Finding the best coffee

Our taste test results reveal the best – and the rest - of 10 coffee chain beans.
 
Learn more
 
 
 
 
 

01 .Introduction

Cup of coffee

Coffee chains dominate our shopping centres, airports and main streets, but which serves the best cup of coffee?

CHOICE conducted a two-part test to see how the coffee of these major chains stack up.

1. We asked the 10 chains what coffee beans they use as standard. We then purchased these same beans. Our experts tasted and rated espressos we made from the beans, using our own coffee machine here at CHOICE.

2. Then for a comparison of how the coffee actually tastes at the outlets themselves, one of our experts sampled coffees at Gloria Jean's, Michel’s Patisserie and Starbucks. Our taste test confirmed that there's more to a good brew than simply a good-quality bean.

The coffee beans used by Michel’s Espresso were a clear winner, with a taste test score of 80%. Our experts commented on the “good colour” of its crema, its “smooth” flavour and “pleasant” aftertaste, with “no detectable bitterness”. Beans from Starbucks and Gloria Jean’s, on the other hand, received the lowest scores of 45% and 40% respectively. Starbucks had a “very light” crema that disappeared quickly, while Gloria Jean’s was criticised for its “thin” crema, “strange aroma” and unpleasant flavour. Both were marked down for their “watery” mouthfeel and “bitter” aftertaste.

Factors affecting your coffee

There are many factors, beyond the beans, that can affect how your coffee tastes, including the grinder setting and milk temperature. Most are determined by the barista or, more broadly, the quality control measures the café or coffee chain has implemented.

For a snapshot of the consistency in quality of coffee served by chains, Matthew Gee, one of our experts, visited three outlets of each of Gloria Jean’s, Michel’s and Starbucks. In each shop he ordered a cappuccino – the most popular coffee order, according to our recent online poll – and recorded his observations on appearance, temperature, taste and consistency across the three.

Despite the fact all outlets in the same chain used the same brand of machine, coffee beans and milk, Matthew found quality was variable - a fact he puts down to the skill and knowledge of the barista.

“The barista’s key input lies in the adjustment of the grinder to ensure that a constant 30mL shot is extracted in about 25 to 30 seconds, and to a lesser extent, the pouring technique,” he says.

It’s not unusual to need to change the grinder setting up to eight times a day to keep the extraction rate consistent; this is dependent on a range of factors including air temperature, humidity, a new bag of beans being opened and so on. But seven of the nine outlets Matthew visited produced shots that were either under- or over-extracted (meaning that water has passed through the ground coffee too quickly or slowly), so their coffee did not stand a chance of being outstanding.

All chains tested told us they run barista training programs for franchisees and/or employees; however, the results of this training appear to be varied.

What to look for in a coffee

For your best shot at getting a consistently good cuppa every time you buy, check that:

  • The beans used are locally roasted and fresh (ask if you’re not sure) and that they are ground in-store (look for a grinder near the coffee machine).
  • The flow of your espresso shot looks like honey dripping off a spoon, is brown in colour and should come through in about 25 seconds (time the shot
    if you like).
  • A thermometer is used to ensure the milk hits the right temperature.
  • All equipment and surfaces are clean and tidy.

See our review of ground coffee for more coffee tips.

 
 

Sign up to our free
e-Newsletter

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.

 

For 85% of free range buyers, animal welfare considerations are among the reasons for their choice.

So it’s not surprising that, for our survey respondents, the meaning of ‘free range’ strongly relates to the freedom of birds to move around and access the outdoors. According to our respondents, free range means:

  • birds are never confined in cages (69% of respondents)
  • birds have more space as a maximum number of birds is allowed outdoor per hectare (66%) and/or,
  • birds have easy access to pasture (65%).

Unfortunately, images of contented, clucking chooks flapping their wings, dust bathing, socialising and roaming around open green pastures aren’t always the reality.

Stocking density confusion

The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry is a voluntary national guide to the poultry industry, and designates a maximum outdoor stocking density of 1500 birds per hectare for free range layer hens.

It states that a proportionately higher stocking density for meat hens than for layers may be used, and goes on to say that "any higher bird density is acceptable only where regular rotation of birds onto fresh range areas occurs and close management is undertaken which provides some continuing fodder cover".

Whether or not this final clause relates specifically to meat hens, or to both meat and layer hens, is open to the interpretation of state and territory governments.

