coffee selection guide: how to choose what coffee to buy

This is a mini-guide on how I choose what coffee roasts to try and what specific things I look for when purchasing coffee.

There are thousands of choices when it comes to choosing coffee beans. When starting to brew at home, it’s most important to play around with a bunch of different variables and in the end see what you prefer. This can get expensive so keep reading for my recommendations to save you guys some money!!

Related: What to look for when choosing a coffee shop

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A mini preface: I am in no way calling myself an expert as this is my personal list of things I look for. I tried to make this guide as broad as I could so that coffee brewers of all levels and styles could find this helpful! I have a bunch of other helpful coffee guides over here.

The bulk of this guide is split between what to look for when choosing the roaster & then the beans themselves – two very important components. But ultimately choosing the best coffee is very subjective and it all comes down to your preferences.

Hopefully this mini-guide will help you become more aware of little tricks to point you towards the best quality coffee possible!

okay, let’s get into this list.


The Roaster

Credibility:

The credibility of the roaster would be the first thing I look at: whether I’ve heard of them before (and if it was in a positive light), the branding and the reviews.

Quality:

The quality of the roaster is even more important. If you’re buying coffee in-person look for all the specifications on the bag. Good roasters will specify the technique they used while roasting.

Look for any specifications of the kind of roast (light, medium, dark), the origin, flavor profile, etc. More detail on the bag can almost guarantee that the roaster really knows what they’re doing, which then ensures better quality.

Look for the roast date, as coffee does not last forever; over time the beans will completely loose their flavor (I know from experience). If the roast date is over 4 weeks old don’t even bother spending your money on it; that coffee is almost past their optimal freshness.

Going off that, a huge giveaway to me is if a roaster even offers their coffee whole bean. There’s been multiple occasions where I’ve purchased coffee online but you couldn’t select how your wanted your beans. So, me being me, I just assumed they would be whole beans; I was very wrong and very let down as it came pre-ground. I had no indication of how long the beans could have already been ground for and also it made it much more difficult for me to get the perfect at home brew with it.

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tip of the year: I highly highly highly recommend that when purchasing coffee beans to purchase them whole if you can. It helps ensure optimal flavor for each brew. I just want to make sure you don’t forget it.

So, if the roaster only offers pre-ground coffee, then run. Simple right?


The Beans

There are many variables that dictate the flavor of the beans themselves: on a broader scale, the origin of the beans/wash and roast processes dictate what you taste; on a smaller scale, the notes dictate what you taste.

Country of origin:

I’m going to keep this more user friendly, so I won’t be ranting about all 50+ countries that produce coffee and what each brings to the table. Just note that depending on the origin of the coffee and the wash processes used, it sets the scene for the flavor profile of the beans. Over time you may start to create a mental list of your favorite roasts you’ve tried and what country the beans came from. It’s another piece to the puzzle 🙂

but when looking at the top coffee producing regions, typically

Central & South American: clean & sweet

Africa: complex & fruity

Asia: luscious & earthy

found here
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The kind of roast:

(light, medium, dark, or somewhere in the middle)

light: beans roasted for the shortest amount of time, also light in color.

medium: the most common one you’ll find. roasted longer than a light roast, but shorter than a dark roast – how crazy is that? A lot of your classic “breakfast blends” or random drip coffee you’d find out and about typically are medium roasts.

dark: roasted the longest, normally very dark in color, rich in flavor and usually appear very oily to touch. Italian roasts, French roasts, Viennese roasts, etc. are all common dark roasts.

I typically go after roasts on the medium-dark scale as I love being able to taste bolder flavors, especially since I prefer to drink my coffee black. But even more important than picking the kind of roast, is the notes in that roast.

The flavor notes:

The coffee notes written on a coffee bag are very subjective. It could say chocolate and you taste fruit, or you could be so lost like “how could coffee taste like chocolate or fruit” and call it a day. Either is completely valid.

It took me a long time to really be able to taste anything other than coffee. Regardless, the notes are there to help you.

If you tried a coffee and one of the notes was “nutty” and you absolutely hated it, well when shopping next maybe steer clear of coffee with nutty undertones – it turns into a big process of elimination. Over time you’ able to create a mental list of “okay well I hated that kind of origin or those tasting notes” and realize what speaks to you.

Notes can really help you determine what kind of coffee is your favorite kind of coffee.

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Other coffee terms to help you fulfill your caffeine addiction –

Arabica vs. Robusta:

Arabica: sweeter, softer flavors. grown at higher altitudes & seen as the “higher quality” bean.

Robusta: bolder, more bitter flavor. grown at lower altitudes & contain more caffeine.

Almost all of the beans you buy are going to be Arabica, so don’t think too deep into it.

