Is the coffee on airplanes decaffeinated or just extremely weak? Part I

A few times year a blog or magazine article titled something like “Top Ten Things the Airlines Don’t Tell You!” circulates, claiming to reveal all the horrors that go on behind the scenes in modern air travel. As prices for flights go up and amenities such as free checked bags are taken away, disgruntled travelers clamor to read and share the damning evidence. Most of these list simply regurgitate the same obvious tidbits (“If you are bitchy to the flight crew, they will likely give you shitty service!!”), but one “factoid” stood out to me:

Flight attendants only serve decaffeinated coffee. They want passengers to go to sleep and not bother them.”

This got me miffed. You can take away the free checked bags, tissue-thin blankets, tiny pillows, snacks, leg room, arm room, and head room. You can force me to pack all my belongings into a carry-on, take my shoes off, get a microwave scan and DNA swab. But if you serve me Decaf coffee, all bets are off.

I had to find out if this appalling claim was true.

But how to go about researching such an important topic? I am way to chicken to ask someone who actually works for an airline, so the final results may come down to testing. I am no scientist, but after working for a coffee shop for three years, I have a good idea of how caffeine affects me. I also know that  the quality of coffee’s taste has little to do with how awake it will keep you. Gas station coffee might’ve been brewed with local well water through a filter of dirty socks, but most of it seems to be high-octane.

Heavily caffeinated drinks are great for keeping alert drivers on the roads, but (fortunately) most of the people on airplanes aren’t conducting it, so I can understand how strong coffee could be low on the priority list. So instead of assuming that the flight crew is serving me decaf coffee, my hypotheses is that they are brewing weak coffee.

Before we go any further, let’s get Starbucks to tells us what makes a good cup of coffee: 1. PROPORTION

The recipe for great coffee is 2 Tbsp (10 g) of freshly ground coffee for every 6 fl oz (180 mL) of water. Keep this proportion consistent no matter how much you’re brewing. If the results are too strong for your taste, add hot water to your cup. Using less coffee will create a bitter cup.

 2. GRIND

If you’re not sure what coffee grind to use, just think about your chosen brewing method. The coffee grind size directly affects how much time the grounds are in contact with water. Espresso machines, for example, require very finely ground coffee. A rule of thumb: the finer the grind, the shorter the brew time. If you’re not sure what your grind should look like, not to worry. Your barista can always grind your whole bean coffee for you. 3. WATER

Water makes up 98% of every cup of coffee. So it’s important that it tastes clean, fresh and free of impurities. Filtered or bottled water is best, but if you’re using tap water, make sure it’s cold. Heat the water to almost boiling at 195˚ to 205˚F in order to extract the coffee’s full range of flavors.

 4. FRESHNESS

An opened bag of coffee is highly perishable, just like fresh produce. Store your beans in an airtight container at room temperature for no longer than a week. The trick is to keep it away from oxygen, light, heat and moisture as much as possible. We recommend grinding your beans just before brewing to make sure the end result is fresh flavor.

Got it? Good.

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