For example, NSW told us its interpretation is that it applies to birds in both egg and meat production systems. Queensland, on the other hand, says its understanding is that the clause is only applicable to meat chickens. While Queensland was the only state with a legislated maximum outdoor stocking density for free range which was set at 1500 birds per hectare, in line with the Code of Practice, it increased that limit to 10,000 birds per hectare in 2013.

The maximum number of birds allowed in outdoor spaces can differ enormously under the various free range standards. Examples include:

  • 750 birds per hectare - Free Range Farmers Association (Vic) 
  • 1500 or 2500 birds per hectare (if the outdoor system has a fixed range area or rotational range access respectively) - RSPCA
  • 10,000 birds per hectare - the limit adopted by Coles and Woolworths for their own brand of "free range" eggs.
  • 20,000 birds per hectare - as proposed by the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd and rejected by the ACCC. This would be a 13-fold increase on the Model Code of Practice's 1500 hens per hectare. 

According to AECL, 29% of free-range egg production in Australia stock at densities higher than 20,000 hens per hectare.

Which stocking density is best?

In arguing for an increase to 20,000 birds per hectare, AECL cited research conducted by the Scottish Agricultural College which shows that densities greater than the equivalent of 20,000 birds per hectare “impose some constraint of free expression of behaviour.”

What wasn't highlighted was that this isolated 2006 study looked at behavioural responses to different indoor floor space allowances in small groups of just five or six hens.

The College told CHOICE that this density wouldn’t necessarily be suitable outdoors, “where birds are more likely to spread out when foraging, and where droppings and thus parasite and nitrogen loads etc would have to be taken into consideration.”

AECL also refered to a survey of over 5000 consumers which it commissioned, which asked about acceptance of varying outdoor stocking densities based on visual representations of these densities. It reported community acceptance of a wide range of free range outdoor stocking densities from less than 500 to more than 25,000 hens per hectare.

In our survey, we asked consumers what they’d consider to be a reasonable maximum outdoor stocking density for free range egg laying hens. 

  • Less than 1% of respondents supported 20,000 birds per hectare
  • Stocking densities at the lower end of the scale were more popular (1,500 and 750 birds per hectare were nominated by 16% and 12% of respondents respectively)
  • However 65% of respondents said they didn’t know. 

For more details see our Free Range Key Findings Report (pdf).

This reinforces our opinion that a maximum stocking density shouldn’t be predominantly based on consumer research, but rather on a broader body of relevant independent, scientific research in conjunction with consumer research, and with consultation with all stakeholder groups.

free-range-chickens-coles-and-woolworths

For 85% of free range buyers, animal welfare considerations are among the reasons for their choice.

So it’s not surprising that, for our survey respondents, the meaning of ‘free range’ strongly relates to the freedom of birds to move around and access the outdoors. According to our respondents, free range means:

  • birds are never confined in cages (69% of respondents)
  • birds have more space as a maximum number of birds is allowed outdoor per hectare (66%) and/or,
  • birds have easy access to pasture (65%).

Unfortunately, images of contented, clucking chooks flapping their wings, dust bathing, socialising and roaming around open green pastures aren’t always the reality.

Stocking density confusion

The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry is a voluntary national guide to the poultry industry, and designates a maximum outdoor stocking density of 1500 birds per hectare for free range layer hens.

It states that a proportionately higher stocking density for meat hens than for layers may be used, and goes on to say that "any higher bird density is acceptable only where regular rotation of birds onto fresh range areas occurs and close management is undertaken which provides some continuing fodder cover".

Whether or not this final clause relates specifically to meat hens, or to both meat and layer hens, is open to the interpretation of state and territory governments.

For example, NSW told us its interpretation is that it applies to birds in both egg and meat production systems. Queensland, on the other hand, says its understanding is that the clause is only applicable to meat chickens. While Queensland was the only state with a legislated maximum outdoor stocking density for free range which was set at 1500 birds per hectare, in line with the Code of Practice, it increased that limit to 10,000 birds per hectare in 2013.

The maximum number of birds allowed in outdoor spaces can differ enormously under the various free range standards. Examples include:

  • 750 birds per hectare - Free Range Farmers Association (Vic) 
  • 1500 or 2500 birds per hectare (if the outdoor system has a fixed range area or rotational range access respectively) - RSPCA
  • 10,000 birds per hectare - the limit adopted by Coles and Woolworths for their own brand of "free range" eggs.
  • 20,000 birds per hectare - as proposed by the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd and rejected by the ACCC. This would be a 13-fold increase on the Model Code of Practice's 1500 hens per hectare. 

