How to Buy the Best Coffee Beans
You can resort to different brewing techniques and fine tune them to get the appropriate flavor you want out of your coffee. You may prefer pour over coffee or brew it using French press. You may then ensure optimum water temperature along with the brewing duration but it all boils down eventually to the coffee beans you are using to get the flavor of your choice. If you are not purchasing the best quality coffee beans, then you surely are carrying out an act of gross injustice with your own self by preventing yourself access to the most scrumptious and delightful flavors that coffee has to offer.
But choosing the right coffee beans is only one part of the whole process. If they are not stored appropriately, they will end up losing all their deliciousness before they even make their way to the grinder; let along into your cup. So, before you waste your money along with coffee that could have tasted wonderful, you should get yourself acquainted with the different things that should be looked into while buying high quality coffee beans and then how to store them once you make your way back home.
Label tells the whole story!
Once you know what to look for in the labels affixed to the coffee jars, you can comfortably unearth the different hints that will direct you to the best coffee out there.
It cannot be over-emphasized that whole beans are the way to go. Pre-ground coffee may be ostensibly an easier option but in a bid to save out on time and effort, you tend to lose out on the flavor’s front. It simply is not worth it.
The biggest nemesis that any good quality coffee full of mesmerizing aroma is air. As soon as the hard outer covering encapsulating the coffee beans is cracked open, the oxidation process is expedited which means that the denigration process of the flavor is kick started. Ensure that the coffee beans are ground close to brewing to get a truly amazing cup of coffee.
It may appear to you that coffee can last forever but believe us, this is not at all the case. You will not probably get sick if you make coffee using old beans but the flavor will certainly suffer in contrast to what you will get with the fresher beans.
The chemical properties of the beans begin to change as soon as they leave the roasting environment. Carbon dioxide is emitted during roasting which is called as degassing.
As the degassing process gains momentum, all the exquisite oils begin to get oxidized which has adverse implications on the coffee’s flavor. The freshness of coffee beans is totally subjective but typically we would encourage you to make coffee within four days and two weeks from the date of roasting depending on your brewing technique.
For instance, if you prefer pour over coffee then beans will produce their best taste in the first week after getting roasted as you tend to get a more vibrant coffee bloom closer to the date of roasting.
But it would be judicious to keep the beans waiting for a little longer period of time if you are yearning for delightful cup of espresso. After the lapse of seven to nine days, the older coffee beans will be suitable for the next cold brew.
Keep in mind that these are general recommendations and you are always welcome to try out new combinations and techniques to find the flavor that suits you the most.
If you are purchasing the coffee beans from the super market or from a dedicated coffee shop, try to found the roaster’s identity. The coffee enthusiasts will be familiar with the best coffee roasters out there. An annual Good Food Award contest is held for the best roasters in the country.
Roasters tend to follow different techniques and skills of their own so if a roaster is underscored on the coffee jar’s label, you should be satisfied that you are getting hands on good quality coffee beans.
The eventual flavor of the coffee beans is greatly impacted by the characteristics of the soil, altitude of the location, rainfall and sunshine of the area. So, the origin of the beans is of great significance in determining their final taste.
Coffee trees are typically planted in the region between 25 degrees north and 30 degrees south along the equator. If your coffee’s label or your barista are not able to justify the origins of the coffee that they are offering, then you may want to do a rethink.
There are more than 50 countries in the world which produce coffee but you may want to begin with some of the greater known regions and get familiarized with their flavor profiles before you make a move to the more exotic variations.
- Hawaii: Kona Coffee is the most popular variant of Hawaiian coffee and has been named after the largest city in the island. The coffee boasts a vibrant and aromatic flavor thanks to tons of sunlight and frequent rainfall.
- Colombia: Boasting a milder coffee flavor along with moderate acidity, caramel sweetness and subtle nutty tastes, the coffee grown in Colombia owes its characteristics to the love and dedication offered by the small family farms.
- Brazil: Brazilian coffee offers a broad range of flavors owing to the massive countryside with varying elevations. They are typically related to peanut and a heavy body which is ideal for espresso. The coffee leaves its taste behind in your mouth.
