Why Free Office Coffee Sucks & Tastes Like Shit

SUMMARY POINTS

> Free office coffee is typically driven by cost not quality
> Cheap beans + nasty water + weak brewing = shit coffee
> Rally for better coffee or make your own with an office coffee kit

Coffee - it’s the liquid black gold that keeps us all going every single day at work.

Your first cup of the day might be from home or on the way to work from your fav coffee spot. It’s the good stuff that tastes awesome and it’s just the way you like it.

It’s the perfect way to get the day started. The problem is that it’s only one serving that lasts only for the first hour or so of the day, maybe two if you’ve got one of those insulated mugs.

Inevitably, you’ll drink all of it and at some point later in the day, when you’re draggin’ ass, you’ve got to refill with the free office coffee in the break room. Which, compared to your first cup, is barely drinkable.

It’s super bitter and the only way you can tolerate it is by loading it up with sugar and/or that flavored powdered creamer.

Why is it that a drink with only a handful of ingredients can taste so shitty, yet if done right, it can taste so amazing?

Why Free Coffee At Work Tastes So Bad

Like many things in life, how things turn out is all dependent upon what’s been put into it. For coffee or any other food or drinks for that matter, it’s all in the ingredients and how it’s made.

Use high-quality ingredients and make it the right way, not the fast way, and you’ll get good stuff. While on the other hand, going the fast-n-cheap route will only get you mediocre results at best.

Here are the main reasons why that self-serve sludge in the break room tastes so awful. 

1) Cheap Ass Low-Grade Beans

The coffee beans are the core ingredient. There are basically two types of beans: commodity and specialty beans.

Commodity beans are for mass market high volume where cost is a big factor. It’s not the best tasting but it’s really cheap. This is what you’ll get at your local gas station convenience store and your office.

Specialty beans are the good stuff that’s more expensive. It’s the “select” varieties from Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Peet’s etc. These beans aren’t cheap. They cost more because of where they’re from and how they’re roasted.

For most businesses, it’s all about controlling operating expenses and that includes all the stuff in the break room, namely the coffee beans.

In a lot of cases, the coffee is just another line item order along with napkins, pens, pencils, copy paper, toner ink etc. It gets no special attention. And, usually, the cheapest wins out.

Low-grade beans just results in low-grade coffee.

2) Pre-Ground Packs 

All of the commodity volume coffee beans being purchased by businesses are pre-ground. This saves time because the beans don’t have to be ground before brewing. Just scoop some into a filter, pour hot water and you’re done.

It also saves costs as a separate bean grinder is not needed. It’s one less piece of equipment that the business needs to buy and maintain.

The problem is that when beans are pre-ground then bagged or stored, they lose a lot of their flavor profile. So that pre-packaged bag of coffee grinds was probably ground up months ago. And now, it’s sitting in the break room drawer or cabinet.

What this means is that all the additional flavors are long gone, way before it’s even brewed.

3) Weak Pathetic Machine

When the “Mr. Coffee” coffee brewing machine was introduced in the market back in the 1970’s, it made coffee brewing for the masses much easier.

You can pick up small versions at any mass merchant retailer for $20 all year long. Larger capacity ones rarely go above $100. And these are the ones that are popular with lots of smaller companies.

Again, for a lot of companies, it’s all about minimizing costs. So, you’re not gonna find some high-zoot cappuccino and coffee brewing machine.

The problem with these cheap brewing machines is that they don’t get the water hot enough to extract all the flavor from the grinds. What you end up with is a luke-warm cup of coffee that tastes diluted.

4) Nobody Cleans Anything

Unless your company has a fantastic cleaning crew, it’s probable that all the appliances in the break room are rarely cleaned.

There’s some scary stuff growing in leftover containers in the fridge. The microwave has got all sorts of random sauce splattered inside. And the coffee machine pretty much hasn’t been cleaned - like ever.

If you’re lucky, you might have that one office person that might swish the coffee pot with some dish soap and warm water every once in awhile.

