How many sins does milk really hide?

Want to talk espresso but not sure which forum? If so, this is the right one.
User avatar
shadowfax

#1: Post by shadowfax »

I've been wondering this lately. It's an internet mantra that 'milk hides many sins,' and to some extent it's true. A merely decent shot can make a good cappuccino, and a fairly bad shot can be turned into a passable cappuccino.

My question is in 2 parts. First, do you think that milk really hides the 'sins?'

It seems like it simply mitigates them, to me. I don't find that cappuccinos really change the character of a shot all that much. They give it (sometimes) more and smoother body, and add a bit of sweetness, which can balance a shot that lacks sweetness, but I've never found that I could get away with much in a cappuccino. I smell the wet aroma of any shot that is suspect--bad pour, low/high temperature on the thermometer. A sink shot is a sink shot. I've tried adding milk to shots I thought were iffy, and I've always regretted it afterwards.

Second, which sins does it hide?

My feeling, as I said, is that it adds sweetness and body to the espresso. So, it is very good at hiding a lack of body in a shot, which is one reason why I like SO cappuccinos. A lot of the Ethiopian SOs that I have had have a good balance of acidity and bitterness, and really overwhelming fruit, but they tend to lack body for me, unless I make ristrettos, which rarely please me with the Ethiopians I like. I find that a reasonable amount of milk with such a shot really gives me the body I'm looking for, and enhances the fruitiness that I adore in such shots.

I find that this internet mantra is occasionally useful but often kind of irritating. On the one hand, I don't doubt that there are people drowning their problems as best they can in massive bowls of milk. But I have to wonder, is that the real problem? Some people actually like instant coffee. Some people like black, burnt, ashy coffee. Those people may be overwhelmed by the strength of a bad shot of espresso, which will need milk to take it down to the level of the crap they enjoy drinking, but does that mean that the milk is really hiding the sin? I don't think so, honestly. Crap espresso is just that, even in a 'frappuccino.'

On the other hand, I feel somewhat insulted by people that I have read and met that have suggested that if one prefers cappuccinos to straight espresso, that person needs to learn to make better espresso, or get 'better taste.' I think that's ridiculous. A 'godaccino' is just as much to be sought after as a 'godshot.' Both are something that should be experienced.
Nicholas Lundgaard

User avatar
RapidCoffee
Team HB

#2: Post by RapidCoffee »

shadowfax wrote:It's an internet mantra that 'milk hides many sins,' and to some extent it's true. A merely decent shot can make a good cappuccino, and a fairly bad shot can be turned into a passable cappuccino.
Good post. I agree that milk and sugar can cover up espresso flaws, but that's not necessarily why people enjoy cappuccinos. It's likely that most people prefer coffee that is sweetened and/or paired with frothed milk because of coffee's natural bitterness. (Before anyone jumps in and tells me coffee is sweet: read Illy. There are lots of intensely bitter compounds in coffee, including caffeine.) Chocolate is similar. Very few people prefer drinking straight unsweetened cocoa; almost everyone adds milk and sugar.

But it goes beyond that. Some beans and roasts seem to pair well with milk, and others are more suitable for straight shots. Counter Culture's Espresso Aficionado and La Forza blends come to mind. Nuances of the lighter roasted Aficionado get lost in milk, but it makes a wonderful espresso. La Forza is a much darker roast, which IMHO is much easier to appreciate in a cappuccino.
shadowfax wrote:On the other hand, I feel somewhat insulted by people that I have read and met that have suggested that if one prefers cappuccinos to straight espresso, that person needs to learn to make better espresso, or get 'better taste.' I think that's ridiculous. A 'godaccino' is just as much to be sought after as a 'godshot.' Both are something that should be experienced.
I'm in complete agreement. Periodically I see similar posts, asking "do you use sugar in your coffee". These inevitably turn out to be thinly veiled put-downs of people who sweeten their coffee. The obvious response is "get a life!", but so far I've managed to restrain myself. :twisted:
John

User avatar
Randy G.

#3: Post by Randy G. »

I know that years ago I said something in the realm of: "Four ounces of milk hides a multitude of sins in two ounces of espresso." As has already been stated, the body and natural sweetness of stretched milk can rescue an espresso that otherwise be unpleasant. I think the biggest is bitterness. The milk's sugar can mask the bitter tastes and allow the flavor of the "coffee" to come through. Some folks are more sensitive to the bitter tastes, or possibly just find them so unpleasant that it overwhelms their senses to the point that they cannot enjoy the beverage otherwise.

But there are other factors as well. The most important is probably individual tastes. Some folks just can't handle the intensity and density of espresso straight. There is also the health issue that some people's digestive tract cannot handle the acidic levels of coffee and the milk helps that issue quite a bit.
Espresso! My Espresso! - http://www.EspressoMyEspresso.com
LMWDP #644

Phaelon56

#4: Post by Phaelon56 »

IMHO a bad shot is a bad shot and can be made more palatable by addition of milk, sugar etc. but can't be "rescued". While it does hold true that overroasted coffee or shots that ended up bitter due to extraction issues etc. can be made far more tolerable in a tall milk drink it just doesn't stand to reason that a bad shot will taste "better" when mixed with milk.

My consumption at home is about 70% 5 oz. cappuccino's (made with a 1.75 to 2 oz ristretto), 20% machiatto's and 10% straight shots. I do find certain origins and certain blends that work really well for me as a straight shot and aren't nearly as enjoyable when consumed in a milk drink.

As for milk drinks in general - so much of it is personal taste. Unlike one of the previous respondents I abhor the really fruity SO's in milk and can only tolerate them as a straight shot or a machiatto with a tiny bit of milk.