According to AECL, 29% of free-range egg production in Australia stock at densities higher than 20,000 hens per hectare.

Which stocking density is best?

In arguing for an increase to 20,000 birds per hectare, AECL cited research conducted by the Scottish Agricultural College which shows that densities greater than the equivalent of 20,000 birds per hectare “impose some constraint of free expression of behaviour.”

What wasn't highlighted was that this isolated 2006 study looked at behavioural responses to different indoor floor space allowances in small groups of just five or six hens.

The College told CHOICE that this density wouldn’t necessarily be suitable outdoors, “where birds are more likely to spread out when foraging, and where droppings and thus parasite and nitrogen loads etc would have to be taken into consideration.”

AECL also refered to a survey of over 5000 consumers which it commissioned, which asked about acceptance of varying outdoor stocking densities based on visual representations of these densities. It reported community acceptance of a wide range of free range outdoor stocking densities from less than 500 to more than 25,000 hens per hectare.

In our survey, we asked consumers what they’d consider to be a reasonable maximum outdoor stocking density for free range egg laying hens. 

  • Less than 1% of respondents supported 20,000 birds per hectare
  • Stocking densities at the lower end of the scale were more popular (1,500 and 750 birds per hectare were nominated by 16% and 12% of respondents respectively)
  • However 65% of respondents said they didn’t know. 

For more details see our Free Range Key Findings Report (pdf).

This reinforces our opinion that a maximum stocking density shouldn’t be predominantly based on consumer research, but rather on a broader body of relevant independent, scientific research in conjunction with consumer research, and with consultation with all stakeholder groups.

free-range-chickens-coles-and-woolworths

For 85% of free range buyers, animal welfare considerations are among the reasons for their choice.

So it’s not surprising that, for our survey respondents, the meaning of ‘free range’ strongly relates to the freedom of birds to move around and access the outdoors. According to our respondents, free range means:

  • birds are never confined in cages (69% of respondents)
  • birds have more space as a maximum number of birds is allowed outdoor per hectare (66%) and/or,
  • birds have easy access to pasture (65%).

Unfortunately, images of contented, clucking chooks flapping their wings, dust bathing, socialising and roaming around open green pastures aren’t always the reality.

Stocking density confusion

The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry is a voluntary national guide to the poultry industry, and designates a maximum outdoor stocking density of 1500 birds per hectare for free range layer hens.

It states that a proportionately higher stocking density for meat hens than for layers may be used, and goes on to say that "any higher bird density is acceptable only where regular rotation of birds onto fresh range areas occurs and close management is undertaken which provides some continuing fodder cover".

Whether or not this final clause relates specifically to meat hens, or to both meat and layer hens, is open to the interpretation of state and territory governments.

For example, NSW told us its interpretation is that it applies to birds in both egg and meat production systems. Queensland, on the other hand, says its understanding is that the clause is only applicable to meat chickens. While Queensland was the only state with a legislated maximum outdoor stocking density for free range which was set at 1500 birds per hectare, in line with the Code of Practice, it increased that limit to 10,000 birds per hectare in 2013.

The maximum number of birds allowed in outdoor spaces can differ enormously under the various free range standards. Examples include:

  • 750 birds per hectare - Free Range Farmers Association (Vic) 
  • 1500 or 2500 birds per hectare (if the outdoor system has a fixed range area or rotational range access respectively) - RSPCA
  • 10,000 birds per hectare - the limit adopted by Coles and Woolworths for their own brand of "free range" eggs.
  • 20,000 birds per hectare - as proposed by the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd and rejected by the ACCC. This would be a 13-fold increase on the Model Code of Practice's 1500 hens per hectare. 

According to AECL, 29% of free-range egg production in Australia stock at densities higher than 20,000 hens per hectare.

Which stocking density is best?

In arguing for an increase to 20,000 birds per hectare, AECL cited research conducted by the Scottish Agricultural College which shows that densities greater than the equivalent of 20,000 birds per hectare “impose some constraint of free expression of behaviour.”

What wasn't highlighted was that this isolated 2006 study looked at behavioural responses to different indoor floor space allowances in small groups of just five or six hens.

The College told CHOICE that this density wouldn’t necessarily be suitable outdoors, “where birds are more likely to spread out when foraging, and where droppings and thus parasite and nitrogen loads etc would have to be taken into consideration.”

AECL also refered to a survey of over 5000 consumers which it commissioned, which asked about acceptance of varying outdoor stocking densities based on visual representations of these densities. It reported community acceptance of a wide range of free range outdoor stocking densities from less than 500 to more than 25,000 hens per hectare.

