So you’re ready to take the leap and start making amazing coffee at home. But what are your options when it comes to the different types of coffee beans? It’s actually a bigger question than you might think.
There’s a boatload of different things you have to consider when choosing the best coffee beans. Do you want a cup of arabica or robusta? What roast level suits your taste buds? How about blends and single-origin coffee, which would you prefer?
If you’re relatively new to coffee, these questions may seem completely alien to you. But don’t worry, this short but detailed guide will show you the ropes, take you through the nitty-gritty and guide you on the ins and outs of what might constitute the ‘best coffee beans’.
Whole Coffee Beans vs. Ground
Before we get into the real coffee talk, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Never ever buy ground coffee. Honestly, it’s just damn terrible.
When you buy ground coffee, you’re essentially buying what I like to call ‘dead coffee’. When coffee is ground, it immediately starts to lose its flavor and character. This is why it’s important that we buy whole beans and grind them ourselves.
Honestly, there is no excuse for buying ground coffee anymore. Coffee bean grinders are affordable and totally easy to use. Trust me, whole beans is the way to go!
Two Types Of Coffee Beans
Arabica vs. Robusta
So Arabica vs. Robusta, which type of coffee bean is best? Let’s look at both before drawing any conclusions. When we talk about the fundamental aspects of coffee knowledge, coffee species are essential. While there are hundreds of types of coffee plants grown across the world, only two varieties make up the majority of global coffee bean sales. Arabica and Robusta.
The most popular of the two is undoubtedly the arabica, with a 60% share of the wholesale coffee beans market worldwide. A great example of 100% arabica beans are Koffee Kult Dark Roast Coffee Beans which you can buy on Amazon.
This variety of coffee is favored for its fresh, fruity flavor and excellent acidity. This slight sharpness lifts the flavor of the coffee, allowing fruity, floral, and citrus notes to dance on the tongue.
While its aromatic flavor is cherished by coffee lovers across the globe, this passion comes at a price. Arabica is a lot pricier than her Robusta cousin, and for good reason. Not only does the arabica coffee plant produce a lot less crop, but they’re also way less hardy. Pests, disease, and poor weather are coffee growers’ worst nightmare when growing this species.
It’s also important to grow arabica at a higher altitude than robusta, which means it can only be grown in certain areas of the world. Climate, altitude, and proximity to the equator must come together to create the ideal environment for excellent arabica coffee.
But what about robusta? How does she fare against Arabica? While it’s less popular, making up the remaining 40% share of the wholesale coffee bean market, it certainly has a lot going for it. A quality robusta produces a rich coffee that has an earthy, bitter, and sometimes nutty or chocolatey flavor with an excellent mouthfeel. Enjoying a cup of this is a lot like savoring the bitter flavors of a dark ale.
Anyone who likes a bargain will be keen to know that generally, Robusta has a lower price point. This is chiefly due to how much hardier the Robusta plant is. Unlike Arabica, this species is much more forgiving to the grower, as well as being more resistant to disease and pests (hence the name).
Nevertheless, cheaper doesn’t always mean inferior. Italians have been savoring the flavor of Robusta for centuries, with it featuring prominently in their coffee culture. In Italy, espresso is king, and Robusta produces a wonderful crema (the holy grail for espresso lovers).
However, Robusta has earned itself a bit of a bad name. As it’s easier to grow and produces more crop per plant, less passionate growers can produce a lot of coffee beans for a fraction of the price of arabica, even in less than ideal conditions. Thus, robusta features heavily in grocery store branded coffee blends.
Nevertheless, quality robusta coffee beans are out there for the taking, even at your local grocery store. You just need to discover them.
What are the best coffee beans for me?
Making a decision about the best type of coffee beans without trying them is nearly impossible. But if you don’t know which type you have or haven’t tried and want some advice, I’d say take a look at what you already enjoy from your cup of coffee.
If you like your coffee black and prefer your cup to be refreshing yet punchy, the aromatic flavor of arabica is likely going to be your friend. But on the flip side, if cream and sugar are your go-to, then Robusta is way more likely to hold up with its strong, bitter flavor.
You may even like a blend of the two. Many baristas swear by a blend of mostly arabica and a little bit of robusta. But we’ll discuss blends a bit more later on.
Ultimately it’s difficult to say which one would be best for you without having tried both and compared the flavor. To really get to grips with this aspect of coffee, get out there and try out what these two types of coffee beans have to offer you.
Origin and Blends
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘single-origin coffee’ before, but what does that actually mean for you and your cup of coffee?
Broadly speaking, single-origin coffee is a bean that has been grown in a single geographical location. This might mean a single country, sub-region, a single farm of even a single lot.
Over the last century, coffee drinkers have become more and more sophisticated. While coffee from a single country would have once passed for single-origin, the demand for a more distinguishable coffee flavor has grown significantly.
