Inside the World of High-End Coffee
The New Yorker has published a video on Coffee Connoisseurs and it explores the passion, creativity and community created by the love of coffee. Caffeinated connoisseurs form close ties with farmers who grow the beans, and educate their customers about the finest brews. Besides explaining what a twenty-nine-dollar cup of coffee is, they'll show competitions in brewing, roasting, and tasting.
Finding ethical suppliers
Another consideration related to personal needs is the ethical credentials of the brands. These tend to fall into two categories: human rights and fair trade, or environmental factors. For a more thorough understanding of ethical coffee trade, you may want to watch the very informative DW documentary The Perfect Coffee - Fair Trade and Sustainable.
You may be heavily invested in one or the other, interested in both, or not that bothered as long as the coffee is delicious. It’s up to you. If fair trade is of priority, you want to research the brands and their relationship with their growers. There should be something on their website about compensation or community outreach. As for the environmental issues, you might want to look at companies that work towards reducing air miles, or that work with smaller growers in other regions. Vice News talks about the sustainable issues
How to find the best coffee beans
When talking about the finest coffee beans, there are two different ways of determining the word "highest quality". The first relates to the quality of the beans. It is always better to find high-quality beans within your budget because this will allow for a better taste and coffee brewing experience. Cheaper beans may not have the same quality control, freshness, or depth of flavour.
Then there is best in a more subjective sense. We won’t all like the same flavour notes or intensity levels in our coffee. So, a high-end seller from one high-end company still won’t give you what you desire if it doesn’t fit within those parameters.
Let’s start with finding the highest quality coffee beans based on quality. This will offer a good starting point for discovering companies you can rely on. Then we can look at how to pick the best coffee beans for your personal preferences.
Arabica vs Robusta
First of all, you are most likely to want to get something with 100 Arabica beans if you want the highest quality possible. You may have heard this term in adverts for coffee houses and name brands. Even Mcdonald's boasts of using Arabica beans now. But what does it mean?
Well, there are two main types of coffee beans in the world, and Arabica beans are of a higher quality. You get a better taste and healthier caffeine content with Arabica. The only problem is that they are more expensive. So, you may find brands creating blends with cheaper Robusta beans to cut costs.
This is why it pays to check the back of a bag of coffee beans before buying them. Looks can be deceiving with packaging, with many companies offering cheaper products in sleek bags with minimalist designs. They will also go overboard with the hyperbole about the roasting process and flavours you can expect. But, if they don’t say 100% Arabica on the side, you’ll quickly find out why they are so much cheaper.
Finding coffee beans from high-end suppliers
The finest coffee beans come from reputable companies that select the best beans from quality suppliers. There is no guarantee that all major names will adhere to the proper guidelines on sourcing their beans, or that start-ups will be able to offer a reliable service each time. However, there are reputable companies that buyers trust to offer the following:
- Great quality control
- A recent roasting date
- A fair price
Quality control is essential when looking for high-end coffee beans. This means that there will be greater consistency in the quality of the beans packaged, with the same bean type and roast all the way through. This also means no beans with any obvious flaws.
The roasting date
Coffee tastes better and allows for a better brew when it is fresh. The freshest way to get roasted coffee beans is straight from the supplier to your kitchen. However, this is unrealistic for those of us living thousands of miles from producers in the Coffee Bean Belt. The Coffee Bean Belt is a region between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer, where conditions are just right to grow high-quality beans in large numbers. We’re all going to have to rely on a middleman of some kind – more on that later.
This is where it helps to check the roasting date on the side of your bag of coffee. This should tell you how long has passed between roasting and purchasing. The shorter the time frame, the better the coffee will taste.
As mentioned before, price is an important factor when looking for high-quality coffee beans. The best products from desirable companies will be more expensive because of the beans used, the roasting process, and the customer experience. Most of the time, you should find that it is worth paying extra to ensure that the coffee isn’t too bitter or high in caffeine. Brewing coffee in your kitchen can provide you with a fuller flavor profile and also a nice aroma.
This doesn’t mean that mid-priced beans are less desirable, as you can get bigger names that tick a lot of the right boxes and lower their prices. You may also find high-end brands on offer in some stores. Don't buy any brand where you can’t find any details about the company, the roasting date, or the beans' origins on the bag. Some cheap options will just let you down.
