The first step on your journey to better brewed coffee starts with quality coffee beans. This is the most important factor in your coffee brewing. Click through to learn about coffee bean varieties, roast styles, and how to buy the best coffee beans.
Great coffee starts with quality beans purchased as soon as possible after roasting. As it turns out, coffee is the most important component in coffee brewing! Even though that seems obvious, I see far too many people worrying about expensive machines and using supermarket coffee. Your money is best spent on the coffee itself.
You may actually enjoy different types of coffee and roasts over others. This guide is here to serve as an introduction to understanding coffee bean variety. The quality and origin of the bean, roast duration, and the length of time since roasting will have significant impact on the flavor of your brew.
Coffee Bean Variety
There are two major varieties of coffee beans: Robusta and Arabica.
- Robusta beans are cheaper to grow and cultivate and have higher crop yields than Arabica beans.
- Most of the coffee you will find in your local grocery store is Robusta or uses Robusta filler.
- Robusta beans contain twice as much caffeine and often taste bitter and harsh.
- High quality Robusta is used primarily as espresso but most Robusta is very low quality and only competitive on a cost basis.
- Arabica beans are more difficult to grow and are less resilient to pests.
- Some lower quality Arabica beans can also be found at supermarkets (although I would avoid these).
- Arabica beans are less intense, have less caffeine, and have more subtle flavors than Robusta.
- Most highly favored beans throughout the world are of the Arabica variety.
I would recommend using Arabica beans of various types (Sumatra, Columbian, Kenyan, ect.) as you are much more likely to have a smoother cup and you will also have an easier time distinguishing coffee from different regions. You will need to find an alternative to purchasing coffee at the supermarket if you want a great cup.
Coffee Bean Origin
There are many different regions that produce coffee all with differing taste profiles. I will post a future blog about the various origins of coffee beans but for the purposes of getting started I will make a few recommendations.
- Blends from various regions or within a region can result in more complex and full bodied cups than single origin and can be a good starting point.
- Latin American beans are often processed in a manner that yields a clean and bright cup which I personally enjoy.
- Nicaraguan, Peruvian, Honduran, Panamanian, and Mexican beans have a natural sweetness and less acidity and can be a good starting point if a single origin is preferred.
- Sumatran beans are rich and complicated and provide a sharp contrast to beans from the above regions. I personally love Sumatra, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it first.
Much of this information can be found in Kenneth David’s book: Home Coffee Roasting – Romance and Revival which can be found on Amazon. I highly recommend checking it out if you are interested in taking up roasting or learning more about the various regions and types of coffee.
Duration of roast is an important factor when it comes to bringing out different flavors in a cup. The process of roasting even has its own flavor that tends to overshadow the other flavors and characteristics that a bean might normally have. The most important thing to consider is your own preference. There is no “best” roast style. However, I find that medium to medium dark (full city) are the most accessible, especially to black coffee drinkers.
- Light roasts are typically the most acidic without much body (heaviness).
- Medium roasts are slightly less acidic and begin to develop different taste notes unique to certain beans.
- Medium dark (full city) roasts have less acidity and more body. According to Kenneth Davids (mentioned above), this style is currently carried by the Starbucks chain. This is my preferred roast style for many bean origins.
- Dark roasts have lower acidity and are typically much heavier. The roasting process brings about a certain sweetness and the taste of the roasting process takes over.
Avoid roasts that are particularly dark such as Italian, Spanish, French, etc. if you are a beginner coming from supermarket coffee, as these roasts will seem bitter and very heavy.
Ground Coffee vs Whole Bean
You can purchase coffee in two forms: pre-ground or whole bean.
- Ground coffee should be immediately used as it loses its flavor very quickly.
- If you go the whole bean route, you will need your own your own grinder, preferably a conical-burr grinder.
- Whole bean coffee keeps its flavor and aroma much longer than pre-ground coffee.
- Ideally, you want to try to use your beans within two weeks of roasting.
Purchasing Coffee Beans Locally:
Find a local roaster. Purchasing from a roaster can be a bit on the expensive side but the taste is going to be significantly improved compared to store brands. Also, you will more easily distinguish between various coffee flavors and roasting profiles. This is your best option short of roasting the coffee yourself.
If you purchase beans from a local roaster and do not own a high quality burr grinder, I would recommend purchasing small quantities and having the store grind them for your preferred brewing style. You can learn more about grinding coffee by reading my post here.
You really need to try freshly roasted coffee; there is simply no comparison to store brands. You will be shocked to discover how different coffee can taste. I recommend medium to medium dark roast levels, and beans of Latin American variety for your first purchase.
Purchasing Coffee Beans Online:
If you don’t know of a local roaster, or live in a rural area, another option is to purchase coffee from Amazon. You can find a much bigger selection of both ground and whole bean coffee online compared to the grocery store. Check out some of these selections:
- Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters – Dancing Goats blend – Roasted whole bean coffee (16oz) – This coffee is freshly roasted and includes a roasting date. These roasters have many different varieties available, although this is their flagship blend. It is specifically focused towards drip and single serve brewing.
- Koffee Kult Coffee Beans Medium Roasted Coffee – Whole Bean Coffee (16oz) – This is a medium roast blend of Brazilian and Colombian beans. They offer whole bean as well as ground options (be sure to select your preferred option).
- Kicking Horse Coffee Whole Bean Variety Pack (Pack of 3 Flavors) – This coffee packs quite a punch but they have other less-intense flavors as well. I have used this coffee several times and it is very favorably reviewed. This variety pack lets you try 3 of their flavors.
- Lavazza Super Crema Espresso – Whole Bean Coffee, 2.2-Pound Bag (Packaging May Vary) – This coffee probably is one of the more inexpensive “decent” coffees out there. It can be used in a variety of different brewing methods and has been a best seller on Amazon.
- National Coffee Association Website
- Home Coffee Roasting, Revised, Updated Edition: Romance and Revival