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One of the most common questions I get asked all the time is how to pick a good bag of coffee. It makes sense, as everyone is looking for that perfect cup of coffee. However, it is a really tough question to answer.
After all, everyone has their own tastes when it comes to coffee, enjoying different flavors and strengths and everyone is at a different point in their journey towards that perfect, most satisfying cup of coffee. But despite the difficulty of this question, I decided I would try to tackle it, anyway. I know, I’m insane!
While ultimately the choice will come down to you, there are many things you can look for to help you find the best bag of coffee beans that you can prepare at home to make a truly spectacular cup of coffee. Let’s examine everything you need to know about searching for that perfect cup so the next time you head out on a coffee mission, you can make the right decisions that will bring you closer to your goal.
What’s In the Bag
First, you need to know what to look for in a good bag of coffee beans while you are out shopping. This will help you eliminate the bad coffee altogether without wasting your money on a bag that simply won’t provide a truly impressive cup of coffee. There are a few things you need to look for in a good bag of coffee:
- Whole Beans – First, if you checked the title of this article, you will know I always mean whole beans. If you don’t have a grinder at home, get one, as whole bean coffee simply provides you a much better experience when you prepare it. If the coffee you are looking at was ground by the manufacturer, avoid it at all costs.
- Roast Date – When buying coffee, you always want to buy fresh. Always look for a roast date on the bag of coffee beans you are buying and buy one that was roasted as recently as possible. If the shop owner tells you it doesn’t matter, leave that establishment immediately, as they don’t know what they are talking about.
- Coffee Roaster – When you are looking at coffee, look for who actually did the roasting. Respected roasters will be well known and you can probably even look up a few of them and find out a little about them before you buy coffee they have roasted. When you find a coffee from one roaster you really like, try the others they make as well. This is a great place to start when you are expanding your coffee palette.
- Where is the Coffee From – When I say this, I don’t mean just the country where it was grown. Many coffee lovers will have a preference in location, but you can go ever deeper with your coffee search. Check to see where exactly the beans were sourced for roasting. The best quality coffee will tell you everything you need to know about it. If a coffee doesn’t, or the owner of the local shop doesn’t know, then chances are they are sourced from multiple locations, meaning you should stay away from that bag.
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What to Avoid in a Bag
Now that you know what to look for in a great bag of coffee beans, it is time to learn what you need to avoid at all costs. By avoiding all of these, you can greatly reduce the risk of getting a really bad cup of coffee.
- Bags That Say 100% Coffee – A bag of coffee really needs to say it is 100% coffee? I would hope that the coffee we buy is 100% coffee. If it isn’t, what exactly are we brewing? Any quality coffee will be guaranteed to be 100% coffee anyway, so don’t waste your time with this label.
- Silly Labeling – If the label on your bag of coffee is filled with a bunch of useful information or spends too much time boasting about how great it is, chances are it isn’t worth your time. Truly good coffee will fill up the space on the package label with details about the coffee, and the more you know, the better chance you have of making a good coffee decision.
- Ground Coffee – If a roaster offers only ground coffee, don’t buy it. When a coffee is ground, it begins to lose its flavor. So if you want fully enjoy your coffee, only buy from roasters that provide only whole bean coffee.
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Know Your Tastes
Now we get to the most difficult and, honestly, arbitrary part of the process. While ultimately there isn’t a lot I can do to help you through this part, I do have at least a little bit of advice to help you find the right coffee for your tastes.
Chances are you already have an idea on what type of coffee you like in general, such as mild or dark. But that is only the beginning. There is really so much more to coffee taste than just how strong or mild it is.
- Set Your Goals – First, you must set your goals for your coffee search. What are you looking for on this search? Maybe you are looking for something with a bolder flavor, or maybe you just want something very mild to help you start your day. Whatever your goals may be, put them firmly to your mind before you start your search for great coffee.