Finding the right coffee beans for your personal preference
Moving on to the issue of personal tastes, it helps to get a better understanding of the type of flavors and intensities that you like. This is before you buy an expensive bag of coffee beans. This generally means looking at the following features:
- The type of roast
- The flavor profile
- The caffeine content.
The type of roast
There are three main types of roast: light, medium, and dark. The lighter roasted beans are much paler in colour and don’t have the same depth of flavour. They are often better for those that like the way that coffee makes them feel in the morning rather than savouring a flavour during a coffee break.
The flip side to this is the deeper darker bean that can allow for a richer flavour. Some of these can get a bit bitter and earthy for all tastes, so it helps to find a dark roast with the right flavour notes. Then there are the medium roast beans. These are popular because they fall nicely in the middle. They aren’t too light and subtle for those that need depth of flavour, nor too complex for those that need something simplistic.
The flavour profile
If you ask someone that doesn’t drink coffee what it tastes like, they may struggle to give a convincing answer. They may have consumed a bitter, tasteless cheap cup of instant coffee or an artificial flavor in confectionery. Coffee lovers appreciate that there are many different forms, and we don’t always agree on which is the most enjoyable.
For some, coffee is best when it is smooth and sweet. You will often find companies highlighting notes of caramel and chocolate in the product descriptions. Others are earthier and nuttier, and perhaps more bitter as a result. From there, you will find companies that accentuate more subtle fruity notes to make their product stand out.
You will also find that you can drink the same coffee with someone and get a different experience. What is critical is that you determine your likes and dislikes and can use those to narrow down your choices in the future.
The caffeine content
There is also a strong correlation between the type of roast and the caffeine content of the beans – but not in the way you might expect. Newcomers to coffee often assume that the darker the roast, the higher the caffeine content. However, the opposite is true. So, if you value a blend that will give you a lot of energy in the morning, opt for something lighter. Still, with that said, you will also find that a lot of the finest espresso coffee beans are medium roast.
This is why it is critical to try out different types of coffee to find the right fit before you search for a new high-end supplier. Until you are sure that you want a dark or light roast over other options, you could end up wasting your money. Learn more on our blog page How much caffeine in a shot of Espresso.
Where are the beans from?
The majority of coffee drinkers will say they prefer coffee from a specific country or region. Anyone that is set on drinking the same type of coffee may prefer to stick with beans from the same region. The Coffee Bean Belt is a region between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer, where conditions are just right to grow high-quality beans in large numbers. Many coffee drinkers will lean towards Colombian and Brazilian coffee out of a combination of familiarity and accessibility. However, there are many more countries in this belt creating great-tasting coffee. So, it might be worthwhile trying the next big thing and supporting growers in other nations.
Where to buy the highest quality coffee beans
Once you are certain about the style of coffee you want and are ready to find a high-end supplier of fresh beans, it is time to start shopping. There are four different options here depending on your preferences, lifestyle, and budget. They are,
- Grocery stores
- Coffee houses
- Online stores
- Subscription services
You can also pick up a bag at your local grocery store during your weekly shop. It is the most convenient option for busy coffee drinkers, and there may be an array of brands. But, you might not find the most high-end products here.
An alternative option for buying in-store is to go into a coffee house. Let’s say that you love going out for a Starbucks on the weekend and would love to have the same quality and flavour in your morning coffee at home. Some stores roast and sell beans to broaden their appeal. This could be a convenient way of getting fresh beans that you know you love.
You could also buy coffee beans online. There are pros and cons here. The risk is that if you buy online from a coffee chain you might not end up with the freshest stock, especially if it takes a while to ship to your door. There could also be extra shipping and handling charges. On the other hand, you may find an online company that deals with a range of suppliers and has a stellar reputation for quality, freshness, and reliable customer service. This could be perfect for those of you that are a little more experimental and keen to try out different roasts and styles.
On that note, the other option for true coffee enthusiasts is a coffee club subscription. The basic concept is that you get a new bag of beans delivered each month, letting you try new things from different countries. These club packages may also provide tips on how to make the right coffee or what to pair it with. This is suitable for anyone that isn’t too set in their morning routine and can also make a brilliant gift for other coffee lovers in your life.
Be prepared for some trial and error
Finally, it is wise to remember that you might not get it right the first time. You might order something from a company with thousands of 5-star reviews, only to find that it doesn’t suit your tastes. This is all part of the fun of searching for the perfect coffee beans. Make note of what you like and dislike, be prepared to try new things, and enjoy the process.