But for most office crowds, nobody really wants to do cleaning chores at work. It’s hard enough doing them at home, why would you want to do more at work?

When the coffee machine isn’t cleaned, all that leftover residue just makes each subsequent brewed batch taste like ass.

5) Water Quality Sucks

Besides the beans, the other critical ingredient in coffee is the water.

Most of the time, people will just use tap water from the faucet to fill the coffee machine reservoir. So, if the tap water is good, you’re off to a good start. If you can’t drink the tap water because it tastes bad, well, it’ll just make your coffee shittier.

In a lot of places, the water has a high amount of minerals. This is called “hard water” because it has a higher percentage of mineral content.

When you boil hard water, it leaves behind all sorts of mineral deposits. You’ve probably seen this in your stovetop kettle or warm mist humidifier.

When using a coffee machine with hard water, it not only messes up the flavor, but it also wrecks the machine because the deposits clog things up.

6) Fake Powdered Milk (Non-Dairy Creamer) Or Spoiled Milk

“Hydrogenated Sodium Caseinate”....doesn’t that sound absolutely delish?

Uh...no.

But, it’s in nearly every single non-dairy powdered creamer. It’s a “milk derivative” that’s been processed and developed to help make the powdered stuff kinda taste like milk and have a shelf life that can outlast Duracell batteries.

It’s cheap, doesn’t require refrigeration and lasts a long time.

This is the compromise. It can stay on the counter by the coffee machine for months and not spoil but it doesn’t come close to the real taste of fresh milk or cream.

However, it is far better than drinking spoiled and curdled milk that’s all chunked up and smelling gross.

In either scenario, it’s a quick way to make bad coffee even worse.

7) Sitting Stale In Pot

Coffee is best consumed right after its been brewed. We’re talking a 15-minute window of opportunity max, right after it’s been poured into a mug. This is when all the fresh aromas and flavors are at their peak.

And aromas play an important part in how food and drinks taste.

Think back to when you were sick and had a congested nose and couldn’t breathe through your nose. You couldn’t smell anything. And, nearly everything you ate was tasteless because of that.

When the coffee in the pot has been sitting on the warming plate or thermos airpot dispenser for more than an hour, all those aromas are gone.

Less aromas mean less flavors.

How To Make Office Coffee Taste Better

So, given all the factors that make office coffee so bad, you’d think that the odds of getting some decent coffee at work are against you.

The good news is that it’s not and you can get good java in the break room. It just requires a bit of effort on your part to make it happen.

The first two options require more company funds. But, it’s not some immense capital expenditure that requires bank loans. It’ll be a nominal increase in office supplies, services and/or equipment.

You’ll need to rally the troops to convince your big bosses of the benefits of spending a bit of money to improve the coffee situation at the office.

The third option is simply taking matters into your own hands.

Option #1: Weekly Coffee Service Subscription

Just like any other outsourced office services, there are companies that specialize in providing coffee service for businesses of all sizes.

The costs are dependent upon how much coffee is consumed, the coffee quality grade and service levels.

The costs roughly range from about $5-$15 per person, per month. So, mid-sized companies with around 100 employees, the monthly costs will be around $500 to $1,500. While larger companies with hundreds of employees, the monthly costs can be in the thousands of dollars. And small companies can have costs that are less than $100 per month.

Some providers offer free equipment with a monthly minimum coffee purchase. Others offer monthly rental of equipment with no coffee minimums.

In most cases, whatever the service plan, the provider will offer better beans, better coffee machines, water filtration equipment, installation, maintenance and cleaning services.

It addresses many of the negatives items from above.

The best way to find a coffee service provider is to check/search for “coffee service” on Google maps. Chances are that there’s at least one in the area that can service your company.

Then, it’s a matter of garnering support from your fellow coffee addicts and presenting the case to the execs and HR for signing up for the service.

Option #2: Upgrade Coffee Operations

As an alternative to monthly coffee services, a company can opt to make up-front equipment upgrade investments along with on-going purchases of high quality beans and filters to keep everything in-house.

