Being in Mallorca, drinking very tasty coffee, brings one of our coffee quandaries into sharp relief. Here, as in virtually everywhere on the continent, baristas do not scald their milk. Coffees with steamed milk are served ready to drink, in terms of temperature, which is much cooler than you will find in most Irish cafes.
I have written about the temperature of steamed milk before, here and here. Yet the biggest cause of complaints in our shops by far is about the temperature of our coffees containing steamed milk. Although we regularly have people tell us our coffees are the best they have tasted in Ireland, just asÂ regularly people (almost exclusively Irish and English) tell us their drink is “cold.”
I assume it is mostly a function of us going from a nation of tea and instant coffee drinkers – both made with boiling water – to latte and cappuccino drinkers without understanding that the latter are fundamentally different drinks. The difference is the milk – overheat milk and there is a chemical change – the proteins and fat separate out and the result is watery, bitter, scalded. A latte in our shops will seem cold compared to tea, even though we heat the milk to a greater temperature thanÂ the Italians or the Spanish.
Our quandary, then, is this:
We believe that the way we make cappuccinos and lattes, using a thermometer to obtain an exact temperature that is as hot as possible while keeping the milk intact, ensures the highest quality. However, at the same time we want our customers to be happy, and a large number of them are not. It causes us great pain that people are going away grumbling about “cold” drinks. We will always (and happily) serve a drink extra hot if asked, recognising that people´s tastes differ.
My brother and I have spent hours on this issue, trying to find a solution. We have tried to ask everyone who orders whether they want it extra hot, but that hasn´t worked well, since “hot” is such a relative term, and people are usually just confused. We have written about it on our menus and our menuboards. We have tried to explain the issue to customers who complain (after heating up their drinks), that it´s not a mistake but a choice, but that isn´t always successful. The last time, the customer said, “Can you believe it? These guys serve cold lattes on purpose!”
I am at a bit of a loss. If we raise the temperature across the board, the quality will suffer. In my opinion, it´s the single largest reason Irish coffees are generally sub-standard. At the same time, keeping our customers happy is certainly much more important to us than whatever we think about the temperature of steamed milk. But is it worth it to lower the quality for everybody to pacify those who think our drinks are too cold?