra hot, then have it extra hot. I don't want to make people change their favourite drinks. I know there are many reasons why people order extra hot coffee, one of them being that they can afford only one item a day and want it to last. Honestly, if something like that is the case do not change what you're doing because of this article. Heck, save it for the next time you come in and treat yourself to a sit in drink, but other than that keep doing what you do - I love you for it!

Until next time, lovelies - have a wonderful day.

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