- Ethiopia: Ethiopia is considered the place where coffee actually originated from and offers a wider palette of flavors. Along with the rustic and undocumented variations of coffee and disparate processing techniques, you can keep an eye out for fruity, heavy, wine-like coffees in addition to floral brews resembling tea.
- Kenya: Coffee is Kenya is grown without shade and processed using fermentation soak; thereby lending it a sweet flavor similar tomatoes and black current
- Indonesia: Sumatran and Java variants of coffee are known all over the world for their deeper body and lower levels of acidity.
It can be a whole lot fun to explore different palettes of coffee flavors originating from different locations and growing in hugely different climates and processed using various methodologies. Even if you prefer a certain kind of coffee, it would do you no harm to experiment with newer flavors and processing techniques.
When it comes to food labeling, Fair Trade is a crude description and its meaning depends on, well, whom are you asking! You must have encountered tons of different fair trade labels on coffee packaging. If you are interested in knowing what they actually represent, then we are here to help you out.
Fairtrade International aims to encourage fairer trade conditions for marginalized producers to help uplift their economic conditions.
They envisage that the only way forward to ensuring that the world’s most vulnerable producers of coffee can achieve sustainable development is through provision of transparent and structured opportunities of trade. FLO-CERT is a third party inspection organization which frequently reviews products with the Fairtrade International label.
Fair Trade Certified is a not-for-profit organization in the US which was previously known as TransFair and was also a member of the FairTrade International. They collaborated with FairTrade International till 2011 when the two groups parted ways by claiming that while they were striving to achieve similar objectives but they have varying ideas as far as the pathways leading to attaining those objectives were concerned.
Serving coffee producers of virtually all income groups, Fair Trade Certified has not restricted itself to the poorest of the poor producers only. They aim to encourage development and help communities flourish through a durable and cohesive trade model that reaps rich dividends for all the stakeholders ranging from the farmers to the consumers.
Fair For Life certifications are not product specific as this third party organization authenticates each and every step of the production line along with the entire companies. They aim to foster morality—entered, fair and venerable collaborations amongst producers, farmers, employers, sellers and consumers.
The members of the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) and the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) are required to conform to stringent fair trade practices and standards. There are nine principles that are required to be followed by the members of FTF while WFTO members have to comply with ten mandatory principles.
There is still disagreement over the fact whether compliance with fair trade standards guarantees high quality coffee or not. However, a fair trade certificate does guarantee the consumer that the coffee producers, their workers and their environment was in conformity to the fair trade practices.
We would suggest you to look out for the dominant fair trade players in the market and then stick to the one which is in line with your values. Once you are acquainted with the organizations that you can put your faith in, it will be easier for you to search out the fair trade coffee that suits you.
Organic is yet another deceiving terms that is employed to sell products at exorbitantly higher rates. But when you encounter the USDA Organic label on a bag of coffee, it means that the coffee has been produced under the following conditions:
- The land is managed by coffee producers to rehabilitate, maintain and bolster biodiversity
- While working towards integrating their farm into the local environment, the producers ensure that the natural ecosystem is not harmed
- Techniques minimizing emission of pollutants in air, soil and water are employed
- Typical pesticides, bioengineering, ionizing radiation, or fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge are not used
- Reliance on conventional methods such as crop rotations and biological controls to manage weeds, pests and soil health is encouraged
Maintenance of local biodiversity and soil health without resorting to typical chemicals is the primary aim of the USDA Organic label. That does not imply that all organic products are free of chemicals. However, the list of chemicals approved for use in organic farming is quite limited.
If you are an ardent supporter of sustainable farming practices, USDA Organic is what you should be looking to go for. The onus is on you to decide whether the coffee you are getting with the USDA Organic label is the best around or not.
Coffee Risk Indicators
If your coffee beans label is without certain positive characteristics that you are on the prowl for, you may want to be cautious. But there are still risks in your path. There are certain risk indicators that you should keep an eye out for.
If the coffee that you are ogling at has been pre-ground then abstain from purchasing it. If you are at a roaster’s dug out and they only profess to sell pre-ground coffee, then you may as well leave and do it pretty quick.