- Decide on Strength – Now, while I said there is more to coffee than strength, that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Every different type of coffee has a different strength, ranging from mild to very strong. Which one you begin with depends largely on your own tastes and preferences. This is a great way to find your first roaster to try by matching a roaster and their strength to the type of coffee you prefer. After all, you won’t have a good experience if you only like mild coffee and you choose a dark roast that is very strong.
- Stretch Yourself – While your initial strength levels can help you begin your search for great coffee, don’t let them limit you. Occasionally try other strengths of coffee from different roasters. Who knows, you may find a dark you love from one roaster even if you prefer a mild or medium coffee.
- Discuss with Other Coffee Lovers – One of the best ways I have found to learn more about coffee and what tastes great is by talking to other coffee lovers out there. There are many online groups that are perfect for just that. Chances are someone has tried the coffee you are considering and can give you advice. Don’t take their word for it though, always try it for yourself.
This is, perhaps, the most important part of the process. Even if you find a type of coffee that you really love, that doesn’t mean your coffee journey is over. You should always continue to try new coffees that you have never heard of before or never tasted, and you should also do this on a regular basis, as well.
While I’m not saying you should try something new and different every day, I do believe it is always a good idea to try new things. Maybe one or twice a month you pick up a small bag of beans that you have never had before and give them a shot. This will help you keep your palette open to new coffee tastes and it will help you discover new coffees that you may never have even considered.
There is nothing wrong with broadening your horizons, and that can include your coffee habit as well. So be brave and pick up a different kind of coffee every once and a while. I’m betting your taste buds will thank you.
In the end, finding the perfect cup of coffee is completely up to you. It is a trial of patience that can be very rewarding, but one that isn’t to be taken lightly. On your journey, you will taste some truly superb cups of coffee, but you will probably also be forced to gulp down some of the worst you have ever tasted. Remember, it is all part of the experience.
Never give up on your search, and even after you find what you believe to be your favorite, never stop trying new types of coffee. You never know, you may just find something you like even more than your current favorite. The point is, the journey never ends. Just remember to follow my advice above and I guarantee you will begin to discover coffee that you love.
So you’ve decided to take all the advice you have found on this site and take your coffee hobby to the next level. Congratulations and welcome to a whole new world of coffee enjoyment that will bring you an entirely new experience than that standard, pre-ground cup from your local supermarket could ever hope to provide. Now that you have made this important decision in your coffee journey, you need to learn where to find the best whole bean coffee and how you can determine if the coffee you are checking out is actually good or simple swill that should be dumped down the drain.
But where do you go to look and when you do finally find whole bean coffee that doesn’t have a label from any of the major coffee brands that you will find in your local supermarket, how do you tell if it is actually good quality coffee or not? Luckily, that’s why we’re here. Over the next few minutes, we will show you exactly what to look for in whole bean coffee and give you a few pointers about where you can go to find the best coffee.
Judge the Bean by the Bag
The first thing you must begin doing is reading every label on whole bean coffee. Be thorough and never overlook anything. You can actually learn a lot from the bag although in some cases your information will be at least somewhat limited. Ultimately after you read the bag, you are going to have to make a decision on whether to give it a try or not. However, understanding what is on the bag can help give you a few insights on whether or not a particular bag of whole coffee beans is worth buying or just putting back on the shelf.
Always Buy Whole Bean
When you purchase coffee, you should always buy whole beans and grind them yourself before you brew a pot or even a cup of coffee. This ensures that your coffee is as fresh as it can be as it will retain more of its flavor in whole bean form. Just make sure you invest in a proper grinder before you begin to buy your whole bean coffee.
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Types of Beans
There are more types of beans than I could even begin to describe here today. However, for those of you who are just starting on your journey, the two biggest varieties found are Arabica and Robusta. Robusta is well known for its bitter, earthier taste that is stronger and often is used in instant coffee. If you have a choice, choose Arabica. You will find that these types of beans will provide a much better flavor that is preferred by most coffee drinkers.
Once you have picked your type of bean, it is time to look at where the beans came from. Ideally, you want to find beans that all come from one single source and are not mixed and matched from multiple geographic locations. This will provide you with a more consistent flavor when trying new coffees. In most cases, smaller roasters will use beans from the same place while large roasters have huge volumes to fill and will take beans from multiple locations around the globe.