In our survey, we asked consumers what they’d consider to be a reasonable maximum outdoor stocking density for free range egg laying hens. 

  • Less than 1% of respondents supported 20,000 birds per hectare
  • Stocking densities at the lower end of the scale were more popular (1,500 and 750 birds per hectare were nominated by 16% and 12% of respondents respectively)
  • However 65% of respondents said they didn’t know. 

For more details see our Free Range Key Findings Report (pdf).

This reinforces our opinion that a maximum stocking density shouldn’t be predominantly based on consumer research, but rather on a broader body of relevant independent, scientific research in conjunction with consumer research, and with consultation with all stakeholder groups.

free-range-chickens-coles-and-woolworths

For 85% of free range buyers, animal welfare considerations are among the reasons for their choice.

So it’s not surprising that, for our survey respondents, the meaning of ‘free range’ strongly relates to the freedom of birds to move around and access the outdoors. According to our respondents, free range means:

  • birds are never confined in cages (69% of respondents)
  • birds have more space as a maximum number of birds is allowed outdoor per hectare (66%) and/or,
  • birds have easy access to pasture (65%).

Unfortunately, images of contented, clucking chooks flapping their wings, dust bathing, socialising and roaming around open green pastures aren’t always the reality.

Stocking density confusion

The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry is a voluntary national guide to the poultry industry, and designates a maximum outdoor stocking density of 1500 birds per hectare for free range layer hens.

It states that a proportionately higher stocking density for meat hens than for layers may be used, and goes on to say that "any higher bird density is acceptable only where regular rotation of birds onto fresh range areas occurs and close management is undertaken which provides some continuing fodder cover".

Whether or not this final clause relates specifically to meat hens, or to both meat and layer hens, is open to the interpretation of state and territory governments.

For example, NSW told us its interpretation is that it applies to birds in both egg and meat production systems. Queensland, on the other hand, says its understanding is that the clause is only applicable to meat chickens. While Queensland was the only state with a legislated maximum outdoor stocking density for free range which was set at 1500 birds per hectare, in line with the Code of Practice, it increased that limit to 10,000 birds per hectare in 2013.

The maximum number of birds allowed in outdoor spaces can differ enormously under the various free range standards. Examples include:

  • 750 birds per hectare - Free Range Farmers Association (Vic) 
  • 1500 or 2500 birds per hectare (if the outdoor system has a fixed range area or rotational range access respectively) - RSPCA
  • 10,000 birds per hectare - the limit adopted by Coles and Woolworths for their own brand of "free range" eggs.
  • 20,000 birds per hectare - as proposed by the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd and rejected by the ACCC. This would be a 13-fold increase on the Model Code of Practice's 1500 hens per hectare. 

According to AECL, 29% of free-range egg production in Australia stock at densities higher than 20,000 hens per hectare.

Which stocking density is best?

In arguing for an increase to 20,000 birds per hectare, AECL cited research conducted by the Scottish Agricultural College which shows that densities greater than the equivalent of 20,000 birds per hectare “impose some constraint of free expression of behaviour.”

What wasn't highlighted was that this isolated 2006 study looked at behavioural responses to different indoor floor space allowances in small groups of just five or six hens.

The College told CHOICE that this density wouldn’t necessarily be suitable outdoors, “where birds are more likely to spread out when foraging, and where droppings and thus parasite and nitrogen loads etc would have to be taken into consideration.”

AECL also refered to a survey of over 5000 consumers which it commissioned, which asked about acceptance of varying outdoor stocking densities based on visual representations of these densities. It reported community acceptance of a wide range of free range outdoor stocking densities from less than 500 to more than 25,000 hens per hectare.

In our survey, we asked consumers what they’d consider to be a reasonable maximum outdoor stocking density for free range egg laying hens. 

  • Less than 1% of respondents supported 20,000 birds per hectare
  • Stocking densities at the lower end of the scale were more popular (1,500 and 750 birds per hectare were nominated by 16% and 12% of respondents respectively)
  • However 65% of respondents said they didn’t know. 

For more details see our Free Range Key Findings Report (pdf).

This reinforces our opinion that a maximum stocking density shouldn’t be predominantly based on consumer research, but rather on a broader body of relevant independent, scientific research in conjunction with consumer research, and with consultation with all stakeholder groups.

free-range-chickens-coles-and-woolworths

Your say - Choice voice

Make a Comment

Members – Sign in on the top right to contribute to comments