Our top tips for choosing new coffee beans
Your guide to selecting the perfect coffee beans for you!
Interested in Trying Something New?
As we near the end of the year that has been 2021 (You’d be forgiven for asking where that time went), you might be starting to think to the new year ahead. For many people this is a time of change, setting goals, seeking improvement and committing to trying new things. When it comes to picking a new coffee to try you may find yourself in front of an imposing display, filled with numerous options and with a million questions going through your head. It would be fair to say that in this situation, many choose to simply grab an old favourite and head to the register (Whether this is in person or online, the results are generally pretty similar – we stick with what we know). But we’re here to today to tell you that YOU MIGHT BE MISSING OUT! And, that The Bearded Brewer Team are always here to help.
Picking a new coffee can be daunting and overwhelming. Like straying from your favourite Sav B for a Saturday picnic, it can be hard to make a choice and take the risk on something new when you’re pretty happy with your good old favourite. At The Roastery, we are mad about all things coffee and behind that madness is a deep seated desire to open your mind, and your tastebuds, to the wonderful world of coffee and all of the options and possibilities that it holds. This article is for those of you who are a little unsure on where to start. For some of you, we understand that you may simply love all coffee and you’re willing to give anything a go. If this is the case, hit us up and tell us your favourites but also read on – you might find this one useful for understanding what you taste and smell, what you like and why and you may find it useful to help you select any new coffee in the future.
The Bearded Brewer is a company committed to excellent coffee. This includes in person at The Roastery, retail sales both online and in person as well as wholesale coffee beans for those in the hospitality industry. We don’t just hand you a bag and say, ‘It’s good.’. We know our stuff – where the beans come from, how they’ve been processed, who we buy from, how we roast (In house! You can drop in and see the magic happen), why we chose to roast that way, what coffee brewing method the roast was designed for, what we think it tastes and smells like and so much more. We will hold your hand and walk you through a new choice, answer your questions and remove many of the confusions as you decide on a new coffee.
Image Source: https://notbadcoffee.com/flavor-wheel-en/
There are many factors that come into play when it comes to the final cup of coffee you have. We’re going to explore a few of the main ones here today. But before we dive in, we have two main pieces of advice when choosing coffee, wherever you are, whoever you’re buying from.
- Fresh is best. Coffee is a natural product. Like an apple or carrot, no one wants old, sad produce and no one will argue that these products would give you a great end result. When you’re looking at a bag of coffee you want to see a roast date. If the bag doesn’t tell you and the person selling it can’t or won’t then that’s probably a good indication that they don’t want you to know. We also suggest staying away from ‘Best Before’ dates or stickers that simply give you a year, such as, ‘2019’. Coffee is generally best when used within 7-14 days from the date it was roasted. You can definitely use it after 14 days, but that time period is generally accepted as the optimum window. After the 14 day mark most beans will begin to degrade, lose some of their flavour and go stale. You may not notice right away, and we also don’t subscribe to the strict opinion that coffee is ‘off’, or ‘too old’ after this time, but for the sake of giving an ideal drinking period, 7-14 days is pretty good.
- Buy from the pro’s. Using the wine comparison again, you generally wouldn’t ask the 18 year old at the generic bottle shop down the street for tasting notes, food pairing suggestions and vintage preferences on a good bottle of local wine for your sommelier aunt’s 50th birthday present, so why would you choose your coffee based on the specials at the supermarket, because the bag is ‘best before’ two years from now and because the young person packing the shelves shrugged and said, ‘I guess it tastes like coffee.’, if you claim to like coffee?! Buy from the roaster where you can, a local retailer who cares about their products or from a hospitality venue with an excellent barista, who is passionate about what they do. If you’re buying online then check out the person you’re buying from. Do they know their stuff? Can they answer your questions or make recommendations? Do they care about their product and about their customers? If you want good wine, you buy from a cellar door. If you want good coffee, then buy from the roaster where you can.
Now, diving into the deeper stuff…
Coffee prefers a tropical climate to grow in and as such, most coffee is grown between the tropics, like a little coffee belt around planet Earth. There are three main regions that grow coffee and because of the other variables in these regions, such as rainfall, sunlight and soil quality, they produce different beans.
The three general regions are: Central & South America, Africa and India & Indonesia.
Some popular varietals of coffee plants have been transplanted and grown outside their normal region and as such, you may get outliers from these generalisations.
Typically, beans grown in Central & South America tend to be clean, with a sweetness to them like chocolate or caramel, African coffees are generally bright and fruity with floral aromas and beans grown in India & Indonesia tend to lean towards a more earthy, heavy style with syrup and herbal notes.
Altitude plays a big role in the way all things grow, not just coffee plants, so it is safe to say that they are no different when it comes to gathering information on coffee beans grown at different altitudes.
Generalising, the higher you go, the cleaner the acidity and the sweeter the flavour, the lower grown beans tend to produce more earthy flavours with a mild acidity and those in the middle bring out juicy cocoa notes.
As we mentioned, coffee beans grow on plants. The coffee cherry is harvested, or picked, and then processed to get the beans. There are a few ways to do this and they vary based on regions and even from farm to farm. Each process treats the cherry in a different way and effects the way the beans roast and ultimately taste.
