Coffee grows all over the tropical world, and there are many different varieties even in a single coffee-growing region. Picking the best tasting coffee beans is relatively a tough task practically. Currently with over thousands of varieties of coffee beans, a buyer is often confused in buying and is often found haunting the best bean on the web. So, how do you decide as which coffee bean is the best?
We spent so much time on buying a perfect coffee machine, but do we spare some time for beans too? It’s also an important aspect of coffee making process that can if not given attention can affect the taste of coffee cup.
Note : The article is long, and so you have to spare some time reading it. We have tried to include all the aspects required to judge the coffee and hope, it satisfies your knowledge. At time, it may feel too long, so at that point, go and do some walk, and come again after a few minutes.
A Matter of Taste
There is no point in buying coffee beans according to what you are “supposed” to like. Try a few new beans and roasts and get to know your own preferences. Excellent beans are grown all over the tropical world, and no country or region has a monopoly on quality.
Some people prefer a sharper, fruity, more acidic coffee while others prefer a mellower, earthy flavor. The beans themselves have underlying flavours, and the roasting, grinding and brewing processes make their own contributions to the final taste.
Buying Guide – Things To Consider
First of all, there is no such thing as ‘Best Coffee Beans in the world’ as everything depends on what suits the tongue. Everyone in this world has various preferences and so taste is no way different.
What beans you choose depends on a number of factors. Personal preference is the most important. A single origin may get rave review from the coffee snobs, but if you don’t like the taste, there’s no point in trying to pretend that you do.
Coffee reviewers use a lot of the same language that wine tasters use to describe the flavor profile of a given bean. You may not be able to taste “blackcurrants” or “licorice” in your coffee, but paying attention to the descriptions of coffees that you particularly like or dislike can be useful when you’re trying to choose a new bean. If you like one coffee that is usually described as “bright,” you may like other bright coffees too, even if you don’t quite understand the terminology.
How you plan to use your coffee is also important. You wouldn’t use a high-grade single-origin bean to make a pumpkin spice latte, because the complex flavors will be masked by the other ingredients. Many people will have a couple of different kinds of beans on hand that suit for different uses.
If you’re going to spend money on high quality beans, it’s especially important to use them within 10 days of roasting and to grind them as close as possible to brewing time. Otherwise, the quality of the coffee will have degraded to the point that you’re not really getting what you paid for.
One thing for us might be awesome but for the other person, it might not be the same, it’s a fact. Still, there are few factors that are used to determine bean quality. Here are some of the factors that should be considered before buying the beans.
Like all agricultural products, coffee has been selectively bred resulting in a variety of different subspecies. All of these fall under the categories of either Arabica or Robusta beans. Although there are good and bad coffees in both these categories, Arabica is generally considered better quality. All of the beans on this list are Arabica.
Geography Or Origin
Where a bean grows is just as important to the final outcome as the genetic profile of the breed. Altitude, climate and soil conditions all have a profound effect on the flavor of coffee. Weather conditions can change from season to season, which is why single origin coffees can vary so much in flavor and quality.
Arabica beans grow best at around 6000 feet above sea level, but there are two beans that grow at much lower altitudes – Hawaiian Kona and Sumatran Mandheling. In both cases the trees grow in rich volcanic soil which contributes to the flavor and quality of the end product.
Different origins have different tastes and which one to pick requires some testing or know how about origins to find the best coffee beans.
- Ethiopia: This is where it all started. Coffee is native to Ethiopia, and this country still produces some of the world’s best coffee. Ethiopian coffee has a high range of genetic diversity and is mostly still grown using traditional organic methods. Popular Ethiopian beans include Harrar, Sidamo and especially Yirgacheffe.
- East Africa: Many East African countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe produce and export coffee. Kenya is the most famous coffee producers in the region after Ethiopia, producing bold coffees with a bright acidity and sometimes blackcurrant notes.
- Colombia/Central America: This region produces some of the most familiar coffees to American consumers. Coffee is grown throughout Central America, the Caribbean and tropical South America. The quality ranges from familiar grocery-store brands to Jamaican Blue Mountain, the most expensive coffee in the world.
- Brazil: Brazil is easily the largest coffee producing nation in the world. Gone are the days when Brazil produced only cheap coffees for grocery-store brands. Now there is a wide variety of both Arabica and Robusta grown in the country, from inexpensive beans to some of the world’s best espressos.
- Indonesia: This is a major coffee-growing country, and the island of Java has given coffee one of its best-known nicknames. Indonesia produces Java Arabica beans, a variety of Sumatran beans and the notorious Kopi Luwak (defecated by civets after eating coffee cherries.)