Roast Date and Use By Date
Everyone is familiar with the use by date on food and drinks, and coffee is no different. However, what you should also look for in whole bean coffee is the roasting date. If you find a roaster that provides this date, stick with them, as finding the roasting date is sometimes difficult and simply not provided by some roasters. If you find the roast date, be sure it is close to the current date or when you plan on using the coffee. The closer to the roasting date you are, the fresher and more flavorful the coffee will be. But often you are limited to only the use by date. As with any food, be sure you buy coffee whose use by date is far in the future as that will help you ensure that your whole bean coffee is fresh and full of flavor when you drink it.
Finally, you need to look at what type of roast was used on the coffee beans in question. A good rule of thumb is the darker the bean, the stronger the coffee. Before you buy any beans, make sure it is roasted to your taste. If you prefer something a little weaker, try going for a light roast. Often these roasts will have specific names such as City or Vienna. While it make take you a bit to learn the terminology, City is a lighter roast while Vienna is the most common type that people drink. If you prefer something stronger or weaker than the norm, try going lighter or darker than this roast.
Where Do You Go?
The search for where to find the very best whole bean coffee will take you to shops and stores that you have never set foot in before, and you must be prepared to expand your horizons if you truly want to find the very best and freshest whole bean coffee that you can enjoy at home.
Seek Out Local Shops and Roasters
Unfortunately, there is no magic place in your city or town where you can go to pick up the most perfectly roasted whole bean coffee. It’s going to take a little bit of leg work. While some supermarkets today now sell whole bean coffee, this should still be last place that you look. In most cases, you will only get limited information about the beans you are thinking of buying and often these beans come from the big roasters that get beans from a variety of locations.
In your search for superb whole bean coffee, spend some time online searching for local roasters in your area or, at the very least, the smaller, privately owned coffee shops. Avoid the chains at all cost. While Starbucks has made a killing selling you their coffee and their beans, you can often find whole bean coffee that is even better if you are willing to seek out the smaller shops.
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When you visit your local coffee shop, ask them where they get their whole bean coffee. They may be willing to share their roaster with you. If you find a local roaster, pay their store a visit when you have extra time to spare so you can examine the shop in detail and look at all the coffee they have to offer. Talk to the owner of the shop and get them to recommend different whole bean coffees to you that you can try.
Once you find a few shops, follow the guide we outlined above to learn more detail about every type of coffee they sell. Once you have done your homework, it is time for the fun part. Pick up a couple of very different whole bean coffees and take them home with you. Remember, if they have the roasting date on them be sure that they were roasted recently as after a week the coffee begins to lose the flavors that make it special. If you can, purchase only the smallest bags available so you can make sure you use it while it is freshest.
Order Coffee Online
Even coffee lovers can subscribe to services that can bring coffee right to their doors each month. There are many of these roasters that will bring you different coffees to try each month or you could just simply order coffee and have it delivered straight to your door whenever you want it. This is an easy way to find some of the best tasting coffees and is a great way to find wonderful coffee if you happen to live in an area that lacks high quality local roasters and shops. Some of the best choices available to you are Counter Culture, Blue Bottle Coffee and Tonx just to name a few. If you would like to sign up for a subscription service, CoffeeCSA is one of your best options.
Deciding to shun the big box coffee makers in favor of smaller, local roasters is just the first step into a much larger world of coffee enjoyment. By doing so, you can find new types of coffee that offer flavors and body that you may have never experienced before and wouldn’t if you didn’t take this new step. Be sure when you look for this type of coffee that you read each and every label carefully to learn about what type of bean it is, how it was roasted and when it was roasted. At the very least, buy the coffee with the longest shelf life if no roast date is available.
Remember, when all is said and done your new coffee hobby is all about your enjoyment. So try to enjoy every step of the process from searching for the best coffee shops and roasters, to reading about the types of beans they carry, and finally brewing and drinking this new superb cup of coffee that you may never have even considered buying ever before.
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