Coffee has been around for quite a while now, and today over 70 countries produce coffee around the world. It would be a never ending debate to talk about what is the best coffee bean. It would be like asking a group of sommeliers which is the best wine. In fact one thing that few people know is that coffee has a lot more aromatic and flavor compounds than wine. This means that there can be more variety of coffees than wines.
Similar to wine, the flavor compounds that the bean has, are influenced by the region they are produced at, the weather, altitude and even the cultivating and harvesting practices. But it is true to say that different regions are known for the type of flavor that their beans produce.
But here I am going to keep things simple and down to basics, and I am going to talk about the simple aspects that will get you most of the way on how to choose a good coffee bean. On future posts I will start discussing about regions and other more complex stuff. But if you stick to what we are going to discuss here you are one hundred percent safe on getting good stuff.
Types of Beans
There are a few types of beans, but two of them which are the most known, Arabica and Robusta. Robusta has more caffeine than arabica and imparts a stronger flavor. Arabica has a smoother flavor and is the type of bean that usually has more aromatic compounds. Arabica is considered more complex and usually preferred, but still some people like to brew with mixes of both, to get the strength of robusta and the flavors of arabica.
It is common to see some packages specify the type of bean they are selling. So next time you see this you can make your test and taste the difference between both.
How to buy
The first approach to buying the right coffee is very far from regions, flavor compounds, aromatic notes, or even the type of bean, because all of this is overpowered by one simple aspect. FRESHNESS.
You can buy the best beans in the world but if they are not fresh, they will have lost all their goodness and taste just like any crappy coffee you can get anywhere. That being said, it is always better to have a not so good bean what is fresh than the best bean if it has been poorly taken care of. So let’s look at the basics on how to buy your coffee and make sure you get good stuff.
1.- BUY WHOLE BEANS
The first and most important thing that you should think if you want seriously good coffee and not just a “morning energy drink” is to buy whole beans and grind them yourself at home before each brew.
When coffee is ground it takes more surface area and it starts making contact with air. This causes the oily components to evaporate and the coffee starts loosing its flavor. So when you buy ground coffee even if it is packed correctly it will have lost most of its flavor. You can even notice it some times, if you have ever had a coffee with some sort of “cardboard” taste. It is usually because it has been in contact with a lot of air.
The best coffee bean you can buy is whole bean coffee and grind the beans yourself at home before each brew, I will write soon a post on how to choose a coffee grinder. But whichever grinder you choose, it will make a huge difference versus buying pre-ground coffee.
2.- LOOK AT THE ROAST DATE
Another super important thing is to know that you are getting the best bean is the roast date. Not all manufacturers specify it, specially the big and popular. But if there is a roast date specified on the package, this tells you two things. First, that it is a company that takes coffee seriously, and secondly… of course… the roast date. You want it to be as recent as possible. Even if the bean is whole it will start loosing some of its freshness since the moment it is roasted. Not as fast as ground coffee of course but still you want to be as close to the roast as possible.
3.- LOOK AT THE TYPE OF ROAST
The last aspect that I want to discuss is a more subjective one and comes down to your preference, everyone’s best coffee bean will be different. I am talking about the type of roast. Coffee after the drying process is a green bean with a grassy smell, it is then roasted at high temperatures to gain the brown color that you are familiar with.
But depending on the amount of time a specific bean is roasted it will reach different roast levels which you can often see described in the packages. We can usually talk about four different roast levels, Light, medium, medium-dark and dark. In different places these might be called specific names.
The rules of thumb to choose the best roast are these.
- Lighter roasts retain more caffeine, so if you are here for the morning boost you will get more out of these roasts.
- As the roast becomes darker the coffee looses more of its origin flavors and starts adopting those of toasting process itself.
- Lighter roasts tend to be more acidic.
- Darker roasts are more oily which can be perceived on the bean itself, it looks oily, and it is also evident in the cup once the coffee is brewed.
What you choose will come down to your own preference and to your own perfect cup. Also, for different methods usually there is a type of roast recommended. For example many people prefer a dark roast for espresso. A very light roast still has some grainy taste, some like that. For coffee tastings baristas most times use medium roast, because it is where they consider that you get the most balance of the different flavors.
Make your experiments and find out what you like best!!!!
Of course I am trying to keep things simple here, later I will write on more specific subjects. But the first two rules that I gave you are some of the very few things that I consider RULES, I never recommend this as a question of preference, you should ALWAYS buy whole beans ans they should ALWAYS be recently roasted. If you haven’t had this it is likely that you don’t know what a good coffee tastes like but once you do you will never want to go back.
About the type of roast apart from what I said before there are many more variables, coffee from different regions can be best at specific roast levels, it can vary on the brew process etc… but you choose what makes you happier in the morning and please if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask, I will be happy to help.