The two main processed are Washed and Natural. Washed beans have been through a wet process. They are essentially washed. After having the outer fruit removed, they are fermented in a controlled process before being washed clean and dried. These beans are typically cleaner looking, with no dried fruit remaining. Natural beans have been left in the fruit to dry, which allows the sugars in the fruit to soak into the bean, impacting the final flavour. The Natural process can lead to a range of minor differences from bean to bean, which alter their flavour, sometimes resulting in more complex final products, as opposed to uniform Washed beans.
There are other processes, such as Honey, that you may see on coffee bean bags and descriptions. As always, if you have any questions just shoot us an email or drop in and have a chat at The Roastery.
When a roaster gets green beans in to roast, they will generally go through a sample roasting process, roasting small amounts of beans for different periods of time and at different temperatures, to find out what they like best. When doing this, they must take into consideration their desired final product. Is this bean going to be for single origin filter coffees, is it designed to be had with milk which it will need to cut through to be tasted or is it to be used with other flavours in a new blend. Thankfully your friendly roaster does all of this hard work and thinking for you but it’s important to understand the process so that you know why a certain bean might be recommended for lattes while another is strongly suggested to be had as a black filter coffee.
Can an espresso roast coffee, designed with a milk-based drink in mind, be drunk black? Of course! And can a filter roast coffee, aimed at cold drip drinks, be drunk with milk? Sure! There aren’t always hard and fast, black and white (Pun intended) rules in place when it comes to coffee but, if you bear in mind the roasters intentions for the bean then you might just get an exceptional coffee experience, instead of a basic, enjoyable drink.
BLEND or SINGLE O
We touched on this concept above. Blends and Single Origin, what are they, why are they different and how do you use them?
Blends refer to coffee that is made up of beans from more than one origin. For example, The Frosty Blend is The Bearded Brewer’s award-winning house blend and is made up of beans from Ethiopia, Colombia and Brazil. The roaster has worked to roast these flavours and then blend the beans in the right percentages to create the final flavour. A little bit of fruitiness from here and a little bit of smooth cocoa from here and these magical recipes create the final profile for the blend. The way it smells, tastes and feels, as well as the ideal way to drink it, which is, in this case, as a milk-based coffee that works well with both dairy and alternative milks.
Single Origin, or Single O beans, are coffee beans that come from one place. This may be a region, a farm or even a specific plot within a farm. Examples of these are the Ethiopian Djimmah beans that we use in some of our blends, but also sell as single origin beans. These beans are from the Djimmah region in Ethiopia. Our ElGuatalon single o beans are from the Guatalon Coffee Estates, owned by the Juarez family in Guatemala.
Keeping these beans on their own allows their unique profile to really shine and showcase the area they come from. They are the product of a specific area, the environment, the process and the roasting and these beans can produce some of the most specific and exquisite flavours and aromas in coffee.
As a general rule we recommend single origin beans for black coffees which allow their profile to shine through without any additives.
As noted in the roasting section, there are no set rules though, and we sometimes go against the grain on purpose, sourcing and roasting single origin beans that are meant to be great as an espresso and with milk as well.
Finally, there is the myriad of flavours and aromas that can be produced by coffee. It is important to note that not all of them are good and we tend to aim to steer away from these, but they can come out when beans are damaged, stored incorrectly, super old and stale or if you have a specific palate.
Just like wine tasting, coffee tasting is an inherently subjective undertaking. Just because we sourced and roasted beans with the intention that they give off a cocoa aroma, with flavours of caramel and brown sugar, doesn’t mean that you will smell and/or taste this. If you’re sure you’re tasting berries and cream, then who are we to tell you that you don’t?! At the end of the day we can provide all of the information, education and technical notes in the world, but it all comes down to whether or not you like what’s in your cup. We can help develop your palate, help you understand what you’re smelling and tasting and introduce you to new brewing methods, all of which will help open you up to new options and possibilities when it comes to coffee, but when it’s all said and done, you really just need to try things out and see what you like.
So, with this in mind, remember that we are here for your questions and coffee chats, you can buy sample sets of single o beans to get you started and we can always help with recommendations if you’ve got a minute to talk through coffee’s that you’ve enjoyed in the past.
If you need coffee supplied for your machine at home or at work, then why not check out our coffee subscription options. You can choose espresso (White) or filter (Black) roasts, the frequency and amount. You can also let us know if you want to stick with a favourite, or we can send you our pick each time so that you get to try a range of coffee beans, delivered straight to your door! (Pick up from The Roastery is also available if you live or work locally)
We also want to provide options to try as many coffees as possible so every day at The Roastery you can try three espresso roast coffees, two single o filter coffees and a cold brew. These are always on offer and rotate through to showcase a range of options.
If you’re really keen to take your coffee to the next level, we also provide private coffee tasting experiences for groups. These are great ideas for a group of coffee loving friends, for work team building days and to get you tasting a range of coffees and understanding the subjects touched on in this article. If you’re keen to look into a private tasting experience, then get in touch today.
We hope this article helps you branch out and try some new coffees. There are endless possibilities out there, so why not take a risk and try something new for your next coffee.