Hot shots

Some frothy cof­fee con­fec­tions can have as many calo­ries as a meal, but health ex­perts say lit­tle can beat a fra­grant, fresh cup of Joe, writes He­len O’Cal­laghan

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Feature -

“IT’S not real,” I was told in my lo­cal Star­bucks when I looked for a Uni­corn Frap­puc­cino. Not real? The much-hyped, colour-chang­ing, flavour-chang­ing con­coc­tion that had so­cial me­dia in a frenzy?

Star­bucks’ own de­scrip­tion of the drink sounds like a po­tion straight out of a fairy­tale — ‘made with sweet dust­ing of pink pow­der, blended into crème Frap­puc­cino with mango syrup and lay­ered with pleas­antly sour blue driz­zle’. Then ‘fin­ished with vanilla whipped cream and sprin­kle of sweet pink and sour blue pow­der top­ping’. The calo­rie-laden bev­er­age starts out pur­ple with swirls of blue and first tastes sweet and fruity. ‘But give it a stir and its colour changes to pink,’ prom­ises Star­bucks, ‘the flavour evolves to tangy and tart’.

“It was a lot of has­sle for a few days, the amount of peo­ple we had in look­ing for it. It’s over now, thank God. We don’t have the in­gre­di­ents — if we did, we could make it,” my Star­bucks server told me.

The Uni­corn Frap­puc­cino, it turns out, is so very last month — it was avail­able for just five days dur­ing April in the US, Canada and Mex­ico. It’s as elu­sive as the myth­i­cal crea­ture af­ter which it is named and so too it ap­pears are its prog­eny — the Dragon and Mer­maid Frap­puc­ci­nos. A Star­bucks spokesper­son con­firms th­ese lat­ter drinks “are not of­fi­cial Star­bucks menu items”. They were “cre­ated by baris­tas only in the US who were in­spired by Uni­corn Frap­puc­cino, the bev­er­ages were only avail­able at their stores and the recipes based on the in­gre­di­ents they had avail­able”.

Mau­reen Ga­han, food­ser­vice spe­cial­ist with Bord Bia, be­lieves the launch by big cof­fee chains of new menu items — like the lim­ited-edi­tion Uni­corn Frap­puc­cino — is just “an opportunity to make some noise”, a way of hook­ing in younger con­sumers.

“They’re lured by the sweet bev­er­ages, the milk shakes. For gen­er­a­tion Z, th­ese over-the-top in­dul­gent drinks loaded with ex­tras are on-trend — very much in keep­ing with In­sta­gram and so­cial me­dia.”

It’s all a far cry from the cup of Joe, the ba­sic cup of black with maybe a dash of milk, from how Ch­ester in US TV Western Gun­smoke de­scribed the mak­ing of good cof­fee: ‘Any fool knows you gotta put the cof­fee in the cold wa­ter and bring them both to a boil to­gether. That way you get all the flavour. You got to keep them old [cof­fee] grounds and you add a lit­tle fresh cof­fee ev­ery morn­ing and let her boil. You don’t re­ally get a good pot un­til you’ve been usin’ it about a week. Then it’s cof­fee!’

It’s re­as­sur­ing to hear from in­dus­try watch­ers and from those who have a stake in the black brew that real hon­est-to-God black cof­fee isn’t about to lose out to the froth­ier, creamier, swirlier con­coc­tions — the Mocha Cookie Crum­ble Frap­puc­ci­nos and Iced Skinny Fla-

“Cof­fee may re­duce risk of heart dis­ease, cir­rho­sis, gall­stones, di­a­betes, cer­tain can­cers, and even de­men­tia

voured Lat­tes. “The re­al­ity is most con­sumers are habit-driven. Spe­cialty drinks only ac­count for a small amount of sales,” says Ga­han.

It’s an ob­ser­va­tion echoed by Peter But­terly, who runs O’Brien’s Sand­wich Bar on Dublin’s Lower Abbey Street, where cus­tomer de­mo­graphic is pro­fes­sion­als aged 25-50. “They don’t seem to be sus­cep­ti­ble to trends. They have their cof­fee and stick to what they know — you could start mak­ing their or­der as they walk in the door,” says But­terly. He makes about 1,000 cof­fees a week — the top three are the ba­sic black cof­fee (Amer­i­cano), latte and cap­puc­cino.

“There’s been a trend lately to­wards the flat white, a small latte with less milk, like a double mac­chi­ato. It’s pop­u­lar be­cause it has fewer calo­ries than cap­puc­cino.”

Bord Bia’s Ir­ish Food­ser­vice Chan­nel In­sights (Novem­ber 2016) re­port found cof­fee chains like Star­bucks and In­som­nia still hold the ma­jor­ity of the mar­ket but that the num­ber of spe­cialty in­de­pen­dent cafés and cof­fee shops is ris­ing. There is, in fact, a ‘third wave’ of cof­fee that’s driv­ing de­mand for in­de­pen­dent shops, cater­ing to con­sumers who con­sider cof­fee an ar­ti­san prod­uct, like wine, and ex­pect pre­mium qual­ity — and don’t nec­es­sar­ily want the flavour smoth­ered by cream and flavour­ings. In­creas­ingly, the Bord Bia re­port states, con­sumers are “search­ing out ed­u­ca­tion and café ex­pe­ri­ences that al­low them to in­dulge their in­ter­est in pre­mium prod­ucts”.

One such third wave in­de­pen­dent cof­fee shop — where it’s all about sourc­ing, where con­nois­seurs choose cof­fee based on the farm from which the bean came — is 3fe (Third Floor Es­presso), set up in Dublin in 2009 by four-time Ir­ish Barista Cham­pion Colin Har­mon. “There’s def­i­nitely a more dis­cern­ing cof­fee con­sumer out there to­day,” says Har­mon.

