Saturday, 7 November 2009

What's The Best Instant Coffee for Hacking?

Chris and I just spent the last couple weeks completely strung out coding and hacking the IDE. There were a number of problems, but they all stemmed from two simple issues that could be summed up in one word: "suck".

1) Apple deciding to modify the binary java application launcher in preparation for 64 bit java compatibility (which broke the Aardvark IDE), and

2) Windows 7 sucking. Billy G. locked down certain folders, changing the way programs have to deal with temp files (which also broke the Aardvark IDE)

Anyway, Chris wrote a blog about how we solved the issues technically speaking. But this is a differenty kind of blog. This is the one that describes how we solved it biochemically speaking. With coffee, of course.

We drank a lot of coffee, especially late at night, and when Starbucks or the local joints are usually way past closed. So I figured it was a great excuse to do some double-blind taste tests of the various instant coffees I could find at the grocery stores around me.

Here are the five types we taste tested, from left to right, Maxwell house, Medaglia D'oro, Starbucks Bold Via, Starbucks Columbian Via, and Mount Hagen. You pretty much have to live in a bubble not to have seen all the advertisements for Starbucks Vias recently, so this was also Chris and my attempt to cut through all the marketing B.S. out there...

Naturally, we took out a piece of paper to document the experiment:

The Via's needed scissors to open, which sucks. Everything else was easy to use, but needed a spoon, which is a more readily available "kitchen" tool as far as I'm concerned. On the other hand, the lab space always has scissors lying around, so I guess it all depends on where you fix your coffee.

Here's a close-up of the different looks of the instant coffee. Mount Hagen sort of looked like bacon bits, and perhaps as a result, looked the most appetizing. Medaglia was sandier, while the others were more like little piles of dirt.

Here's the full get-up. I followed the recipe marked on the label in every case, down to the amount of grinds, and water.

Here's me pouring out the microwaved water into one of the cups:

And this is what all the glasses look like when they're filled:

And after I stirred each glass:

One thing to note is that the Mount Hagen is the only one with foamy bubbles at the top. This is weird. It would have been fine if I'd put milk in there, and stirred it up. But I didn't. It just somehow likes to keep its foam. For some reason, this foam stayed there the whole time. Not good, not bad, just different.

To clear our pallates in between sampling, we used Diet Coke. Why? Because it's another liquid that commonly makes it's way around the lab, and is often the chaser Chris and I use when drinking coffee. There's something satisfying about drinking a hot cup of coffee, then a cold glass of diet coke, then another hot cup of coffee, then about cold glass of diet coke.

Hi, my name is Matt, and I have a caffeine problem.

While we drank, we kept notes on the first imrepssions, tools needed, time to prep, amount of water needed, smell test, taste test, and even what each type tasted like after waiting a while. The rationale went like this: a lot of times, I make a couple cups of coffee at a time, pour them out, and bring them from the kitchen into the lab. Inevitably, one of the glasses gets cold. Drinking cold coffee is a fact of life in a lab :)

Finally, we ranked each of the 5 in terms of total experience, and provided summary notes.

I even typed it up:

The bottom line

If you can get over the weird foaminess, the Mount Hagen is the best tasting coffee, hands down. The Italian Roast Bold Via is the next best taste, but you have to drink it all quickly, because it starts to taste a little stale after sitting around. The Columbian Via holds its flavor better, but that's because that flavor is bland. Maxwell House has a chemical, synthetic taste in my opinion, kind of like that smell you get when you drive on I-95 through New Jersey, and you drive past that big chemical refinery and the air smells like pancakes which is normally good but you start holding your breath because you know it's not really pancakes, it's actually acetyln glycol esther mercury fumes. Medaglia D'oro was 3 European ounces of just plain horrible - they had me at the smell - which is tart and sour and nasty and frankly has no business belonging in any cup I'm drinking.

So in conclusion:

  1. Best - Mount Hagen if you can live with the weird foam
  2. Runner up - Italian Roast Via
  3. So so - Columbian Via
  4. Eh - Maxwell House
  5. Get out - Medaglia D'oro


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