Buying coffee beans can be a more complex process than you first think. For a start there are a number of different growing regions, different strengths and a whole new language to master! In some ways buying the right coffee beans is all very personal as it depends on your taste. What one person may love another may hate. Our initial advice would be to try as many coffees as you can, for us it was the only way we eventually got to the one we loved!
In the meantime check out our guide which hopefully will point you in the right direction and make some sense of the words used in the coffee bean industry to describe different coffee beans. We call it bean-ology-helping you determine the right coffee for you.
All coffees exist of Arabica or Robusta beans. Arabica accounts for three quarters of the coffee sold in the world, they are more expensive and tend to make better coffee. The remainder is Robusta, also called Canephora.
These are the higher quality bean and will only grow at high altitude. The conditions they grow in mean they grow slowly, producing a dense and rich flavour. As coffee is graded on density Arabica comes out with the best grades.
These can thrive on lower ground and tend to offer quantity over quality to coffee farmers. They have a bitter, astringent flavour and contain twice the level of caffeine than Arabica beans. Important to note that there are some quality Robusta beans out there and some people love the pungent cup they produce.
You may also see the term Peaberry. This is produced when two seed halves fuse into a sphere. They can damage the flavour of regular beans but on their own they can offer a great flavour.
Put very crudely, the rule of thumb is that the altitude at which your bean is grown affects the flavour of the bean in your cup. The higher the altitude the more intense the flavour. So at 5,000 ft. you will find the famous intense coffees of Ethiopia, Kenya, Guatemala, and Columbia. At 2-3,000ft you get the more subtle flavours of Hawaiian coffee beans.
Understanding Different Coffee Regions
So where beans grow makes a difference. Coffee is cultivated across the world in a belt, known at the ‘bean belt’ generally bounded by the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.
So what are the main coffee growing regions? Coffee is grown in more than 50 countries around the world including Vietnam, Ghana and Rwanda. Brazil is the top coffee producer. Check out our article that covers each coffee growing region in detail. There are significant differences from the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and java which tend to be full bodied in taste to Columbian coffee beans that are renowned for their intensely aromatic flavours.
Roasting coffee beans involves roasting the green coffee bean. All sounds very simple but there is a real art to this. Each stage in the roasting process will see changes in colour, aroma and even sound. So how does roasting affect the flavour of what you get in your cup?
Light roast-creates a light brown bean with a slightly sour taste
Medium roast-no oily surface on the bean, can be slightly acidic
Dark roast-some oil on the surface of the bean, acidity has faded, caramel notes appear, slightly bittersweet aftertaste
Darker roasts-creates shiny black beans, you will still get some good acidity.
Whatever country you buy your beans from, whatever roasting finish there is one thing that will never change, always use fresh coffee beans. If you can grind your own to keep the optimum freshness. If you can’t then ensure that you check the dates from when the coffee was ground and store correctly to keep the coffee as fresh as possible.