“When I opened in 2009, it was dif­fi­cult to ex­plain that cof­fee could have dif­fer­ent taste pro­files and val­ues. There was a pre­sump­tion it was all the same. It’s much eas­ier to ex­plain to­day — you don’t need to be an expert to un­der­stand this shop has good cof­fee and this one doesn’t.”

Har­mon says the sec­ond wave of cof­fee, rep­re­sented by chains like Star­bucks, add value by adding, for ex­am­ple, a shot of vanilla sugar syrup and then some sprin­kles and of­fer­ing sizes from small through medium to large.

“We add value by hav­ing a bet­ter qual­ity of bean. At the higher end, we might have a one-bag lot from a very small farm in South Amer­ica, which has a par­tic­u­lar va­ri­ety or pro­cess­ing method.”

At 3fe, cus­tomers pay any­thing from €3 to €7.50 for a cup of cof­fee. The cof­fee, be­ing sea­sonal, is fresh all year round. “We’re just wait­ing for our Kenyan cof­fee to come in — it’s very dis­tinct and can be wine-like with a lot of black­cur­rant flavours and it’s re­ally clean and crisp.”

When he started out, peo­ple said he’d never get away with chang­ing his cof­fee all the time. “Now, they com­plain if I don’t.”

Orla Walsh, di­eti­cian and founder of Orla Walsh Nu­tri­tion, also sees a con­tin­u­ing trend among Ir­ish con­sumers, where they’re more pre­cise about blend, num­ber of es­presso shots and even about the type of milk they’re get­ting (co­conut, al­mond, Soya). While she sees the milk in the ba­sic latte and cap­puc­cino as hav­ing def­i­nite nu­tri­tional merit be­cause it de­liv­ers cal­cium and protein, she says the more deca­dent bev­er­ages are akin to calo­rie-laden fast foods. She cites US re­search that ex­am­ined how many calo­ries we nat­u­rally add to cof­fee as op­posed to tea.

“The study found those who drank cof­fee black con­sumed about 69 fewer calo­ries a day. And more than 60% of the calo­ries added to the drinks come from sugar, with fat ac­count­ing for most of the re­main­ing calo­ries.”

At Star­bucks, a Latte Grande con­tains 223 calo­ries if us­ing whole milk, 131 with skimmed and 148 with soya milk. A Caramel Mac­chi­ato Grande has 269 calo­ries (whole milk), 193 (skimmed) and 250 (co­conut milk). Mean­while, a Caramel Frap­puc­cino Grande with whipped cream con­tains 379 calo­ries (whole milk), 358 (skimmed) and 380 (al­mond milk).

Dr Mar­ian O’Reilly, chief spe­cial­ist in nu­tri­tion at Safe­food, con­sid­ers a latte a snack if it con­tains any­where around 150 calo­ries. “Then there are the con­coc­tions with added cho­co­late, syrups and whipped cream. When you’re get­ting near 400 calo­ries, you’re get­ting into meal ter­ri­tory,” she says, adding that she doubts if peo­ple are fully aware of calo­rie num­bers in the fancier bev­er­ages.

While Walsh rec­om­mends lim­it­ing cof­fee in­take if you suf­fer from ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome, anx­i­ety or sleep prob­lems, re­cent stud­ies sug­gest the cup of black is pretty good for you.

“The quick an­swer is cof­fee doesn’t ap­pear to be bad for us. There’s plenty of re­search to say it’s good for us — it may re­duce risk of heart dis­ease, liver cir­rho­sis, gall­stones and meta­bolic syn­drome, as well as Type 2 di­a­betes, cer­tain can­cers and maybe even de­men­tia.”

But the good news comes with an ev­ery­thing-in-mod­er­a­tion caveat. “Drink less than two to three cups a day and have it be­fore 3pm — later and there’s a good chance it’ll neg­a­tively af­fect sleep,” ad­vises Walsh.

While the big­gest per-capita cof­fee-con­sum­ing coun­tries are in Scan­di­navia — as well as The Nether­lands — Ire­land is emerg­ing as a ma­jor player in the global cof­fee mar­ket. The World of Cof­fee con­fer­ence took place in Dublin in 2016 with thou­sands from over 100 coun­tries at­tend­ing. Cof­fee shops are pro­jected to grow by 7.5% year on year be­tween now and 2020. Cof­fee is an at­trac­tive busi­ness propo­si­tion.

“There’s def­i­nitely a big mar­gin on cof­fee — there’s gen­er­ally a 70% mark-up, though [out­lets] say they have to fac­tor in cost of ma­chines and of ser­vic­ing them, as well as cost of staff train­ing,” says Ga­han.

Busi­ness ap­peal aside, cof­fee has a very def­i­nite al­lure for the or­di­nary punter. “Cof­fee is still an af­ford­able lux­ury. It never out-prices it­self. Peo­ple might cut back on the num­ber of cof­fees but they don’t cut it out,” says Ga­han.

“Peo­ple as­so­ci­ate it with in­dul­gence — time out for the busy mum, a so­cial ex­pe­ri­ence around meet­ing friends or a third space be­sides home/of­fice where you can work.

For O’Reilly, it’s a pick-me-up; Walsh sees its ap­peal as an en­er­giser and cog­ni­tive aid for peo­ple “who want to get the best out of them­selves Mon­day to Fri­day”; while for Har­mon, it’s a cat­a­lyst for get­ting deals done and mak­ing friends.

And I will con­fess that I wasn’t too up­set at not get­ting hold of the Uni­corn Frap­puc­cino. For me, the plain cup of black is a mag­i­cal elixir all on its own.

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