How to Pick Great Coffee Beans

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Many coffee drinkers walk into the coffee aisle and don’t know how to choose between all the different brands and varieties of beans. Though they may find a coffee bean that tastes great, often they may wonder could it taste better?
Often the answer is probably yes. The type of coffee bean you choose can make the difference between a good cup of coffee and a great one. So, let us help show you how to pick great coffee beans.

Coffee Beans

1. Find Your Own Preference

The first thing you need to know is your own coffee preferences. Do you like a smooth and mildly acidic taste in your coffee? If so, Arabica may be for you. This variety is often considered the best variety of coffee on the market, but keep in mind that the way it is grown, roasted, and treated on the way to market determines the quality of the final product.

Maybe you prefer a more strong and bitter taste in your coffee. If so, then Robusta may be for you. This coffee bean grows at low altitudes and contains much more caffeine. Though Arabica is the more popular of the two, don’t let this decide your bean selection for you.

Many factors can determine the flavor and outcome of a coffee bean, so let’s continue figuring out how to choose your bean.

2. Determine What Taste You Prefer in Your Coffee Beans

Most coffee drinkers are looking for a consistently good cup to start the morning day after day. But you will probably need to drink a few different brews to figure out exactly what flavor you’re looking for. The best way is to try a few different brews and figure out what traits you’re looking for.

Then, do you like a light, smooth flavor with some acidity? These lightly roasted beans are a good choice, and when you’re picking them, these beans have a dry, light appearance.

For a strong, bitter flavor with low acidity, dark roasted beans should be your choice. These beans are roasted for a longer time than light roast resulting in a far stronger, more bitter flavor. To select these beans, look for a shiny, more oily-looking bean.

3. Buy Beans from a Respected Source

It’s possible you’ve been buying beans from a barrel in your local supermarket. Well, unfortunately, these beans have probably been exposed to oxygen and U.V. light resulting in a faded poor taste. Buying sealed bags can avoid this problem, but low-quality coffee brands often provide no roast date or source location.

This is because the beans have likely been sourced from several and taken to one plant to roast and package them. Then, they are warehoused and shipped to the store, possibly weeks to months later, already stale.

By choosing vacuum-sealed bags of beans from a quality roaster, you can avoid purchasing a poor batch of beans, but how do you know which brands to trust? Look for the information on the bag. Does it include the location the beans were sourced from and the roast date? If so, that is a very good sign that this brand wants you to know more about their beans, and you will likely get a decent quality brew.

4. How Much Caffeine are You Looking For?

This is an important question because the caffeine content in your cup can vary a lot between different beans. First off, you should select Robusta beans for the highest starting concentration of caffeine.

Next, many people believe dark roasted beans have more caffeine, probably due to their stronger flavor. However, in reality, it is the opposite, and lightly roasted beans have the most caffeine. So, if your goal is just to get the highest concentration of caffeine in your cup, then a Robusta light roast should probably be in your future.

5. Always Pick Fresh Beans

For the best taste, fresh beans are a must, and this means you should always check the roast date before you purchase a bag. Generally, coffee should be used within two weeks, so don’t buy it in bulk either. Try to purchase only what you will use soon.

While we’re on the topic of fresh, it’s also good to consider grinding. If possible, try to buy whole beans and grind them yourself before brewing them every day. These fresh ground beans will not have the chance to lose flavor. But if you don’t have the time or inclination to grind your own beans, you can often ask the café or supermarket to grind them for you when you purchase them.

Consider purchasing a grinder, though, and if it is too much work, some coffee machines even have the grinder built-in.

6. Be Careful Trusting 100% Arabica

A number of brands use this technique to advertise a high-quality bean. This is because of the Arabica beans association for being the highest quality variety of beans. This reputation may be deserved as the bean is popular for its smooth, slightly sweet flavor. However, these beans are simply using the Arabica beans reputation to sell beans without further information. Even if they are telling the truth, this does not guarantee a good cup.

Many 100% Arabica beans come from low-quality brands that source beans from subpar growing locations. These beans may come with a subpar taste, to begin with, and this can be followed by poor sorting processes to remove defects leading to an even worse one.

In other words, 100% Arabica, even if true, does not guarantee a better cup than brands that do not advertise it. More information is needed to ensure a high-quality bean and a good cup of coffee. It is important to check the label and consider information such as type of bean, growing location, and source date, not just 100% anything.

Coffee Roasts and Caffeine Levels

We have covered how to pick great coffee beans, but now you need some information to work from. So let’s talk more about the different types of coffee beans and the level of caffeine you can expect.

How Long Does Coffee Last?

It has been a popular legend that coffee lasts forever, but unfortunately, for those bulk coffees you may have in your pantry, this isn’t true. But, you also may have heard that coffee only lasts two weeks and then spoils, but this isn’t true either.

The thing is, coffee does decay and lose flavor like just about any product, so after two weeks, it is a lot worse than when it started, but you can still use it without getting sick. So, can you still use it after two weeks? Definitely, but you may not want to if you want to have a really good cup of joe!

Now, this may leave you wondering when does coffee taste the best. Generally, you can get the best possible flavor between the one to two-week mark, and this is when most good quality cafes will serve it to you.

