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Woman shops for coffee beans

The Fool-Proof Guide to Choosing Your Perfect Coffee Beans

With a few barista-level skills and the right coffee beans, your home coffee bar could be just as good as your favorite local café! But first things first: you have to learn about coffee beans. From light, acidic roasts to rich, dark roasts and everything in between, the coffee bean type you choose is key to making delicious drinks curated to your palate. 

Follow our guide to find your taste preferences and learn more about what each buzzword printed on a bag label means. The next time you shop for coffee, it’ll feel like a breeze. 

The Many Benefits of Drinking Coffee

Young man drinks coffee while working on computer

Whether you started drinking coffee to stay awake while studying for tests or after the birth of your first child, one thing is sure: coffee sure does wake us up. But did you know about all of the other amazing benefits of drinking coffeeIf you need any more reasons to start sipping on your favorite roast, look no further, as coffee can:

A Look Into the Characteristics of Coffee Beans

When you shop for coffee, you’ll quickly notice just how many types of coffee beans there are out there—but how are you supposed to know what you like? While a lot of coffee drinkers find their perfect brew by experimenting, the secret to shopping for coffee beans is learning about the different characteristics.

Learn About the 2 Coffee Bean Varietals

Dulce De Leche Flavored Coffee Beans in Bag

Coffee bean types can be broken down into two different varieties: Arabica and Robusta. Each is known for different notes, caffeine contents, and flavor profiles. 

While shopping for coffee, you’ll notice that more blends have Arabica beans: that’s because most of the coffee beans in the world are of the Arabica variety, with the other percentage being Robusta. Think of these two varietals as the umbrella terms for all of the coffee sub-varieties under them:  

1. Strong and Bitter Robusta

The second most popular coffee bean varietal, Robusta has a naturally higher caffeine level and is known for its strong, earthy, and somewhat bitter flavor. It’s technically the easiest of the two to grow, as it thrives in low altitudes and higher temperatures, allowing Robusta coffee farms to be just about anywhere.  

2. Sweet and Delicate Arabica

Arabica beans make up almost all of the delicious, high-quality blends you see on store shelves. This coffee bean type is beloved for its smooth, sweet, and almost chocolatey notes. But, with the right circumstances, these beans can also give off a wine-like taste or fruity hints. 

Common Arabica Coffee Varieties
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Light Roast Coffee Beans in Bag

If you look at the Arabica bean family tree, you’ll see plenty of delicious offshoots. As you shop for coffee, keep your eyes peeled for these tasty Arabica hybrids and varieties:

  • Bourbon: buttery chocolate with slightly fruity overtones
  • Blue Mountain: bright and soft on the palate
  • Caturra: well-balanced with citrus and maple notes
  • Kona: strongly hazelnutty with an earthy aftertaste
  • Yirgacheffe: naturally sweet with notes of chocolate and floral lemon

Decide Between Blends and Single-Origin Coffee Beans

When you first shop for coffee, one of the most noticeable clues on the label will be whether it’s a single origin or a blend—but what exactly does that mean? Is one better than the other? Let us break it down for you!

Single-origin coffee means the coffee beans came from a single region or farm. If you’re looking for a type of coffee with unique yet complex flavors that can be easily traced back to the exact place it came from, then a single origin is the way to go

Coffee blends are an amalgamation of coffee beans from any combination of various farms and regions. For those who love a more balanced and consistent taste or prefer something that can be brewed well in any circumstance, a blend is your best bet. Blends can also combine multiple roasts, giving you a perfectly balanced cup every time. 

What is Fair Trade Coffee?

Farmer inspects coffee beans on bush

When you shop for coffee, you’ll also see the term “Fair Trade” stamped on the bags. This means that the coffee beans have been produced, traded, and certified according to official sustainable and labor standards. Single-origin coffees can be Fair Trade, but that doesn’t mean they all are. If you want to shop for sustainably 

sourced coffee bean types, make sure you ask if the coffee fulfills the official Fair Trade guidelines.

Select a Roast Level

When it comes to roasts, shopping for coffee can get confusing. Terms like “blonde” and “Viennese” are thrown around, each noting a different level of roast. To make it easier as you browse, remember that the longer a bean is roasted, the darker the bean becomes. This affects just about everything in a bean, from the original flavor to the caffeine percentage. 

Think of like this: if you had a batch of Guatemalan beans, you could roast them on any scale from light, medium, to dark. And, even though they started as the same bean, each type of roast would have drastically different tastes and mouth feels. This is true across the board, so determining a roast you love will help you narrow down your options as you shop for coffee

Light Roasted Coffee

Costa Rica Tarrazu Single Origin Coffee Bean in Bag

Visually, light roasted coffee is a light brown color with almost no visible oil. Lighter coffee beans are roasted less, meaning that the flavor profile aligns with the original characteristics. In general, light roasts have a sharper acidity with a gentle body—perfect for anyone shopping for coffee that’s clean and bright. 

Medium Roasted Coffee

Medium roasts are a great starting place for anyone beginning their coffee shopping journey, as they are known for their well-rounded and rich taste. Typically, a medium roast will be mellow, sweet, and less acidic, giving off a medium-to-dark brown color with a barely oily surface. Medium roasts can lean one way or another to light and dark, so keep an eye out for specifics when shopping for coffee.