If you do not have a grinder at home, then you should look out for coffee grinders both automatic and manual. Get the one that is in line with your brewing techniques, personal choice and kitchen configuration.
100% Pure Coffee
If the bag of coffee has a label that says that the coffee is 100% pure then we will have our suspicions regarding why the need to say so arose in the roaster’s mind. What else could it be other than coffee? And by the way what really is pure coffee?
A reliable source should not find the urge to use a label saying 100% pure coffee. So, you should definitely remember that while buying coffee beans.
Scoop or self-serve coffee beans
Judicious roasters who are anxious about keeping the beans fresh will place them in airtight sealed jars or one-way valve bags away from sunlight. However, when you happen to enter a store where you see clean plastic bins showcased on the shelves, it is time to make your way out of the door, friends!
Do no wait one bit, we say!
It may seem to be a nice ploy to save some money by purchasing coffee beans in huge quantities but it does not assure you a sprightly cup of coffee. If your roaster insists on selling beans in massive quantities only, then do not yield. Purchasing coffee is similar to getting a fresh loaf of bread. You should get it either once or the every other week as and when required.
If you end up buying large quantities of coffee beans, there is always a risk of the coffee getting stale or even getting wasted.
The coffee that is available in the super market typically tends to come with a Use-by date instead of a roast date. A use-by date is absolutely futile if someone is looking out for fresh coffee.
The use-by date is typically a year beyond the date of roasting so the best idea that you can infer from this date is not to buy it at all.
Where to get the best coffee beans
The first step that you should take is to forget about your trip to the supermarket unless you believe that the stuff available there is really unique or offers a great deal in tandem with the local roaster.
You will be able to get coffee at the local supermarket in a blink of an eye but you will probably not be getting your hands on the fresher beans and the rich flavors that they are destined to offer.
Brick and mortar shop
A small sized, separate coffee shop should be the first place to visit in search for the best beans in your neighborhood. If they do not sell coffee beans themselves, they can probably direct you to the relevant roaster.
You can also get access to high quality coffee beans at the specialty grocers who are dependent on local sources or top notch imports.
Buying directly from the local roaster should be your go-to option if you get it. This lets you eliminate the mediator and you get the opportunity to financially support the roaster along with getting access to freshly roasted coffee beans.
Enquire the roaster about their roasting routines and try to be there when their next batch of fresh coffee beans has been roasted.
The best thing about this all is that sooner or later you are going to find someone who desperately cares about the freshness of coffee beans and can provide you handy advice as you unearth new flavors and styles.
If there is no popular coffee roaster in your neighborhood, then you can always resort to the charisma of the internet. You can find out roasters who ship coffee beans right to your doorstep every month or even every week.
There are numerous roasters who roast and ship based on your order. So, if you have heard about a certain roaster, check out their website or contact them via phone to figure out if they offer shipping to your area or not.
Picking up the best coffee beans
Now, we are familiar with the essential aspects that need to be inspected in the coffee label and how to find out the best roasters in town or online. But what kind of coffee beans should one really get?
The coffee’s flavor is due to the coffee beans and there are two very important of them that you need to care about: Arabica and Robusta.
Arabica coffee beans are the best beans out there if you are looking for a cup of coffee that will tantalize your taste buds. About three-fifths of the coffee consumption in the world is that of Arabica coffee. It is famous for its higher levels of acidity and fruity and sweeter taste.
Coffee canephora or robusta coffee does not boast as rich a flavor and chemical intricacy as coffee Arabica. It comes from a plant that is easier to maintain and so the result is a low cost coffee.
Low altitude locations are conducive for the growth of canephora plant and is naturally pest resistant. It also offers higher caffeine levels than Arabica.
Explore your roast
There is no industry standard for roasting but typically roasts can be classified as light, medium, medium dark and dark.
Keep in mind that these are not the actual names of the roasts. As a matter of fact, most of the roasters name them in their preferred way but some familiar roasts are related to color categories.
Light roasts are light brown in color and are roasted for a shorter duration. They come with high caffeine content and are commonly known as light city, half city and cinnamon.
