The simple secret to a perfect black coffee

black coffee

black coffeeIf you’re a black coffee drinker, you’re in the minority in New Zealand, something which, unfortunately, puts you at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to obtaining a top quality brew at your local café. If you’re a latte or flat-white drinker, you’re also at a disadvantage because you have to listen to endless complaints from black coffee aficionados who never get a coffee that quite meets their expectations! The good news is, we’ve cracked the secret to pulling a super-satisfying short (or long) black – and the best news of all is that it involves the addition of just one simple, household ingredient!

Why kiwi black coffee seldom stumps up

Coffee is a complex beast. A little like wine, it contains subtle flavours – fine hints of everything from strawberry and peach to blackberry and citrus. These flavours are far less detectable once milk has been added into the mix. Nor are the most basic coffee notes of acid and bitter as easily distinguished when milk is added (acid delivering ‘flavour’ and bitter delivering ‘body’).

In fact, milk so disguises these basics that in order to bring anything to a coffee, Kiwi roasters (on the whole) roast their beans as dark as they can get them. And guess what? The darker the roast, the more the satisfying acidity that black coffee drinkers relish, is destroyed. A dark roast also considerably ups the bitterness so that the ‘body’ that black coffee drinkers look for becomes overpowering. While it’s possible for a black coffee drinker to find a light roast, (if they search far and wide), when they do finally get hold of a bag, they’ll usually be disappointed to find its acidity isn’t balanced by bitterness. Yes, it’s complicated, but fortunately, the answer to the problem isn’t.

Salute to sodium!

If you lived in the likes of Italy or Albania, where black coffee drinkers are in the majority, you would find a black coffee perfectly balanced because the roast, which would not have to cater for white-coffee drinkers, would have achieved its aim. When you live in New Zealand, however, all you need add to your black coffee to make it thoroughly enjoyable, is a pinch of salt (we recommend approximately 1/8 of a teaspoon to a short-black and a little more for a long-black). The salt, whether by chemical action or a trick to the brain, reduces the bitterness, smooths out the flavours, and produces a truly mellow, full-bodied brew. If the beans haven’t had the life roasted out of them, acid notes will also be detectable.

If you have an espresso maker at home, add the salt to the basket, along with the freshly-ground beans. If using a plunger, a syringe filter or a press, add the salt to the water. If you’re visiting a café and have the gumption, ask for the salt to be added to the grinds but don’t be surprised if you’re met with a stony ‘no’. That’s because some baristas believe the salt will be taken back up into the machine (which may well be correct). In this case, simply add the salt to the cup.

Playing it safe

If you don’t have the nerve to ask your barrister for a pinch of salt in your black coffee, or feel self-conscious adding it to your cup with others watching (and no doubt wondering if you think you’re some kind of coffee-guru!), order a macchiato instead. The tiniest splash of frothy milk on top of your shot will help dull the bitterness (although it may also possibly destroy the ‘body’). We warned you it was complicated!