Single origin vs. a blend:

Single origin simply means its from one specific farm, crop, or region in one country. Not always, but a lot of the time single origins are of higher quality. A blend is an assortment of multiple roasts that are paired together in one bag.

Blends for milk, Single origins for black.

Blends are made usually to give a more balanced body and flavor profile that pairs well with milk, like in espresso-based beverages. Single origins are geared more for those who enjoy tasting the subtle differences in the roast, without masking it with milk.

but you do you. coffee is everyone’s friend.

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Fair trade:

Some people do prefer to shop fair trade (& go you), so when purchasing coffee take time to look around for that accreditation.

Companies who are apart of the fair trade community mean that they are advocating for the environment and the countries that they get their coffee from. They help to support the source countries to create a sustainable income for smaller family farms and ensuring they then earn enough to make a living. To learn more I found a nice post on it here.

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Where to find the best beans

This is great and all, but where could I find some great coffee to purchase from?

1. Start Local -local coffee spots, specialty grocery stores (normal ones usually only have low-quality coffee with a long shelf-life), or farmers markets.

What’s great about purchasing local is you have people to turn to and ask questions to see what they would suggest for you to try!! get a second opinion!!

2. Shop Online – whether you find a roaster that peaks your interest to buy from online (I’ve reviewed some insanely good ones over on my instagram), OR you come across a company that does the hard word for you – both works great.


Coffee Subscription Services

Subscription services are a great way to expose yourself to specialty roasters without having to do any of the searching. When signing up, you put in your roast and grind preferences (cough, whole bean) and you’re all set! Easy peezy, you get great coffee straight to your door.

I’ve tried a handful out over the last couple months, some were gifted & some I paid for, but I’m here to only mention the ones that are worth your hard earned money.

Honey & Roses Coffee Company:

Honey & Roses Coffee Company is a coffee marketplace which sells coffee from quality roasters all across the US! They offer a normal and a premium coffee subscription (both under $20). You can choose how often you want the coffee delivered – anywhere from 2 weeks onwards.

Honey & Roses is great because even if you don’t want to commit to a subscription of any kind, they are a coffee marketplace as well! They hand pick what roasters are on their site – so you already know they are going to be high quality. Their website also is set up so you can search coffee by notes, regions, etc.

I do have coupon codes to offer you! I don’t receive anything from these. They are just meant to help you out.

“Coffeeenut” for $5 off their adorable travel mugs & “nutsforcoffee” for 10% off coffee orders over $25

Related: An interview with the co-founder of Honey & Roses Coffee

Bean Box Coffee:

Bean Box Coffee is a subscription service that highlights roasters in the Seattle area. Their traditional subscription box (they’re currently having a deal here for $16.50) comes with four 2oz. sample packs. Also, I’ve noticed they always seem to have deals or coupons over on their instagram so keep an eye on that!

They make the idea of getting sample packs even more fun; if you get one that you really love you can use the code on the bag to then go on their website and order more of that specific batch!

I really love how they highlight a lot of smaller, less-known roasters too.

Atlas Coffee Club:

Atlas Coffee Club is great not only for their adorable aesthetic, but each month they highlight a single country of origin. In the box they include a postcard and also brewing tips to ensure you brew the best cup.

When placing your order you can choose the frequency of shipment, roast preferences and what size bag you want. I believe right now they’re having an insane deal for fathers day… I thought I saw it was only $4 for the first month!!!


Let’s Recap!

I know this is a lot of information but make sure to remember these key points.

  1. when looking for a good quality, specialty roaster check their: branding, accreditations, reviews, but most importantly – what they make a note of on their coffee bags
  2. so, take the extra minute or so to read the information on the coffee bag – you can tell a lot from it without even having to brew it!
  3. if you’re able to, buy whole bean.
  4. over time you will develop a taste for what regions or notes of coffee you enjoy the most! I’m all about having a good coffee tasting!
  5. if you want someone else to do the searching for you, OR you just want great exposure to specialty roasters – try one of the subscription services I mentioned!

If there’s a specific question you have that I didn’t answer here please don’t hesitate to comment or reach out!! I have a couple more coffee tips/guide posts planned for the near future – for questions I got over on my instagram that I felt didn’t fit the topic of this post.

If you enjoyed this please don’t hesitate to check out some of my most recent posts here.

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Lots of love,

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keep updated

with me on my journey

16 thoughts on “coffee selection guide: how to choose what coffee to buy

  1. FYI, I always travel with my Peet’s French roast, and filters. But I really enjoy trying the coffee is other countries, with some surprises. In Laos, the coffee vendor made our coffee by filtering it through a big tube sock! Each place seems to have their own ritual, which is equally enjoyable.

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  2. Personally I’m more of a tea drinker but this is a very informative list! I will have to check out a few of these for a few of my friends. They like coffee and would probably love some of these as gifts 🙂

    Like

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