Along with using filtered or purified water, knowing how to choose and use your coffee beans is 90% of the game when it comes to making great-tasting coffee. And while it’s certainly true that some coffee beans are better than others, it’s also true that there’s no one right way, no one single bean that’s the best for everyone.
Know the Type of Bean
There are mainly two different kinds of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica tends to be sweeter and easier to drink, despite its relatively high acidity. Arabica coffee beans are grown in higher altitudes, produce fewer beans, and more vulnerable. For these reasons, it’s also consistently more expensive than Robusta beans. That said, many coffees are made with a hybrid of the two beans.
There are also Liberica coffee beans, which are typically considered to be of lower quality and comprise barely 1 percent of the global coffee bean market. There are even rarer types of coffee, such as the world’s most expensive coffee, kopi luwak, which is processed from the poop of a cat-like animal in Indonesia that first digests and then defecates the beans.
Color, Consistency, and Body
This is coffee’s most commonly known and advertised qualities. The color can be light, medium or dark with light roasts typically having higher caffeine content and retain more of the original flavor of the bean. Darker roasts tend to take on more of their flavor from the actual roasting process. The beans can be dry (milder, sweeter), or they can be oily (stronger, bitter). The “body” of the coffee bean refers to how heavy the coffee sits in your mouth. A “full body” coffee feels heavier in the mouth, a “light body” coffee feels lighter.
Freshness vs. Convenience vs. Cost
The freshness of the coffee, determined by time and storage method, is also a huge factor in the overall quality of the bean. Maxwell House, for example, uses 100% Arabica beans in its most popular line of coffee. While this does make for great-tasting coffee out of a can, the freshness and overall quality can’t compete with the freshness achieved by coffee shops, even Robusta-dominant blends. Likewise, local—or even regional coffee producers—are able to get their beans to your local market or coffee shop that much faster.
Another huge factor in freshness is grinding your own coffee beans. The best-tasting results, without a doubt, will come from freshly ground beans. Even a few hours after being ground, there’s almost surely going to be a noticeable difference in the beans. On the other hand, this can also be a matter of cost and convenience. Inexpensive grinders can be hard to clean and/or not last very long. Expensive grinders eat into your budget for other coffee equipment and goodies. I, personally, will sometimes get my coffee pre-ground, but then I’m lucky enough to live two blocks from a great, local coffee shop. So I will buy pre-ground coffee 1/3 lb at a time and then be sure to use it within 48 hours.
Because Arabica vs. Robusta, light vs. dark, light-body vs. full-body, low vs. high acidity, dry vs. oily, there are a lot of ways to drink great coffee. The trick, as always, is to experiment and find out what you like best when choosing your coffee bean.