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Choosing Coffee Beans: The Good, Bad, and the Bitter

by The Digest
choosing coffee beans

Knowing which coffee beans to buy for your home brewing pleasure can be a challenging task if you don’t know the lingo. There are various coffee beans out there, with different origins, brands… it can be confusing to know what to buy. Here’s a strategy for you when choosing coffee beans that are right for you – and to not get caught up in the good, the bad, and the bitter.

Arabica vs. Robusta

These two types of coffee beans represent your first decision to make. But what’s the difference between the two?

Arabica

Arabica beans are known to give a smooth taste that is slightly acidic. These beans are considered a higher grade than their Robusta counterparts, and they are grown at a higher altitude. Some say that Arabica beans carry notes of sugar, chocolate, and berries (which makes sense given that coffee beans are actually berries!)

However, just because you buy Arabica doesn’t guarantee a smooth cup of coffee. You also want to consider the brand and other variables, which we’ll look at below.

Robusta

Robusta beans are grown at a lower altitude and are known to give a more robust tasting coffee, which is usually more bitter. Some people find Robusta to be a more grainy coffee. Many store-bought instant coffees are made with Robusta beans.

Some people do prefer Robusta beans, even though they are considered to be a lower grade coffee.

So before choosing coffee beans that are Arabica or Robusta, there are other factors to consider, such as:

Light vs. Dark Beans

Do you like the Starbucks house coffees? If so, then you may want a bean that has had a longer roasting time. These beans are darker because the longer they are roasted, the more oils come up to the bean’s surface, giving a more bitter and sharper taste.

Contrary to what you may think, the darker roasts have a lower caffeine content, which may be important to you. Lighter roasts have more of a caffeine kick. For example, most espresso beans are medium roast, so if you want less caffeine, choose a medium-dark roast.

If you’re not a fan of Starbucks standard coffees, you may want to start your search with light beans. Light beans are lower in acidity as they haven’t been roasted for as long, so you will get coffee that is smooth and not as bold. Some people say that lighter roasts carry a hint of cinnamon.

If you are buying pre-ground beans, you want to look at the consistency of the grounds. The smoother and more like sand the grounds are, the lighter the roast. The clumpier and stickier the grounds are, the darker the roast. Roasting is an art, so choose a reliable coffee roaster.

Once you know whether you prefer light or dark beans, you can then move on to consider…

Whole Beans vs. Pre-ground Beans

If you are someone who enjoys the ritual of grinding your beans, you may opt for whole beans. Grinding your beans moments before brewing your coffee will give you the freshest and best tasting brew.

When buying whole beans, one trick to make sure you are getting fresh and tasty beans is to make sure there are no blighted or shriveled beans in the batch. Any beans that don’t have that standard line (seam) down the middle are immature, so they won’t yield a good brew.

Pre-ground beans may be best for you if you are not a morning person, or if you just want the convenience of pre-ground. If you are someone who likes to load up the coffee machine the night before to wake up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee, buying pre-ground beans may be for you.

Whether you use a gooseneck kettle, a pour-over coffee maker, or a French press, try to get the freshest roast possible. If you are buying pre-ground beans, you don’t want them to be more than a week old.

To preserve the flavor of your freshly roasted and ground beans, it is best to store them in an airtight and opaque container at room temperature. Although coffee beans look attractive, keeping them in clear containers allows light to come through, which compromises the taste of your beans.

For your whole coffee beans, they are happiest in a dark and cool place.

If you are really in doubt when choosing coffee beans that are best, you can always start by asking your local roaster which is the best-selling bean. The best-selling bean will also probably be the freshest since the grounds will be replenished more often.

Main Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

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