Dark Roasted Coffee

Dark roast coffee beans are roasted the longest, changing the original bean color to a dark brown or even black hue with an oily surface. This coffee is roasted so long that almost none of the original bean flavors remain—but this process tends to bring out robust flavors and strong aromas, ranging from caramelly to smoky. 

Determine a Flavor Profile

Perhaps the most fun part of shopping for coffee—trying to sniff out and taste the notes! Determining your dream flavor profile will help you as you try different coffee beans. 

Man grinds coffee beans in kitchen

We recommend starting with ones that pique your interest and going from there. Each country, as well as a specific farm, will have a different profile from the next. In fact, batches of the same bean could taste a little different. This is due to the climate, soil, elevation, and other territory factors. 

The 5 Popular Notes in Coffee Beans

  1. Fruity: fruity is a popular note in beans from around the world, ranging from bright lemon citrus to rich tart cherry (as well as any other fruit you can think of).
  2. Cocoa: chocolate is a common flavor sensed in coffee, settling anywhere from the slight sweetness of milk chocolate to the almost bitter feel of dark chocolate.
  3. Earthy: seemingly a broad term, earthy notes remind you of the smell of wet soil, potatoes, or even fresh-cut grass. 
  4. Nutty: also described as warm or deep, hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts are all popular top notes that sweeten up a roast.
  5. Floral: sweet and gentle, coffee can sometimes give off a floral scent, such as jasmine, rose, chamomile, hibiscus, and more. 

Check the Coffee Bean Acidity Levels

Brooklyn Roast Coffee Beans in Bag

At first sip, acidity can be something that turns people off from enjoying coffee - but most of the time, they don’t realize that there is a range of acidity available when shopping for coffee! If your coffee is too acidic, there’s hope for you yet. On the flip side, if your coffee beans aren’t acidic enough, you’re in luck.

When you drink coffee, acidity is generally the initial flavor that hits your taste buds. At first gulp, you’ll feel that tangy brightness cover your tongue, but don’t worry; acidity doesn’t mask the important flavor profile—if anything, it adds to it. If you don’t enjoy the vibrant, tart flavor of a high-acidity coffee, stick to beans that boast a low acidity. Higher acidity beans can also be harder on the stomach, so keep that in mind.

Inside scoop: in general, light roasts have more acidity than dark roasts! Keep this in mind when you shop for coffee if you have to buy without tasting first. 

Can You Reduce Acidity in Coffee Once Brewed?

Shopping for coffee is all a big experiment: if you end up with a bean that’s too acidic for you to enjoy, you don’t have to toss it. To reduce the acidity levels, try adding a neutralizer, such as extra cream for balance or your preferred sugar for sweetness. You could even pour it over a cup of ice to dilute the strength and enjoy it cold. 

Consider Your Brew Method

Cold Brew Reserve Coffee Beans in bag

Finding the perfect pairing of coffee beans and machines is a delicate dance that’s definitely worth learning. Some people staunchly believe that certain roasts work best for specific machines: for ground coffee for cold brew, for instance, it’s often recommended that you choose a dark roasted bean, while pour-over brewers claim medium is the only way to go. 

In reality, you can grind any type of coffee bean for any kind of machine. If you find a pairing that works for you, stick to it and shop the coffee you prefer.

3 Commonly Asked Questions About Coffee Beans

Between flavor profiles, blends, single origins, and acidity, you’ve learned it all! But before you head to your local store or shop for coffee online, let’s answer the most common coffee bean questions to get you up to speed: 

1. Does Growing Location Affect Coffee Bean Flavor? 

Since different factors, such as soil or elevation, can affect the overall flavor of a coffee bean, it’s no wonder that roasts from different countries taste so different. As you shop for coffee, paying attention to the origin of the bean will help clue you in on whether you’ll like it. For instance, African beans tend to taste more fruity, floral, and wine-like, whereas Central American blends are known for being smooth, nutty, and bright.  

2. What User Error Elements Can Affect the Taste of Coffee?

Tanzanian Peaberry Single Origin Coffee Beans in Bag

If you’ve ever gotten home, excited to drink your new Tanzania Peaberry coffee, and find it tastes different in your kitchen than in the café, don’t be alarmed. Odds are, one of a few fixable user errors have occurred. Before you panic, ask yourself these questions to see where you could have gone wrong:

  • Did you use the specific machine incorrectly?
  • Is the coffee ground too fine or too coarse?
  • Was it brewed for too long (bitter and harsh) or not long enough (weak taste)?
  • Were the beans not used within a fresh timespan?
  • Are your beans stored incorrectly?

3. What is Flavored Coffee?

All types of coffee beans have flavor profiles, top notes, and bottom notes, but not all coffee is “flavored.” After flavored coffee has been roasted, the beans are then coated with specific flavoring oils. 

French Vanilla Coffee Medium Roast Coffee Beans in Bag

When it comes to added flavor, the sky is the limit, from classic French vanilla beans to decadent Dulce de Leche beans and more. If you have more of a sweet tooth (or are trying to wean off adding sugary flavors into your daily cup), shop these coffee blends. 

Whether you’re an experienced coffee connoisseur or are just now entering the big wide world of beans, one thing is clear: everyone has their own taste preferences. Now that you know a bit more about what gives coffee its flavor and mouthfeel, you can shop for coffee and begin to find your dream bean. Soon enough, you’ll be the one giving advice on coffee to your friends!

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