Product Type: Kenco Coffee
Newest Review: ... & Smoky" Brazil's distinct dry and wet seasons give this wonderfully smooth coffee its intriguing dark, smoky flavour, with just ... more
Kenco Pure Brazilian Instant Coffee - Best Served Black
Kenco Pure Brazilian Dark & Smokey
Member Name: Hishyeness
Kenco Pure Brazilian Dark & Smokey
Advantages: Quality instant blend with a distinctive taste. Ethically sourced.
Disadvantages: Loses its mojo when milk and sugar/sweetener added.
I'm not a huge fan of instant "freeze-dried" coffee, but given that my choice at work is limited to a vending machine that dispenses black sludge approximating tar in both consistency and taste, its my only viable option. We do have a Starbucks and a Costa Coffee in the vicinity, but both are too expensive for anything other than an occasional treat, and the 20 minute round trip is not really feasible time-wise during the hustle and bustle of an average day.
SO HOW DO WE GET INSTANT?
It suddenly occurred to me that I know nothing about the transformation of coffee from humble bean to freeze dried granules. I did some digging, and here are some basics. Coffee beans are green in their raw state - it's the roasting process that turns them brown - and how long they are roasted for determines the depth of flavour and strength. Instant coffee starts its life out much like normal coffee, but once roasted, their production paths diverge dramatically.
In the "freeze-drying" process, the beans are ground into a fine powder and then dissolved in water. This solution is set aside to allow most of the water to evaporate naturally. Then once it reaches a "slushy" consistency, this wet mass is rapidly frozen, and placed on trays into a special - vacuum sealed - drying machine.
The coffee is then rapidly dried while a condenser removes all of the water vapour from the evaporating ice, rapidly drying coffee to leave the granules much as you see them in the jar. There is an alternative way of doing things called "spray-drying", but as Kenco freeze-dries its products, I have concentrated on that process only.
Instant coffee differs in quality from whole, ground and brewed coffee beans, mainly because the lowest quality beans are usually used to make instant - growers usually reserve their best quality beans to be sold whole. Those looking for a decent hit of caffeine for the money will also be disappointed to learn that instant coffee has less caffeine than its brewed equivalent (the production process removes some of it), but most will consider the trade-off worthwhile given the convenience and speed of preparation.
Anyway, onwards to the product itself! Bored with bog standard Nescafe and Kenco, I decided to have a more critical look at the other options available at my local Tesco, hoping to find something a little different, a little less ordinary. My eye was drawn to Kenco's "Pure" range, which includes offerings from Costa Rica, Brazil and Columbia. I was intrigued by the description given for the Brazilian blend - "dark and smokey" - and, encouraged that the item was actually on offer, decided to take a closer look at the packaging.
The product comes in a 100g squared off glass jar which is not only recyclable, but is made of at least 35% recycled glass itself. The labelling - a fetching dark green and gold with a gold band at top and bottom - looks reassuringly expensive, as it should be for a coffee that normally retails around £3.38 (compare this to £ 2.68 for a similar sized jar of Gold Blend, or £1.39 for 100g of Tesco's own "Gold" brand).
It also features the Rainforest Alliance (RA) "Frog" logo, which means that it is made using coffee beans which are ethically sourced from certified RA farms. However, on closer look, only 75% of the beans used currently come from such sources, but Kenco hope to make this 100% by 2010. Anyway, I won't go into too much more detail here, as this is a review of the coffee itself, but if you want more information it is readily available at www.ra.org.
The label also includes some basic information on where and how the coffee was sourced and what gives this variant its distinct taste. It is given a "4" out of "5" for strength, so it is definitely a dark, robust roast. It is also single source, so all of the beans used to make it come from Brazilian growers.
The overall impression is that you are buying into something made with quality and care, while doing something good for coffee growers, sustainability and the environment in general. I'm not one to take such statements at face value, and if I had more time, I'd give some more thought to the actual benefits (in both quantity and quality) that my purchase has on the producer at the sharp end, but, cynicism aside, I suppose it's a good thing.
Seduced by the promise of something altogether more exotic than my usual brew, I decided to take it "home" and give it a go. The jar was foil sealed under the chunky black plastic lid. Apparently, instant coffee is "hygroscopic" (yes, I had to look that up too...!) - a fancy way of saying that the granules will absorb any moisture in the air - so its imperative that it is sealed in this way. In puncturing the seal, I was rewarded by an intense hit of coffee aroma, which paradoxically smelled bitter and sweet in equal measure. There is a hint of honeyed chocolate about it, and I was pleased to find no chemically smell at all.
I normally have my coffee white with two sweetener tablets, but have been known to have it black without "sugar", so, in the interests of this review, and to ensure I tasted the coffee properly, I decided to try it three ways - black, white with semi-skimmed milk, and white with my usual sweetener (Candarel or Splenda). I appreciate that doesn't cater for all combinations, but it should give the reader a general idea.
I placed a heaped teaspoon into a generous sized mug and was pleased to see a nice brown froth develop as I poured water, just off the boil, into it. The aroma rises instantly and gives you an olfactory hit consistent with the first impression on opening the jar. As with wine, what you taste should complement what you smell, and this Brazilian blend does not disappoint.
The initial taste is full-bodied, slightly bitter and slightly "burnt" - again, consistent with a dark roast and the claim to a "smokey" quality advertised on the label. After a short while, it mellows out considerably, leaving you with a slightly sweet, honeyed taste on the palate.
I'd never had a Brazilian blend of coffee before, and given the limitations of the "instant" manufacturing process, was quite please with the result. Definitely different, definitely not ordinary, and gratifyingly so. A second cup confirmed my initial impressions, although this time I detected a slightly salty note in the finish, but nothing I would consider particularly off-putting.
Unfortunately, once you start adding things - even milk - you start to lose flavour at an alarming rate. All of the distinctive notes that make it special are masked by the introduction of milk, making the drink altogether more cloying and oily in consistency - even with semi-skimmed, which is lower in fat than whole milk. The milk tempers the bitterness, but emphasises the sweetness, so you lose the balance that makes this coffee work so well black.
+ White with Sweetener
Oh dear. At this stage, I wouldn't have been able to tell this apart from any other, generic, freeze dried coffee, such was the masking effect of milk and Candarel. I can't comment on how it would work with white or brown sugar as, unfortunately, I can't take either, but I doubt the end result would be much different. If the "milk only" option enhanced the sweetness, you can imagine what you get when you add two tablets of sweetener.
The blend, the packaging and the taste (black) are consistent with the retail price - there is real quality there - so hats off to Kenco for this nice little gem. I started out wanting something out of the ordinary, and this instant coffee delivered that in spades. That said, there is a "but".
You can't really justify paying so much more for a blend like this (almost £2.00 a jar more than Tesco own brand) if you are going to add milk and sweetener to it, because, simply put - you lose everything that makes this blend special when you add the two most common additives coffee drinkers use, i.e. milk and sugar/sweetener.
As such, I would unreservedly recommend this product to black coffee drinkers - it's a satisfying and pleasing alternative to run of the mill instant coffee - but if milk and sugar are your thing, I would think twice before splashing out your hard-earned.
© Hishyeness 2009 - Published previously on ciao.co.uk under the same user name.
Summary: A good quality premium instant coffee with a difference.