User avatar
RapidCoffee
Team HB

#5: Post by RapidCoffee »

Phaelon56 wrote:As for milk drinks in general - so much of it is personal taste. Unlike one of the previous respondents I abhor the really fruity SO's in milk and can only tolerate them as a straight shot or a machiatto with a tiny bit of milk.
Hi Owen. I feel the same way about fruity espressos. Blueberry bomb Harrars, e.g., are best enjoyed as straight shots, perhaps sweetened. Cappuccinos turn into warm blueberry milkshakes, which is not what I'm after in my coffee! I prefer rich chocolate/caramel/vanilla blends in my capps. Obviously this is personal preference, and I don't expect everyone's taste buds to agree.
John

User avatar
Stuggi

#6: Post by Stuggi »

I've found one SO that really loves milk, and lots of it, the Kenya AA Longberry. When roasted as I do it, it has this really good nutty character, which never really comes into play in espresso since they shot then is always bitter or acidic, without any real sweet-spot. If you get it right, it's just a bit bitter, but surely drinkable. But if you add milk, it's really nutty and sweet, without being bitter.
Sebastian "Stuggi" Storholm
LMWDP #136

happytamper

#7: Post by happytamper »

I make a lot of caps for my students and myself. I always taste the shots (for my caps, not my students of course) before I add the milk (soymilk) and I find when the shot is great the cap is great. When it is so-so the cap is good, and when the shot is bad, the cap is equally bad.

When I am in a cafe or restaurant the caps are usually pretty bad due to a variety of reasons I guess.

I guess what I am getting at is that the milk does change the taste but a bad shot will always be a bad shot no matter what you add to it.
Mitchell
LMWDP #77

zin1953

#8: Post by zin1953 »

Having never seen a soybean with udders, I'll leave the soymilk out of the discussion. However . . .
happytamper wrote: . . . I find when the shot is great the cap is great. When it is so-so the cap is good, and when the shot is bad, the cap is equally bad.
I agree. There is only so much that either milk or sugar can "hide." Sweetness does mask bitterness, up to a point. Thus, it makes total sense to me that a great shot equals a great cappuccino, but that a bad (sink-) shot is not "salvageable" no matter how much milk, sugar, or soy is added. More importantly, it makes sense to me that an average shot will/can result in an above-average (but not great) cappuccino or latte.
happytamper wrote:When I am in a cafe or restaurant the caps are usually pretty bad due to a variety of reasons I guess.
I've all but given up ordering any sort of espresso drink -- milk-based or straight -- in restaurants. Between 95-98 percent of the time, it's simply gawd-awful!

Cheers,
Jason
A morning without coffee is sleep. -- Anon.

User avatar
Marshall

#9: Post by Marshall »

shadowfax wrote:I find that this internet mantra is occasionally useful but often kind of irritating. On the one hand, I don't doubt that there are people drowning their problems as best they can in massive bowls of milk. But I have to wonder, is that the real problem?
It's not an Internet mantra. Anyone who visits American coffee shops on a regular basis knows there is a lot of education remaining to be done and that oceans of badly made espresso get sold every day only because milk and syrups make them palatable.

Personally, I rarely offer a straight shot to guests, because, if they are not afficianados, it will probably be something of a shock to their palates. I also have some friends who are far more knowledgeable than I, who prefer a dab of foam in their shots to cut the sharpness. I have no less respect for their skills for having this preference. I usually start the day with one straight shot, followed by a latte with toast and jam. I usually have another two or three straight shots and maybe a cappa before the day is done.

But, I think it is a pretty reasonable assumption that in a random sampling of home baristas who drink nothing but lattes (probably the majority of home baristas), you are going to find that most have a serious problem with the brown component of their drink. So, yes, I will go out on a limb and say that if the entire universe of home baristas went out and got some serious training, there would be a dramatic drop in the amount of milk they consume. :)
Marshall
Los Angeles

User avatar
shadowfax

#10: Post by shadowfax »

Marshall, that's a point I think we have probably discussed before in essence in other threads. I guess I don't know enough home baristas, personally, to make that call. I like to think of my peers as very into this, and respect their tastes.

I will say this--as I mentioned in my initial post, there are people in this world who like their Folgers black--that is, people who like their coffee dark, without body. Ashily Bold, Electrically Smooth Instant Coffee, that sort of thing. Taste runs the gamut. I like fruity cappuccinos, but there are certainly those on here who can't stand that. Likewise, it seems that the baristas who only drink lattés aren't so much burying their mistakes as enjoying them in a different concentration. A sink shot, to me, ruins a perfectly good cup of milk. Bitterness is certainly masked, but a sink shot latté is still acrid to those of us who know better.

The taste of someone else is difficult to gauge when you don't know them. The internet aggravates this. I feel that the real problem is that people can't describe coffee. I confess it's taken me several years to really start developing this skill, and it has indeed helped me more than my equipment upgrades (although, those upgrades saved me a lot of work!). Most people, though, think I'm crazy to get popcorn butter or orange peel out of an espresso (and I get those tastes in my cappuccinos too). I think the notion that you need to learn to make good espresso and drink it straight is short-sighted--if you have a 'discerning' palate, you should be able to taste most of the same things in milk.

That's cappuccinos and modest lattés, to me. When you're putting a ton of milk in your coffee (grande, venti, anyone?), that does indeed make it a challenge to taste your coffee (or stay skinny, for that matter). I won't say it can't be done, but I would agree with you in such a case. And I know that this is quite common among the patrons of Starbucks and its ilk, but I always felt it was less common among our own community here.

Does that make sense, or are we still just agreeing to disagree?
Nicholas Lundgaard