- Hawaii: This is the only US state that has the right climate for commercial coffee production. Hawaiian coffees tend to be mild, sweet and floral. The most famous (and the most expensive) is Hawaiian Kona.
Brazilian, Peruvian and Colombian are the terms used in the beans originating from here. The coffee from Brazil is heavy bodied and contains nuttiness in flavor. Beans from Colombia are one of the finest and is extremely balanced, perfect in acidity and has great body. Peru produces light bodied and bright beans that have nutty character and chocolaty aroma. Examples of this origin are Cool Breeze Colombian, Pure Peruvian and Bom Dia Brazil.
There are a number of factors that contribute to a bean’s flavor. Some are determined by the bean itself, while others are produced by processing, roasting and brewing techniques.
- Roast: How long the beans are roasted will affect every aspect of the flavor, aroma and appearance of the bean. Longer roasting produces darker, shinier beans while shorter roasting produces lighter, dried beans.
- Aroma: The first aspect of the flavor that will hit you, even before you drink the coffee, is the aroma. It turns out that our taste buds are not that sensitive to many different flavors, and most of what we think of as “flavor” is actually coming from our sense of smell.
- Acidity: A bright or fruity coffee will tend to be more acidic than a mellower bean.
- Body: What do people mean when they describe a coffee as full-bodied? Some coffees feel light in your mouth, while others feel more earthy and heavy. This impression comes from a combination of the aroma and other flavor characteristics.
- Balance: An extremely acidic coffee doesn’t taste good, nor does an over-roasted blend. When the various flavor parameters are properly balanced, the coffee tends to taste better and more complex.
- Finish: This refers to the aftertaste left behind after you sip the coffee. A very low-quality coffee may have a sour, acidic finish, while good coffee may have a finish that reminds you of fruit, nuts or chocolate.
A lot happens to coffee beans between the tree and the roaster. Some coffee producers are very careful to harvest the cherries at the peak of ripeness, resulting in a higher grade of coffee than a more haphazard approach.
Coffee can be either wet processed or dry processed. With wet processing, the cherry is removed and the beans are washed and usually fermented before drying. The parchment is removed after the beans have lost about 90% of their moisture content.
With dry processing, all or some of the fruit is left on the beans during the drying period. This process creates a different flavor profile. One reason that Mandheling beans taste so different from Kona even though both grow in similar soils and at similar altitudes is the difference in processing techniques.
Coffee beans are graded according to overall quality before they are exported. Higher grade coffees have to meet stricter standards when it comes to size, shape, color and percentage of substandard beans (fermented or moldy). Different grades of coffee from the same farm can taste quite different, and the price of high-grade beans is also much higher.
Arabica Vs Robusta
Arabica beans grow at high altitude. They are generally considered better quality and harder to grow than low-altitude Robusta beans, and they cost more accordingly. In reality the whole “Arabica is better” notion is a bit of an oversimplification.
There are cheap, low-quality Arabica blends, and even the best roasters in Italy always include some Robusta beans in their espresso blends to improve the crema (the tight foam that enhances espresso’s flavor and mouth feel). It’s also worth noting that Robusta beans contain more caffeine.
However, remembering that Arabica beans are generally higher quality is a good place to start.
Blends Vs Single Origin
When a roaster wants to create the perfect espresso with great Crema, Aroma, Flavor and Body, he or she will probably blend beans from several different origins together. Blending allows roasters to control the outcome, compensate for seasonal differences, and create a product with consistent quality.
A single origin coffee contains beans from just one source. No two single origins will taste quite the same. Coffee connoisseurs love to experience the unique flavor qualities of different single origin beans.
So, which is better: single origin or blends? It depends what you’re looking for. Blends are much more popular because they are more consistent and reliable. Single origins have a smaller but devoted following with connoisseurs. Why not enjoy both?
Freshness is the single biggest factor in making a great cup of coffee. As soon as beans are roasted they become perishable, quickly losing flavor. Grinding beans makes the quality deteriorate even more rapidly. The best coffee is made from recently roasted beans that you grind at home immediately before brewing.
The best way to get freshly roasted beans is to buy them from the roastery, or from a local roaster who distributes to retailers in your area. The roasting date should be on the bag. Opinions differ, but generally speaking coffee is best consumed between 2 and 10 days after roasting.
If you’re not able to buy beans this fresh, the next best option is to look for a package with a one-way valve. Beans off-gas after they are roasted, and if they are to be sold fresh, this gas has to have a way of escaping.
