This is why aeroplane coffee tastes weird

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  • Now we know

    Words by Kristen Dold

    From the editors of Travel & Leisure

    From the first thing flight attendants notice about you when you board the plane to how to get upgraded to first class, we’ve recently uncovered a load of secrets about aeroplanes. Most recently? Why the coffee tastes a little weird.

    It turns out the beans aren’t really to blame. In fact, a number of airlines now get their grounds from popular brand name roasters like Starbucks (Delta) or Dunkin’ Donuts (Jet Blue). The real culprit? The H20 used in aeroplane brew.

    Planes have tanks filled with ‘potable water’, aka water used for washing your hands in the bathroom and brewing coffee and tea, and it’s not the cleanest – a 2012 EPA report found that 12 percent of commercial plane water tested positive for coliform bacteria, which usually indicates other gut-rocking bugs like E.coli are present. And according to one American Airlines flight attendant Travel & Leisure spoke with, ‘those tanks are probably only cleaned out every six months to a year.’ Yikes.

    The brewing process is next to blame – at 35,000 feet, water boils at a much lower temperature, which messes up the extraction process so that only some of the coffee solids get dissolved, says Andrew Hetzel, a coffee quality and trade consultant. And if the flight attendant flips on the warming pad too soon, the first few drops of brew burn and taint the whole batch, said one Air Canada flight attendant.

    Finally, your own taste buds weaken the flavour of in-flight joe. Cabin pressure, dry air, and altitude reduce your taste perception by about 30 percent (hello, heavily salted dinners), which means that already crummy coffee never stood a chance. (British Airways is on top of this, they’ve partnered with Twinings tea to create a special full-bodied blend for flying – a bloody great idea).

    For the record, a few of the flight attendants we spoke with simply believe the majority of the population has forgotten what boring, black coffee tastes like: ‘People have become so accustomed to sweetness, they’re shocked when our coffee doesn’t taste like a caramel macchiato,’ said one Southwest flight attendant.

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