Exploring the Art of Buying Great Coffee

Imagine you’re standing in front of a wall of coffee bags at your local supermarket, unsure which one to pick. Maybe you’ve found a coffee you enjoy, but there’s an entire world of flavors waiting for you to discover. The aim here is to help you navigate through the diverse and sometimes confusing world of coffee, ensuring you pick something you’ll love while avoiding choices you might regret.

When buying coffee, freshness is crucial. Coffee starts losing its aromatics and gains unpleasant flavors as it stales. Specialty coffee often has a roast date, letting you know exactly how old it is. Supermarkets prefer a best-before date, which can be up to two years after roasting, so you’re never quite sure about the coffee’s freshness. Espresso enthusiasts should note that super fresh beans might lead to a disrupted brewing process due to the high CO2 content. Resting beans for a week or two often makes for a better espresso.

Opt for whole beans over pre-ground coffee. Whole beans maintain their quality much longer, and grinding them fresh offers better value for money and a richer experience. Besides, grinding coffee adds a delightful aroma to your morning routine. Roasting levels also matter; light to medium roasts can be enjoyable for up to eight weeks, while darker roasts go stale faster.

Traceability in coffee is a good sign of quality. Knowing where your coffee comes from, whether it’s a single farm or a cooperative, adds value. Historically, coffee labeled only by country of origin doesn’t tell you much about its flavor profile. High traceability usually means the coffee is of higher quality and worthy of a premium price. Seasonality also plays a role. Different countries harvest at different times, and buying from places that update their offerings regularly ensures you’re getting fresh beans.

There are three main places to buy coffee: supermarkets, coffee shops, and online. Each has its pros and cons. Supermarkets are convenient and usually cheaper, but the coffee might not be as fresh. Coffee shops offer the chance to talk to knowledgeable staff and buy fresh beans. You can often taste the coffee before you buy it. Online shopping provides the most variety and often the freshest beans, as many roasters ship right after roasting. Subscription services can simplify your life by delivering fresh coffee regularly.

Finally, decoding a coffee bag can help you make the right choice. Supermarkets often use “strength” to indicate roast level – the higher the strength, the darker the roast. Specialty coffee might not always describe roast degree, but terms like “filter coffee” or “espresso” give clues. Descriptive words on bags serve dual purposes: describing the taste and enticing you to buy. Fresh fruit words indicate higher acidity, while cooked fruit or non-fruit descriptors like caramel or chocolate suggest lower acidity.

Remember, personal preferences play a huge role in enjoying coffee. Some folks dislike light-bodied, tea-like coffee, while others can’t stand acidic brews. Fermented fruit flavors, common in naturally processed coffees, are either a hit or a miss. Words like “tropical fruit” or “natural process” hint at these flavors. If you prefer to avoid them, look for washed coffees or those with non-fruit descriptors.

Choosing the right coffee can seem daunting, but understanding a few key principles can make the process enjoyable and rewarding. Whether you’re buying from a supermarket, a coffee shop, or online, knowing what to look for in terms of freshness, traceability, and flavor profiles can help you find a coffee that you’ll love. Enjoy the journey of discovering new flavors, and remember that the world of coffee is vast and full of delicious possibilities.