So, this is why you should always look for the date your coffee beans were roasted on the bag when you purchase it. If it’s not marked, then the roaster probably does not want you to know. You can still drink these bags as well as that month-old bag in your cupboard, but the longer it has been since the date of roasting, the more the flavor will fade.

Special Roasts

You may have seen bags of coffee marked with phrases such as espresso roast or filter roast and wondered what difference there is. Well, these beans have been roasted with a specific method of brewing in mind and are tagged to tell you how they should be brewed.

Generally, these tags are limited to two main types, espresso roast, and filter roast, so let’s take a look at what makes these two special. The first is espresso roast which uses a very dark roasted bean that results in a bitter, oily bean with little to no acidity. Generally, it is agreed this type of bean works best under the high heat and pressure of an espresso machine, so though it can be used by any dark roast enthusiast, this simply lets anyone looking for a good espresso bean know it.

The second is filter roast, and this uses a lightly roasted bean that has very little oil and a less bitter flavor, and a varying amount of acid. This is the type of bean most experts recommend, and most homebrewers enjoy for most manual filter brewing machines. In other words, the type of machine most people have at home.

Single Origin vs. Blend

One of the biggest new trends you have probably seen in coffee shops is a variety of single-origin coffees. But, even with this growth, it certainly hasn’t stopped all the special blends most coffee roasters offer. So, naturally, you ask yourself, what’s the difference?

Well, with single-origin coffee, the beans are sourced from one location. This allows you to understand the specific source for the beans you are brewing and appreciate its unique qualities. These beans are more often than not light roasted to allow the qualities of the region to stand out rather than being covered by the strong taste of dark roasting. So, this typically makes single-origin coffee better suited for a black coffee to enjoy the flavor without masking it under milk and regular brewing rather than espresso. Finally, these beans are easily affected by seasonal variation due to coming from a single source location.

Blends come from a mixture of coffee beans from different source locations. These are designed to create a “recipe” using these different beans as the ingredients. By balancing these different beans flavors, roasters can achieve an overall effect, and by using a variety of beans, the proportions can be adjusted to keep a steady flavor regardless of the season. Often these beans are darker than single origins and more suited for espresso and drinks with milk as well.

Single-origin or blend is really all about your taste. If you find one you like, it does not need to hold you back, whether it comes from a single location or many.

Coffee Varietals

We have already told you about the main types of coffee, the Arabic and Robusta beans, but there are actually subdivisions of these beans, called varietals, to account for as well. Due to its popularity and rich flavor, most of these varietals come from the Arabica plant.

Now, these varietals are types within the types; just like there are many varieties of oranges and apples, there are many kinds of Arabica and Robusta. These coffee beans can produce very distinct brews, so don’t underestimate the difference.

Coffee Features

There are a lot of different abbreviated tags that appear on your coffee, so let’s take a moment to explain what these mean.

  • Organic: This means that the coffee plant was grown without artificial chemicals, such as fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.

  • Caffeine: This describes the caffeine content. This can be very different depending on the brew in question.

  • Decaffeinated: This is telling you that the bean has had its caffeine removed. Generally, this is accomplished by steaming the bean till its outer layers that contain the most caffeine can be scraped off. The beans are then returned to normal moisture content, but unfortunately, with a somewhat worse flavor.

  • Fair Trade Certified: This is a certification offered by Fair Trade U.S.A., ensuring the production was sustainable, and the coffee growers received fair prices. This lets you know there was no child labor, limited harmful pesticides, and safe working conditions involved in growing the coffee.

  • A.A.: This indicates a next-to largest bean on a Kenyan Grading Scale. These beans typically receive a high price compared to other grades.

  • Flavored: This simply means flavoring agents such as chocolate or vanilla were added to the beans during processing.

  • Rainforest Alliance Certified: This certification shows that coffee was grown according to a set of environmentally friendly standards set forth by the Rainforest Alliance Organization.

  • C.A.F.E.: This is a standard Starbucks uses to show their coffee was sourced in an environmentally conscious manner. It stands for Coffee and Farmer Equity.

Growing Regions

There are many different growing conditions and even more techniques used to grow coffee across the world. This results in a delicious diaspora of flavors found in coffee grown across the planet. For this reason, coffee is often identified by the region in which it is grown.

Generally, coffee grows best in warmer climates, typically found between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. In recognition of this fact, this zone is often referred to as the “coffee belt.” However, inside this zone, many factors affect the flavor coffee will have once it’s grown, such as altitude, moisture, sunlight, and soil conditions.

Luckily, many coffee roasters identify where their products were grown, but how do you know where to start? For fruity tastes and floral aromas, many think African beans offer the best choice. For a sweet and softer flavor, South and Central American beans may be your go to. For a more heavy and herbal flavor, India is a good option.

These suggestions should get you started but remember, even in a single region, the flavor can change greatly depending on many subtle changes in the environment and growing practices.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the best brew may seem like a challenging prospect, but now that you’ve read this article, hopefully, it seems a little easier. Now it’s time to experiment with some new beans and figure out the characteristics you like best. After a few runs, it’s certain you will find a coffee brew you love.

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