This is why more expensive, higher quality coffees that are labeled as single-origin will often come from just one farm. The most elite single-origin coffees are from what the industry likes to call ‘micro-lots’, which are beans from an even smaller area of land that forms part of a farm.
The idea is that one hill may receive more sun than another hill, and thus produce coffees of varying flavor and intensity. This may seem pedantic, and while I would agree, it doesn’t change the fact that micro-lot coffees are fantastic.
If you’re looking to just dip your toes, I would look for coffees that come from a particular sub-region within a country. Perhaps savoring the flavor of a Colombian coffee that comes more specifically from the northern region.
Once you’ve tried that, try a different region. As you try more and more you’ll pick up on the subtle differences, training your palate to distinguish between them. At the very least, you’re enjoying wonderful coffee.
On the other spectrum, blended coffee beans are beans that can come from a variety of different locations. This makes for a poorer quality flavor, right? Not necessarily. While single-origin coffee is touted as amazing, blends have a lot to offer in their own right.
Mixing a blend of coffee allows coffee manufacturers to design interesting flavor profiles. Combining the fruity flavors of Colombian arabica with the nutty, chocolatey flavors of Brazilian robusta for example could produce a unique blend with unexpected and exciting flavors.
Nevertheless, blended coffee can sometimes feel a bit like ‘mystery coffee’, especially at the lower end of the price spectrum. Even at the more bourgeois end of the scale, blends tend to be a lot cheaper than single origins.
But still, you can totally find an exciting blended coffee. A mix of high-quality beans from amazing growers can produce great coffee that shouldn’t be underestimated or dismissed easily.
Roasters And Intensity
So, if you weren’t aware, coffee needs roasting before we can get our grubby hands on it. The process adds depth and flavor to the beans. Without the roasting, coffee actually tastes a bit like grass. Not pleasant, I assure you.
First, let’s get the basics out of the way. Roast levels indicate how long the beans have been roasted. Furthermore, it also refers to the color of the beans. Nevertheless, there are distinctive flavor profiles associated with different levels. But what does light roast taste like, and what is a dark roast? Which one is best for me? Let’s take a look.
The Light Roast
A light brown color
Funnily enough, the light roast actually has the largest quantity of caffeine. So new parents will want to get hold of the light roast for sure!
Now, let’s talk about flavor. With the light roast, you’ll get a lot more acidity in your cup of coffee than you would in darker roasts. You’ll also find your cup will have much more delicate and nuanced flavors. It’s not a slap in the face, it’s a light tap.
Now some people love this, but others think that the light roast is a little boring. I know some who enjoy the lack of bitterness associated with this roast. If you’re looking to try coffee without sugar or cream for the first time this should be your first cup for sure.
Nevertheless, keep in mind that light roast should be consumed relatively soon after roasting. The flavor of light roasted beans begins to wane the moment it comes out of the roastery, so don’t leave a bag laying around, just drink it up!
Slightly darker shades of brown
Much like the light roast coffee, there is a lot of acidity in a cup of medium roast coffee. While it’s more nuanced than in light roast, it is still a very distinctive characteristic.
With this roast level, you see similar nuanced flavors as a light roast but they are much less evident. However, this roast has much more body to it and has far more bitterness and some sweetness as well.
Dark shades of brown with some shine
The medium-dark roast has, over the year, become the world’s favorite. Possessing many of the acidic, nuanced flavors of a lighter roast, it also combines these with the traditional bitterness of a dark roast.
It’s a great middle-ground, and probably the kind of coffee you’re used to if you spend any amount of time in a cafe.
Very dark beans with a glossy shine
The dark roast boasts an impressive body and excellent bitter flavor, although it is not for the faint of heart. Dark roast has almost none of the acidity, nuanced flavors and sweetness of lighter roasts.
Nevertheless, the flavor profile of a dark roast can have some interesting qualities. Flavor notes can be smokey, spicy, nutty, and even resembling bitter dark chocolate.
Traditionally, the dark roast was much more pervasive than it is today. While these highly shiny black beans were once the norm, a medium-dark roast is favored now for its balance between bitter and acidity.
Some coffee bean brands will be roasting their own beans. However, most do not. With the rise of indy and artisanal coffee brands, many smaller coffee companies are turning to roasteries to get this job done.
The best roasteries make a name for themselves. As you begin to explore ‘the roast’ more thoroughly, I recommend doing some research into who the best roasters are, and which brands they work with. You can taste these coffees and see if you can distinguish any distinctive flavors.
While I could go on and on about which type of coffee beans I think might be best for you, ultimately it’s all about personal preference. In reality, you just have to get out there and try lots of different coffees.
While I know you probably want a clear cut answer on what the best coffee beans are, experimentation really is your only option. While you’re sure to taste some coffee you probably won’t like, you’ll also discover coffee that will change the way you think about your cup of joe.
After all, who doesn’t want an excuse to drink more coffee?!