The daily grind a matter of taste

From Starbucks to star shots, CHOICE rates the best coffee

Go to any shopping centre or main street and you're certain to find a coffee chain store, but that’s no guarantee you’ll get a good brew.

With the help of a couple of baristas and our own home economist, CHOICE put the big chains' coffee beans and coffee makers to the sword and found big differences in quality and consistency.

The first test involved tasting espressos made from each of the chain's standard coffee beans using the same espresso machine, each brewed exactly the same way.

Our experts declared Michel's Patisserie Espresso beans the clear winner with a taste test score of 80%, while beans from Starbucks and Gloria Jean's received the lowest scores of 45% and 40% respectively.

CHOICE also found there are many factors beyond the coffee beans that can affect how your coffee tastes after visiting three outlets from Gloria Jean's, Michel's and Starbucks.

""Those factors include the grinder setting and milk temperature and most are determined by the barista," says CHOICE spokesman Brad Schmitt.

"We found a wide variation in temperature, taste and consistency in the cappuccinos we ordered, despite each outlet in the same chain using the same brand of machine and coffee beans."

US giant Starbucks came out on top for consistency. However, as barista trainer Matthew Gee noted: "If you favour a stronger, bolder flavour, the Starbucks consistency won't necessarily give you a great tasting coffee".

Gee says the key to making good coffee is to adjust the grinder to ensure a constant 30mL shot is extracted in about 25 to 30 seconds.

"In seven of the nine outlets we visited the shots were either under or over extracted, meaning the water has passed through the coffee too quickly or slowly, so their coffee didn't stand a chance of being outstanding."

What to look for:

  • Fresh, locally roasted beans, ground in-store;
  • Espresso shot extracted in about 25 secs;
  • Thermometer being used to ensure milk is right temperature;
  • Clean and tidy equipment and surfaces.

* Did you know?

A four-year study of Melbourne coffee drinkers showed chain outlets are preferred by young females and people born overseas. By contrast, independent cafes are preferred by Australian-born customers and are popular with older coffee drinkers.

Check out our coffee machine reviews when deciding which coffee marker to buy! 

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