Around 90% of us drink espresso coffee with a milky base (lattes, flat whites) which masks the true coffee taste. If you want to really experience the full range of flavours in single origins, try soft brew. As the name suggests this method of coffee-making is a much gentler process than espresso – where water is forced through the group head under pressure. With filter, chemex or plunger, you’ll get a softer, smoother, less intense and less bitter tasting coffee.
Go back twenty-five years or so and filter coffee was the hot drink of choice — espresso didn’t figure on the radar of the average man on the street. Espresso has since become a national preoccupation in New Zealand and overseas, but soft brew coffee is starting to experience something of a renaissance, so we asked Chris White to give us the what, why and how of soft brew.
“Soft brew makes it much easier to pick up on the distinct taste characteristics coffee,” he explained. “For example, it’s hard to distinguish between the flavour characteristics of Kenyan and Guatemalan coffee in an espresso – but as soft brew you get a much better flavour range on your palate and can really pick up on the nuances.”
Many people don’t feel the need to balance their coffee with milk when drinking soft brew due to the less intense flavour. “I like being able to taste the different flavour profiles and I always drink soft brew coffee black,” said Chris. “You can add a little milk to taste but you’ll lose some of the purity of flavour. I drink soft brew at home – in fact I don’t even own an espresso machine!”
Soft brew is great if you’re learning about coffee and want to understand more about single origins and your own palate, says Chris. But if you’ve never experimented with soft brew, what equipment do you need and how do you get started?
“Buy a chemex or plunger and start with a Kenyan single origin,” advises Chris. “Kenyan coffee is quite sweet – it’s a nice gentle one and suits most palates – then go to Costa Rican for more body. You’ll be able to start telling the difference between sweetness of Kenyan and the more floral taste of single origins like the Ethiopians — which have notes of pineapple flesh and big juicy flavours.”
Every month at Altura Coffee, we select and profile one or two different small-batch single origins, profiling the region of origin and tasting notes. You can find this month’s specials here.If you’d like to try soft brew for yourself, we’ve picked a couple of the best starter options, have a look at the Brewista and Grindripper on the Accessories page of our website.