Medium roasts are the most popular in the US and that is exactly why the label on some of the bags of coffee says American Coffee despite the coffee clearly belonging to Kenya. With a medium brown color, the medium roasted beans offer a rich flavor and a surface that is not oily. They are also known as breakfast or city.
You can find some oil on the surface of medium dark roasts which boast a rich, dark color. The medium dark roasts offer a bitter-sweet after taste that is not overwhelming. This roast is also known as Full City.
Dark roasts are those coffee beans which we have been seeing in most of the coffee ads. They have a shiny surface lined with oil and offer a bitter taste when brewed. They are color dark brown to charred. The dark roasts are also known as high, continental, European, Viennese, Italian, French, or New Orleans roasts.
Right amount of coffee to buy
Now, we all know that buying coffee in large quantities is not at all recommended unless you are an owner of a shop or run a restaurant. But at the same time, you also do not want to run out of coffee during the week when you are getting ready for that all-important meeting you do not want to sleep in.
To determine how much coffee you should buy, you need to be familiar with your own coffee consumption. Coffee in-take is measured in cups per day and not in ounces of coffee beans. It is always a good idea to take note of the amount of coffee that you consume in one week.
Once you figure out the baseline, you will prevent yourself from buying extra coffee and letting those beans lose out on their freshness or not buying sufficient coffee and running out of it mid-week. 30 grams of coffee beans are recommended per twelve ounces of water typically.
So, if you drink 10 cups of coffee in a week, you will need to get 150 grams or five ounces of coffee.
Taste all you can!
The great thing about coffee is that there is so much of it down there. It is always great to finally find that brilliant roaster but what is phenomenal about being a coffee enthusiast is that you are always on the lookout for newer and fresher flavors.
This is particularly true if you are getting the beans directly from the roaster. Listen to their advice and try out new flavors. Broaden your horizons. You may not like each and every cup but you will certainly be able to discover new flavors while going down this path.
What to do after getting the best coffee beans?
You have bought your fresh bag of those tiny pockets of deliciousness either from the local roaster or via an order that you placed online. Now, let’s talk about storing these delightful beans to preserve their freshness.
Store them in airtight sealed container
Ignore this advice if you have got your beans in an airtight, sealed, one way valve, foil bag with a pinhole. Beans stay fresh in those bags for one to two weeks which should be sufficient time to savor the sprightly flavor the beans have to offer.
However, if they came in a paper bag, then move them to an airtight sealed coffee canister right away.
Avoid tightening the lid if the beans have been freshly roasted. They tend to emit carbon dioxide and you do not want to deform the shape of the container or even make it burst due to the buildup of the gas inside it.
Store in a cool, dark and dry place
Think of your beans of coffee nothing less than an expensive bottle of wine. Coffee should be placed in a dark place similar to wine which abhors light. We are certainly not suggesting you to store coffee in a place similar to a wine cellar (if that is possible, it would be really cool) but the way we take care of storing wine, we need to be meticulous about storing coffee the same way.
Coffee ought to be stored in the pantry or cabinet that is located far away from the stove in the kitchen. Ensure that beans are away from humidity that normally transpires when water is boiled for brewing or for the night’s pasta.
Say No to the fridge and freezer
People tell you to place the coffee beans in the fridge or freezer to help them stay fresh for longer periods of time. But do not even think of doing this! It is only a myth as in addition to failing to keep the beans fresh, this method tends to spoil their flavor as well.
The structure of coffee’s cell is porous and this is what is responsible for its absorbing quality when it comes to aromatics during roasting. This also makes the coffee taste similar to chopped onions or other pungent food that you have in store in the fridge.
Coffee can easily condensate in the cold and damp environment inside the refrigerator which destroys the oils responsible for the delicious flavor. So, the coffee tends to get staler quickly and loses out on its flavor. Also, coffee beans are not immune to freezer burn.
The Wrap Up
We can understand that it is a lot to soak in. But you now you know how to read the coffee labels, how to buy the best coffee beans and how to store them.
What are you waiting for? Go out there and explore new flavors of coffee!