Beans that you buy tightly sealed in bags or cans have been allowed to off-gas completely before being packaged – meaning they are no longer fresh and so that’s a good clue to look for before buying your best coffee beans.
Coffee aficionados often say that dark-roasting beans destroy their unique flavors and qualities, and that high quality beans should be lightly roasted. If you really love dark roasted coffee then that is what you should buy, but save your money and buy less expensive beans: the subtle flavor characteristics that make high quality beans more expensive are smothered with the darkest roasts.
Light roasts are referred to as Cinnamon, Light City or Half City. They tend to retain both their acidity and caffeine content and have a flavor that may remind you of roasted grain. They are roasted until the “first crack” when beans begin to make a popping noise at about 205 degrees Celsius.
Medium roasts are traditionally the most popular in North America. They go by names such as American Roast, City, Breakfast Roast or just Regular Roast. They are roasted to about 210 or 220 degrees Celsius, or just before “second crack.”
Medium-dark roasts are roasted to second crack, which occurs at about 225 degrees Celsius. These are more full-bodied roasts and the oil begins to appear on the surface. Full City and Vienna Roast are names sometimes given to medium-dark roasts.
Dark roasts are roasted beyond second crack to about 240 degrees Celsius. After about 250 degrees the beans start to taste more like charcoal and produce a thin-bodied coffee. Dark roasts go by names such as Italian Roast, Espresso Roast, French Roast, and New Orleans Roast.
Try experimenting with medium-dark and medium roasting levels to see if you can start to detect some of the subtle flavors that distinguish one type of bean from another.
Coffee grows near the equator, meaning that some of the poorest countries in the world are coffee producers. Try to buy ethically sourced beans whenever you can, as coffee farmers often suffer due to mistreatment and dishonest business practices.
Fortunately, the best ethical practices – organic farming, shade growing, treating workers well – also tend to produce the best coffees. Certification boards exist to ensure that products are organic, shade grown, child labor-free, fairly traded or grown at altitude.
These certifications are helpful, but it’s also good to do your own research as many non-certified coffees still meet these requirements. Ethiopian coffee, for example, is generally organically grown and Indian coffee farmers are usually well-paid and well-treated.
A word of warning about Kopi Luwak, or civet poop coffee from Indonesia: traditionally this was picked off the ground in coffee plantations where the civets were allowed to live freely. Now it more often comes from civets living in tiny cages in horrible circumstances.
Unless you are very careful about the origin, these beans are almost always the product of animal cruelty. Most coffee experts agree that it is at best a gimmick in any case, and doesn’t really produce a better coffee.
Where to Buy Best Coffee Beans
Now that you know what to look for, start researching coffee roasters in your city. The best way to get the freshest beans is to buy them directly from the roaster. Roasters may also sell their coffee in local gourmet shops – always make sure to check that the roasting date is on the bag!
If there isn’t a good roaster in your area, you may choose to shop online instead. Just be careful to choose a roaster who can ship beans to you very quickly, as they are really only at their best for a maximum of two weeks after roasting.
Here are our 5 favorite picks from all around the world. There are numerous options that we could have included, but these coffees are most popular, easy to find, and good to start if you are getting into gourmet coffee for the first time.
1. Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
Ethiopia is the place where coffee growing started – in fact there are still cloud forests in the country were wild coffee trees grow. Ethiopia still produces some of the greatest coffee bean varieties in the world, including the popular beans from the Yirgacheffe region.
Yirgacheffe is about 6000 feet above sea level, making it a perfect environment for growing the finest Arabica beans.
The beans from this region are wet-processed, which means that the pulp of the cherry is removed before fermenting and drying.
Yirgacheffe is a delicate, sweet-tasting coffee with a bright, vibrant acidity. The aroma has both floral and spice notes and the body is light to medium. You may notice a hint of nuttiness or even chocolate in the finish.
This coffee is usually roasted light to medium-dark. Lighter roasts allow the delicate floral notes to shine through while darker roasts accentuate the sweet, spicy and nutty tastes. A balance of these flavors is achieved with just the right medium roast.
2. Hawaiian Kona Coffee
Hawaii is the only US state with a commercial coffee industry. The climate of the Kona Coffee Belt on the Big Island of Hawaii is a bit cooler than in most coffee-growing regions. This, combined with the rich volcanic soil and altitude (lower than typically seen with Arabica beans -between 800 and 2500 feet above sea level) give Kona its distinctive flavor and characteristics.
Kona beans come in six grades: Kona Extra Fancy (the highest), Kona Fancy, Kona No. 1, Kona Select and Kona Prime. Any lower grades are not allowed to bear the Kona name.
