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Branded coffee chains stretch the length and breadth of Australia - but are their beans any good? 

Consumer issues magazine Choice has engaged two baristas and a home economist to test the quality of 10 large chains' coffee beans and coffee makers and found enormous differences in quality and consistency.

And while most readers won't be surprised to learn Starbucks was amongst the worst, one chain fared even worse: Australia's own Gloria Jean's.

Choice's experts found Michel's Patisserie Espresso beans were the clear winner on taste, scoring 80 per cent.

Runnerup was Coffee Club with 75 per cent and Jamaica Blue on 70 per cent.

Starbucks, which three years ago closed the majority of its stores after woeful sales Down Under, scored 45 per cent. But Gloria Jean's scored just 40 per cent.

Choice's first test involved tasting espressos made from each of the chains' mainstream, standard beans, using the same espresso machine and brewed exactly the same way.

The not-for-profit organisation said there are many factors beyond the coffee beans that can affect how coffee tastes after visiting three outlets from Gloria Jean's, Michel's and Starbucks.

"Those factors include the grinder setting and milk temperature and most are determined by the barista," says Choice spokesman Brad Schmitt.

"We found a wide variation in temperature, taste and consistency in the cappuccinos we ordered, despite each outlet in the same chain using the same brand of machine and coffee beans,""

US giant Starbucks came out on top for consistency. However as barista trainer Matthew Gee noted: "If you favour a stronger, bolder flavour, the Starbucks consistency won't necessarily give you a great tasting coffee".

By contrast, Gloria Jean’s exhibited extraction rates that were "all over the place", which Gee concludes possibly indicates a lack of knowledge about how the grinder works and its importance to taste. "One Gloria Jean’s barista didn’t use a thermometer and the milk wasn’t hot enough (ideally, it should be 65ºC),""

Gee says the key to making good coffee is to adjust the grinder to ensure a constant 30ml shot is extracted in about 25 to 30 seconds.

"In seven of the nine outlets we visited the shots were either under or over extracted, meaning the water has passed through the coffee too quickly or slowly, so their coffee didn't stand a chance of being outstanding,""

Footnote: Choice reports that a four-year study of Melbourne coffee drinkers showed chain outlets are preferred by young females and people born overseas. By contrast, independent cafes are preferred by Australian-born customers and are popular with older coffee drinkers.

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