Here are the key core items.

A) High-Quality Beans

If there’s just one thing that can make or break the taste of the coffee, it’s the quality of the beans. And, we mentioned the whole bit about commodity versus specialty beans earlier.

The obvious thing to do is to have the office admin or whoever is in charge of kitchen supplies buy roasted beans from your local Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Peet’s, etc. That’s the easiest and quickest way.

It’s a good first step and for the most part, it’ll please most of the coffee hounds at work.

However, if you really want to make it special and worthy, find a local roaster in town or at least in the region and see what high-grade roasted beans that they have available. You just might end up with something even better, more unique and support a fellow local business.

B) Filtered Water System Or Water Service

Being almost as important as the quality of the beans, water is a critical ingredient to a great cup o’joe.

Clean filtered water is best and won’t interfere with the flavors of the coffee beans. The water is meant to be the carrier of the flavors. Get this wrong and you’ll just be wasting good beans.

Some offices have a water cooler in the break room. It’s usually part of the weekly or monthly drinking water service delivery. If so, always use the water from the cooler for the coffee machine.

If there’s no drinking water service, a water filtration system can be added to any sink for nominal costs that won’t break the bank or get Pete The Penny Pincher in accounting all riled up.

C) Premium Brewing Machine 

Forget about the common consumer-grade cheapo coffee machines. At the office, the volume of coffee making is a lot higher. So, these cheaper coffee machines won’t cut it and won’t last.

What’s needed is a light commercial-grade coffee machine that can handle the volume and is durable to withstand all the use.

Don’t ask for some ultra high-end cappuccino frothing monster machine. They cost a bundle and aren’t easy to use. Leave those for the hipster coffee shops.

Aim for a simple, light commercial-grade coffee brewing machine that has a built-in grinder and the ability to have a water line connection. Both are key features. The grinder will allow for freshly ground beans with each brew and the water connection means no more refilling the reservoir.

These kinds of combo units are sometimes referred to as “bean-to-cup” automatic machines. And, these will be far better than that plastic piece of crap sitting on the counter.

D) Cleaning Of Equipment

Nobody likes to do any more cleaning chores than what they already do in life. Yes, there are a few rare exceptions where you might have an OCD mom at the office that cleans everything, every time. If so, consider yourself lucky.

Otherwise, for the rest of us, the coffee machine needs to get cleaned somehow.

The best option is to have whatever office cleaning company that your employer uses to have them clean the coffee machine in the break room as part of their overall cleaning.

Now, this will mean that the coffee machine won’t get cleaned every day, but only when they’re scheduled. So, in between those visits, clean the pot or at the very least, rinse it out before making a new batch. It’s common coffee etiquette. 

Option #3: BYOC “Brew Your Own Coffee” With An Office Coffee Kit

If the company isn’t willing to improve coffee operations and you’re left to your own devices, then it’s time you bring and brew your own. This is the best option if you want full control over your coffee enjoyment.

Yes, the customary morning visit to your fav coffee spot where the barista knows you by name and exactly how you like your coffee is definitely a nice little treat to start your day.

But, when your morning joe with all your specific trimmings is approaching $5, it puts a serious dent in your disposable income. At that daily amount, you’re shelling out more than $1,500 a year just for coffee!

You can save a good chunk of change by putting together your own “office coffee kit” that you can keep at your desk. And, it’ll cost less than $60 to get it all set-up.

A) Your Fav Coffee Beans 

The next time you’re at your fav java spot, buy a bag of whole beans. Purchasing roasted whole beans and then grinding them just before brewing is the best way to get the most flavor.

Doing it this way will get you closer to the freshly made version like it was from the barista.

If you’re open to trying other specialty beans, you can also sign up for personal coffee bean subscription services where you’ll get a variety of beans from roasters all over the world. It’s a great way to discover new coffees.

B) Mini Bean Grinder 

With whole beans, you’ll need to buy a coffee bean grinder. One that’s powerful yet small enough to keep at your desk.