Beware of Kona Blends: these contain a minimum of 10% Kona beans and often consist mostly of cheaper beans from Colombia and elsewhere. They may be fine coffee, but they are not genuine Kona.
Hawaiian Kona beans have delicate taste with light acidity and a slightly sweet flavor. The coffee is medium-bodied with notes of spice and wine and an aromatic finish. Kona also tends to be well-balanced and complex in its flavor profile.
As with most fine coffee beans, it’s better not to go too dark with the roast. A medium or medium-dark roast brings out the best in these beans.
Kona beans are very expensive, but this is mainly because they are relatively scarce on the market. There are other beans of similar quality that cost much less, but for some compromise on the taste.
3. Tanzania Peaberry Coffee
When a coffee cherry produces just one round bean instead of two flat ones, it is called a Peaberry. It is one of the best tasting coffee bean around the world and is preferred by many. Because there is just one bean inside the fruit, people say that Peaberry coffees have a richer, more concentrated taste.
There may be another explanation for why Peaberry beans are traditionally valued so highly. With older roasting techniques such as skillet roasting, the round shape makes it easier to keep the beans in motion resulting in a better quality of roast.
Tanzanian Peaberry beans come from the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru. The acidity is noticeable without being extreme with aromas of blackcurrant and chocolate. The finish is long and sweet. This is a medium bodied coffee that creates a velvety feeling in the mouth.
Try a medium roast to bring out the natural sweetness of this unique bean.
4. Sumatra Mandheling
This coffee grows on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. The name Mandheling refers to the ethnic group that traditionally grew the coffee and not the geographic region. These beans grow in the rich volcanic soil of the Aceh and Lintong regions of the island, at between 2500 and 5000 feet above sea level.
This coffee is low in acidity while still having a bright, vibrant taste. The aroma is a bit earthy, and you may notice flavor notes of herbs, chocolate and licorice with a spicy finish.
Mandheling is a dry-processed coffee, which means that the beans are dried with some of the pulp still on them. This process gives the beans their unique taste, which is moderated somewhat by the process of washing the dried cherries in hot water. The parchment is removed from the beans before they are finished drying, which also contributes to Mandheling’s unique flavor profile and color.
Often you will find that Sumatra Mandheling beans are dark-roasted or medium dark-roasted to bring out the earthy sweetness of the coffee. You will also notice floral notes both in the aroma and the finish.
5. Kenya AA Coffee
This is the highest grade of coffee from one of the world’s best coffee-growing countries. Like other African beans, Kenyan AA has rich body and pleasing acidity that may remind you of citrus and berries. Like most African coffees, these beans have a distinctive floral aroma that also carries into the finish. Some connoisseurs claim that Kenya AA beans produce the world’s brightest coffee.
Kenyan AA beans are grown above 6000 feet above sea level, which is the perfect altitude for Arabica beans.
To avoid losing the brightness and floral notes, look for a medium roast. Longer roasting tends to obscure the subtle flavors that make Kenyan coffee so distinctive.
Some Great Coffee Roasters to Try
It makes sense to order beans based on the location of the roaster. Here are some of our favorite roasters that sell online:
Coava Coffee Roasters, Portland, Oregon: This company specialises in Ethiopian beans, carefully choosing the single-origin beans after thorough research. Their inventory tends to change rapidly as they keep up with changes in quality from season to season.
Café Mam, Eugene, Oregon: If organic, fair trade coffee is your thing, this company sells European-quality beans while supporting Mayan farmers’ co-ops in Mexico and Guatemala. Café Mam generally ships beans on the same day they are roasted.
Crimson Cup Coffee and Tea, Columbus, Ohio: Named 2016’s Macro Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine, this company sells a wide range of products and equipment in addition to beans. They specialize in sustainably-grown coffee and craft coffee.
Sweet Tree Artisan Roasters, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: This roaster focuses on single origin coffees and offers a story with every bean. If you want to know exactly where your coffee is coming from, this may be the roaster for you. They roast only in very small batches in order to preserve the unique quality of each bean.
Counter Culture, Durham, North Carolina: You may not recognize this brand name, but you have probably tasted their coffee. This wholesale company supplies some of the best espresso shops throughout the country. It’s a large company but has a commitment to sustainability and quality that rivals your favorite tiny local roasters.
This list is far from exhaustive, but it should give you a place to start. Once you start paying attention to the variety of flavors and aromas found in different beans, you will get a better sense of your own preferences and will find your best coffee bean. There are so many varieties out there to try and you will never end up trying the whole! Instead, you have to stop somewhere were your tongue sticks.
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