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In Defense of Cream in Coffee

October 14, 2010

One of my current fantasies is to own the café of my dreams where exquisite coffee beans are roasted, ground to order and brewed to exacting specifications.  A café that like Cartel Coffee Lab only sells one size of cappuccino and only serves it in porcelain cups (that means you cannot take it with you to go).  In my café there would only be two syrups, simple and chocolate.  All drinks would be based on double ristrettos, like at Blue Bottle.  And baristas would go through significant training before being allowed to touch the espresso machines and pull shots for the public.

None of this is going to happen any time soon, if at all.

But in the meanwhile, nothing gives me so much pleasure as seeing how many people came to the FLB to read my post on the role cream and sugar play in a cup of coffee.  Maybe I should be dedicating a bit more time to the subject.  Especially since it seems a few people were under the impression I was trying to ridicule the preferences of others.

Now watch as I make what might appear to be a contrary argument to last week’s post, but I assure you it is not.

Good coffee doesn’t need cream to compensate for its lack of body or to mellow its acidity or to tame its bitterness.  Good coffee has none of these faults.  But that is not to say cream, or some other lesser concentration of milk fat, can’t transform a cup of coffee into a delicious beverage.

I am a serious fan of a great cappuccino and macchiato.  Back in Miami I generally veer towards the less milky cortadito versus the milk bomb that is the café con leche.  In all honesty however these great drinks often obscure thin, bitter espresso and cheap Cuban coffee.

The upside of cream is that it contains fat.  And fat carries flavor.  It would be foolish to suggest that adding fat to something tasty should be a source of ridicule.  Plus dairy is very soothing, so it is no wonder that many are comforted by its presence in their morning cups.  I do try and respect Italian tradition of ordering cappuccino only before noon.  But just as I’ll sometimes have eggs for dinner, occasionally I’ll have a cappuccino after lunch.

To be sure, if you are adding cream to coffee you are diminishing your ability to gauge the relative merits of the coffee itself.  And likely most people are fine with that.  I’m fine with that.

For a while I was nursing a serious half and half addiction.  I used to dose every cup of coffee I got on the way to work with a not insignificant amount of the stuff.  And it was delicious.  It made my rich full-bodied coffee even richer and more full-bodied.  My daily cup was like a hot and unsweetened version of the best coffee ice cream ever.  But even then I still took my first few sips black.

Ultimately I turned away from adding dairy to coffee when I took stock of exactly how much fat and calories were sneaking into my body every day.  It was a hard habit to break, and is now reserved only for special treats.

So drink freely, without ridicule.  But I’m still going to encourage everyone who will listen to try their coffee first before habitually adding cream and sugar.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Phairhead permalink
    October 14, 2010 10:27 am

    Not to be the voice of dissent (I’m not even a coffee drinker :D) but the boyfriend needs his daily cup w/ half n’ half. He says this cools the coffee down

  2. Ewan permalink
    October 14, 2010 12:02 pm

    I took your suggestion to heart, and have been checking each of the (many!) cups before adding anything, over the past few days. I had gotten into the habit of adulterating by default, and this was a nice spur to reconsider – thanks. The best commercial coffee I’ve found around here is at Uncommon Grounds; their pre-made (i.e. in insulated carafes) needs cream and *maybe* one sugar, but the french-press fresh-made stuff is good with just milk/cream.

    Even the best coffee I can make, though – fresh Kona peaberry beans we brought back from Hawaii recently, french-press at home – still needs a touch of milk to make it ideal for me. Good to know, and to have gone through the process – thanks again.

    On a different note: we (ok, you!) should organise a group dinner event where one person/couple brings each course. I bet the readership here would create a sublime meal.

  3. Tonia permalink
    October 14, 2010 1:07 pm

    Totally agree… I never liked sugar in my coffee and I usually drink it sans dairy or with a little bit of dairy to enhance the richness. How can you be a true lover of coffee if you take it light and sweet? You are just covering up the flavor… why not just have milk and sugar? You are right about the coverup… I think people are so used to particular types of coffee that they don’t know the difference. Until they go without milk, then you can start tasting the quality of the coffee. Another thing… after using one of those little Bialetti Moka pots for years, I can never go back to drip coffee. EVER. It tastes like dirty water to me. :-)

  4. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    October 14, 2010 5:07 pm

    But black is more manly!

  5. Shay permalink
    October 14, 2010 10:57 pm

    I would like a fancy coffee shop, but for now I think I’ll stick to the coffee bean & tea leaf.

  6. October 15, 2010 7:20 am

    I hear you when you worry about the “fat & calories” in cream added to coffee. But I figure that this is one more vice that will not be mentioned anywhere in my obituary. Too many other likely choices there.

  7. October 15, 2010 9:07 am

    As a cream lover, I didn’t take your post that way at all. On the contrary, it gave me some pause to think about whether to add cream.

    I just finished off my cousin’s delicious beans and moved on to some other (fair trade) beans I bought for a fundraiser a while back. It’s decent coffee (and not terrible black), but it really doesn’t hold a candle to the other coffee. It’s kind of like comparing Lindt and Bissinger’s — Lindt is really really good chocolate, but it’s not even in the same league as Bissinger’s.

    I probably would not have noticed that without the initial black coffee sip.

    Either way, I’ve started doing the sip-of-black-pre-creaming before drinking my coffee. But I still really prefer it with cream. However, knowing that I have some good beans at home means I don’t have to resort to my emergency non-dairy creamer if I’m out of half and half. :)

  8. October 15, 2010 9:08 am

    My daily cup was like a hot and unsweetened version of the best coffee ice cream ever.
    Good comparison. That’s kind of what mine tastes like. I agree with you on the fat and calories, but I’m just not ready to give that up yet. :)

    • Selig permalink
      October 16, 2010 1:33 pm

      How about Turkish coffee?

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