While there are many factors that determine the quality and taste of your cup of coffee, the primary determinant is the coffee beans.
Knowing how to identify high-quality coffee beans is an important skill to possess. However, choosing the best coffee beans is not easy. Unlike years back when there wasn’t much to consider, there is a lot to know and check today.
This guide covers the essential considerations when choosing coffee and how to read coffee beans packaging.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Coffee Beans
1. Gourmet Vs Premium Vs Specialty Coffee
There are three classifications of coffee quality; specialty coffee, premium coffee, and gourmet coffee. This classification is done by trained coffee experts by assessing and grading coffee beans when they are green and after roasting.
Specialty coffee refers to coffee beans that receive the best scores in both categories. Premium coffee comes in second, while Gourmet coffee ranks last in terms of quality.
When you see coffee beans labeled as gourmet coffee, it’s because the brand can’t say lower-grade beans.
2. Type Of Coffee
While there are many coffee varieties, only two are popular in the commercial world; arabica and robusta. The main difference between the two is in the nature of their trees.
Arabica plants have few branches and produce fewer cherries than robusta plants. Because the plant has fewer branches, arabica cherries get more nutrients, resulting in beans with complex flavors.
On the other hand:
Robusta plants are bigger and denser and produce tons of cherries. Because the plants are bigger with tons of cherries, the resulting beans have fewer flavors.
In terms of quality, arabica coffee is better; however, it’s pricey since the total production is lower and production costs are higher. Robusta coffee is mostly used to make instant coffee.
3. Roast Profile and Flavors
Roast profile refers to how coffee beans have been roasted. There are three roast profiles.
- Light roast coffee
- Medium roast coffee
- Dark roast coffee
Light roast coffee beans are light brown in color since they are roasted for the least amount of time. These beans have crisp acidity, bright aromas, and have no bitterness. Because of the light roasting, these beans retain the most characteristics of their origin farm.
Medium roast coffee beans are a little darker, have a medium body, and have smooth acidity. The aromas are rich and rounded and retain some characteristics of their origin farm.
Dark roast coffee beans are dark brown and have very little characteristics of the beans’ origin farm. They have a heavy body, pleasant bitterness, mellow acidity, and deep aromas.
4. Single-Origin Versus Blends
Another consideration when choosing coffee beans is the origin.
Single-origin coffee beans are coffee beans from a singular farm. Since all the beans are from one farm or section of a farm, they have exotic flavors that are unique to the farm.
Coffee blends involve blending complimentary coffee beans to create or balance flavors. This is unlike in the past when blending was done to boost weak flavors.
5. Coffee Processing
Yes, I know this is the last thing you could imagine, but if you want coffee beans that will give you the best cup of coffee, how the beans were processed matters.
While there are different coffee beans processing methods, these are the most popular.
Natural process: Coffee cherries are put on raised beds and sun-dried for up four weeks. The beans are then removed by hand or using a de-pulping machine and sun-dried again. This process takes the longest and produces exotic flavors and vibrant aromas.
Washed process: Coffee cherries are put in water and left to ferment for up to five days. They are then moved to a washing station and then dried.
Honey process: This process combines soaking and rinsing the coffee beans. Unlike the other two processes, the mucilage layer of the cherries is left on the beans. This results in coffee with a unique sweetness and flavor.
6. Roast Date
For the best results, buy freshly roasted coffee beans since important sugars and oils start disappearing after a few days. Coffee beans are fresh within the first 21 days after roasting.
7. Growing Region
Coffee beans differ on so many levels depending on where they were grown. For instance, coffee beans grown in Central America have impressive flavor clarity and crisp acidity.
On the other hand:
Ethiopian coffee beans produce coffee with a heavy body and exotic fruity aroma, while Kenyan coffee beans are less fruity.
How To Read Coffee Beans Packaging And What To Focus On
Most of the information we discussed above is usually available on the coffee beans package. While the main text will be the name of the roaster, focus more on the fine print. Here is what you will typically find on most packaging:
For most roasters, the name of the coffee beans is the farm, cooperative, or the region where the beans were grown.
Some of the best coffee beans are from individual farms or estates instead of a whole region.
Since most of the farms and estates are unknown, the name of the farm is usually accompanied by the region and country. If you are new to coffee, test beans from different countries and regions.
The process indicates the process method used to process the coffee beans. Most countries have a dominant processing method. For instance, most coffee beans from Kenya, Colombia and Guatemala are washed.
3. Origin, Story, and Type of Beans
The packaging will also include the origin, altitude, and story behind the beans. This does not just tell you the country, but it goes deeper to describe even the farmers so that you can appreciate what’s in your cup. This is where you will know whether the beans are single-origin or blend.
4. Roast and Flavor Profile
This indicates whether the coffee beans are light, medium, or dark roast. The roast profile determines the aroma and flavors.
5. Roast Date
This indicates when the beans were roasted. For the best experience, buy freshly roasted beans and use them before 21 days.
Where To Buy Coffee And Pricing
There are different places you can buy coffee beans. They include:
Buying directly from the roaster is the best way to get freshly roasted coffee beans. The only downside is that most roasters have limited varieties.
There are hundreds of online stores where you can buy coffee beans. The only downside is that shipping takes time, and there is no guarantee you are getting freshly roasted coffee beans.
Some coffee shops sell coffee beans from their roasting partners. However, they have a limited selection, and mostly the beans are not fresh.
Just like buying wine, there is a lot to consider when buying coffee beans. When buying coffee beans, consider the location, type, processing, and roast profile. The more information there is on the bag, the more the roaster knows about the beans, which is a great thing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Sweet and aromatic Arabica beans have the best quality. That’s why some roasters stock only arabica coffee beans. Compared to robusta, arabica coffee beans have more fats, twice as much sugar, and higher acid levels.
The four main types of coffee beans are:
The only way to tell good quality coffee is by looking at the fine details. This includes the origin, type of beans, single-origin or blended, and the processing method.