Half of the battle to a tastier coffee is buying the right beans. From my twelve years as a coffee professional and even more years as a connoisseur, here are five things I look for when buying my next bag of coffee to take home.
Buy Small Business, Not Large Corporation
Small coffee shops and roasters tend to sell coffee that is fresher and produced with greater care and expertise. It comes down to the fact that they serve quality-over-quantity, which is what you want for a healthier and happier morning pick-me-up.
Buy Whole Bean, Not Ground
Coffee spoils fast when ground, so in order to get the freshest, tastiest cup, invest in a home-grinder and purchase whole bean coffee. Grind only what you need within 30 minutes of brewing.
Buy by Flavor Profile, Not Roast Label
I’ve learned to distrust labels like Light Roast, Medium Roast, Dark Roast. Generally, the use of these labels signifies an out-of-date approach to coffee, and, to be honest, even the light roast is over-roasted. Instead, look at the flavor profiles that are often listed on the bag. If you tend to like a darker coffee, opt for earthier or more chocolatey notes. If you like something lighter and sweeter, look for fruiter notes. And, if you’re in the middle, pick the coffee with notes like caramel.
Buy by Roast Date, Not Expiration Date
Coffee doesn’t technically spoil easily, meaning that the expiration date can be up to a year, maybe more, from the day of the roast. In fact, big box stores often have the same coffee on the shelf for months on end. The fact is old coffee tastes old; fresh coffee tastes fresh. So the key is to steer clear from coffee bags that have an expiration date, and instead, look for a roast date. Ideally, the roast date will be within 30 days of your purchase date. This is yet another reason to buy from small, locally-owned shops as they’ll often keep fresh beans stocked.
Pro Tip: pull from the back of the stack to see if you can score a bag that’s even fresher than the ones in the front.
Buy by Sight and Smell, Not by Faith
Well-roasted coffee should be dry and caramel-colored. It should also smell delicious, fresh and articulate. If the beans are black and oily, it means they’ve been, for the lack of a better word, burnt, and they’ll smell burnt too. Put your nose to the small, one-way hole on a coffee bag and squeeze the bag to release the air as you inhale.
So, there you go! Buy better coffee because even if you brew an old, poorly roasted coffee right, it just won’t be as good. Again, good coffee is half the battle.