Buying coffee to brew at home has never been more complicated and confusing. The selection of roasters, coffee types, and flavor profiles available is incredible and there are so many amazing coffees to choose from, but the downside is that you can easily run into information overload. Let me walk you through the details you might find on a bag of coffee that can make finding your perfect coffee easier, and the warning signs you should avoid.
What to look for : Origin Information
Look for roasters who include information about the region and country their coffee comes from, the elevation, processing, and even the varieties of coffee. Even though you might not totally know what it all means, if this information is available, odds are that the roaster values transparency and the coffee is more likely to be of high quality.
What to avoid : “100% Arabica Coffee”
If a roaster labels their coffee with “100% Arabica Coffee”, it’s likely that they don’t have much information available about the coffee and that its source could be questionable. While it’s true that only Arabica coffee is considered ‘Specialty grade’, any good roaster wouldn’t even think of using Robusta, so marketing that it’s “100% Arabica” tells you that you might want to look elsewhere.
What to look for : Roast Date
You want to look for a roast date listed on the bag, which should ideally be within the last few weeks. We recommend brewing within 2 – 3 weeks of being roasted to get the most flavor out of the coffee. This is a great indicator that the specialty coffee will be flavorful and that the roaster cares about the quality of their product.
What to avoid : “Best By” Date
If a roaster includes a “Best by” date, the coffee might not be as fresh as it should be. “Best by” dates are fine if accompanied by a roast date, but without a roast date, you can assume that the coffee is months old and has likely been stale for a long time. Yuck!
What to look for : Small Batch Roasters
The best coffee comes from “Small Batch” coffee roasters who buys coffee seasonally and are intentional with their roasting. These roasters often only carry single origin coffees for a short time and their blend components can change frequently, sometimes sticking around for only a few months at a time. This is a good thing, because it means they are buying newly harvested coffees throughout the year and roasting them super fresh so your coffee tastes best.
What to avoid : “The Big Guys”
Everyone remembers the red can of pre-ground coffee that sat in your parents’ cabinet growing up. Large, national brands carried at every gas station and grocery store in the country can’t afford to buy the best coffees in the world, so they buy the cheap stuff and they sell it to the masses. These coffees can be harvested years ago, roasted months ago and completely flavorless today; avoid at all costs.
Now that you’re armed with these tips, you’re ready to buy some coffee! Even with a bit of knowledge, it’s always helpful to ask for guidance from someone who is more familiar with the coffee selection. If you find yourself at a small batch roastery or café where they roast coffees that meet your newfound standards, it’s a good idea to ask the roaster or the barista what coffees they are really enjoying currently. If you don’t have a great local roaster in your area, a MistoBox subscription might be right for you, so one of our veteran Coffee Curators can learn your personal taste profile and pick coffees from the country’s best small batch roasters, roasted fresh, and sent straight to you.