There are a bunch of mini grinders that you can buy at Target, Walmart or any other major retailer. And of course, there’s always Amazon.

You don’t need any of the fancy versions. A basic grinder is all you need.

Just don’t buy any battery powered ones. They’re useless. They don’t have enough grunt and you’ll have to replace the batteries often. Just stick with the simple corded ones.

C) Personal Size French Press 

You’ve probably seen French presses for coffee at your fav brunch hotspot. They’re available in smaller personal sizes and perfect for the office.

The reasons why they’re so great is that they’re really easy to use, easy to clean, don’t take up a lot of space and they’re cheap. Plus, because they use a metal mesh screen, you don’t need to buy packs of disposable paper filter elements.

Watch this short 4-minute video clip on how to use a French press.

VIDEO: How to Use a French Press
YOUTUBE: HowcastFoodDrink
LENGTH: 4:14

Summary points:
> Measure out 3-4 tablespoons of whole beans and grind
> Put grinds into French press and pour ¼ cup hot water and stir
> Allow grinds to soak for 30 seconds then pour remaining water
> Cover the brew with the top and wait 3-4 minutes then press down slowly

Follow these simple steps and you’ll have some awesome brew - guaranteed.

Here’s a little tip on cleaning:

Just dump out the used grinds, rinse with water, then add a few drops of dish soap and fill halfway with warm water.

Then, put the top back on and push/pull the press vigorously for 10-20 seconds to foam up the soapy water.

Pour out the soapy mix and rinse everything with water.

This will thoroughly clean both the container, metal mesh filter and top all at the same time. Easy peasy.

D) Real Milk Or Creamer 

Friends don’t let friends drink hydrogenated sodium caseinate. And so, we’re here to tell you, “Put the Coffee Mate down and nobody will get hurt.”

If you’re buying good beans, don’t use “milk derivatives” or old milk for your freshly brewed coffee. Instead, buy fresh milk or creamer and keep it in the break room fridge.

A little pro tip...put a few drops of green or red food coloring into your milk, enough where it’s visibly obvious that something’s off. It won’t affect the taste. It’s a great deterrent to keep milk bandits from stealing your milk or creamer.

E) Insulated Mug 

With all the effort you’re putting into making good coffee, you want it to stay hot as long as possible to extend the joy.

Nothing’s more disappointing than having a nice hot cup of joe go cold because you got caught up in an email, phone call, chat with a coworker etc. There are tons of distractions and interruptions that happen at your desk. They’re unavoidable.

To ensure that your coffee stays hot and aromatic for longer, get an insulated coffee mug with a sealing lid that has a sippy hole that snaps open and closed.

Insulated mugs will keep your java warm and tasty for much longer than regular ceramic mugs. So, you can say goodbye to nuking coffee in the microwave.

F) Water Filter Pitcher (If Needed) 

Most offices have a water cooler. And, it’s the gathering spot for all the best rumors!

However, some offices don’t get water service. If you are part of this unfortunate group, then you need to get a water filter pitcher like a Brita or Pur. Either one will work just fine.

Use the pitcher for your normal water consumption and for making kick-ass coffee. Keeping the water pitcher by your desk can also serve as a reminder to keep drinking water throughout the day.

Don’t Put Up With Shitty Coffee - Good Java Is Mandatory For Office Survival

You put in a lot of effort at work. It’s where you spend the majority of your waking hours during the day. It’s a damn near necessity that you get some decent coffee so that you can function and do your thing.

So, if the coffee in the break room is more like prison grade sludge, it’s time to rally the inmates and send a clear message to the warden that the tribe demands good coffee.

Good coffee means happier and more productive employees. Happier and more productive employees mean better morale and increased profits.

If that doesn’t work, take matters into your own hands and put together your own office coffee kit. You’ll be the envy of every single coffee addict in the building.

With some great killer coffee in hand, you’ll be happy, focused and ready to get in the zone at work and kick some ass!

Feel Better,
[Cubicle|Therapy]