Now that speciality coffee is on the rise, there is increasing awareness that not all coffee beans were created equal. The simple reality is that there are good beans and bad beans, as well as everything in between. And the coffee beans you use have a significant impact on the final flavour of your coffee.
As with most things in life, you get what you pay for when it comes to coffee beans. Bulk low-quality beans are cheap as chips, while speciality roasted high-quality beans do cost more. So if you are simply looking for the most affordable coffee, this article isn’t for you.
This, instead, is a guide for those who are willing to pay a bit more for quality but don’t know exactly where to find quality. Here are two vital tips to be able to identify good quality coffee.
Look for bags of coffee with a roast date
Almost every bag of coffee will either have a roast date or a best before date. This is a surprisingly easy way to sift the gravel from the gold when it comes to coffee.
If your specific bag of coffee has the best before date, then it is almost undoubtedly mass-produced, low-quality, and older than desired. These bags of coffee have often been sitting on the shelf for months and, simply put, were past their prime from the moment they were roasted.
However, a roast date is almost always a sign that a reputable company roasts the given coffee beans. The reason speciality coffee roasters include a roast date is so that you can know exactly how old your beans are. It is little known that coffee beans are technically a type of produce, just like how cabbages or carrots are best used within a specific time frame.
Within the speciality coffee world, the usual rule of thumb is optimal flavour within the first two weeks of being roasted, and then still very nice for the following two weeks. After a month, the aroma decreases, and the flavour takes on a more generic, almost cardboard-ish taste.
So first tip, look for the roast date. If you can’t find one, then don’t buy the beans.
See if the coffee bags give detailed information
The second distinguishing mark of good coffee from bad coffee is what information is included on the coffee bag. Part of the speciality coffee movement has been an increasing awareness of the need for traceability. This is for the sake of integrity and for the sake of honest prices given to the coffee farmers.
As such, speciality coffee prides itself on communicating specific details around the beans that it uses. Admittedly there is a little bit of difference here between blends and single origin. Single-origin or beans from a single coffee farm or lot can obviously give more specific details. This in constrast with blends which are made up of a mix of coffee beans from various places.
Usually, however, good quality coffee beans will include on the bag a variety of information. Some of them include,
- area of what country the beans are from;
- which specific farm or collective sourced the beans;
- the height the beans were grown at;
- tasting notes can be expected, and;
- how the coffee beans were processed (natural, washed, and honey-processed being the most common).
If a given bag of coffee includes the above details, then that's the one you're looking for. You can be sure it was roasted by a company that knows what they are doing and are interested in optimal flavour.
Where to Look
So where can you find these sorts of speciality coffee beans? If you have no idea where to start, a good idea is to type into google ‘coffee roasters near me.’ This will bring up the nearest coffee roasters, and from there, you can try a few and see which you enjoy best.
Alternatively, there is an abundance of roasteries with online stores allowing you to try beans from around the world- from Ethiopian to Kenyan to Kona coffee. So sample and see which regions and roasts you prefer.