The Kuissential Guide To
Coffee Bean Selection
Table of Contents:
Coffee Bean Selection Introduction
While the right tools are necessary in order to produce the finest possible cup of coffee, no equipment will compensate for low-quality or stale coffee beans. You’ve made an excellent start by purchasing a Kuissential coffee-making tool. With your ceramic or silicone coffee dripper, you will enjoy the full flavor of gourmet coffee beans, free of any plastic overtones. The Kuissential manual ceramic burr coffee grinder will allow you to grind your coffee immediately before brewing it, preserving the aromatic oils, and producing a consistent grind.
Now it’s time to think about buying the finest coffee beans, so that you can experience the true potential of your new Kuissential tool. Choosing high-quality coffee beans is a bit like buying wine: There are a few basics you should know when you start out. Here’s an introduction into the whole beautiful world of artisan coffee:
Taste and aroma
You’ll be able to taste coffee more knowledgeably if you understand the terms used to describe its flavor and aroma. As you sample different types of coffee, keep these characteristics in mind. Analyzing the aspects of your tasting experience will help you determine your favorites, and your knowledge will sharpen your guests’ enjoyment of the coffee you serve.
- Acidity: This refers to a sharpness or snappiness that you can feel at the edges of your tongue, and it’s a positive quality. Sometimes it’s also described as “brightness.” Coffees with less acidity are sometimes called “mellow,” but all coffees need some acidity in order to avoid being flat or dull.
- Aroma: Since our taste buds are only capable of discerning four flavor categories (sour, sweet, salty and bitter), our sense of smell provides all the other dimensions of flavor. Coffee aroma adds qualities such as smoky, flowery, fruit-like, earthy, or it may remind you of certain berries or nuts.
- Body: Even though all coffee is brewed with water, some types feel physically heavier and denser in your mouth. A full-bodied coffee may remind you of having whole milk or cream in your mouth, while a medium or light-bodied coffee will be more like skim milk or water.
- Roast: Described in detail below, the amount of time that the beans undergo heating has a big effect on their finished appearance and taste.
- Balance: This is a descriptive word for the way in which the above factors interact. Good coffee beans usually present a high level of balance between acidity and mellowness, and they include a complex and satisfying overall aroma and flavor. Coffee with a low balance level would be extreme in one aspect of taste, and the experience would feel shallower.
- Finish: Taken from the world of winetasting, the term “finish” refers to the taste and sensation left in your mouth after you swallow. Some varieties of coffee have a cocoa or chocolate finish, others leave an aftertaste of fruit, berries or nuts.
Region, Variety and Season
Just like wine, the taste of coffee reflects the geographic region in which it the beans have been grown, as well as the exact species of the coffee plant. Certain regions have distinctive characteristics, depending on the soil, elevation and farming methods of the individual grower. Other factors that can influence taste include whether the beans are shade-grown or organic, the methods of enriching the soil and processing the beans, and whether the farmers and pickers are paid enough so that they care about doing a good job.
There are two varieties of coffee beans: arabica and robusta. Both varieties are grown all over the world; however, robusta beans are easier to grow and the plants don’t require high elevations in order to thrive. In general, robusta beans are cheaper to buy, and they tend to be used for the mainstream commercial coffee blends. Their flavor is harsher and more nut-like, and they have higher levels of caffeine. Artisan coffees are generally made from the arabica variety of bean, which has a more balanced taste that is sometimes called “winey” or “soft.”
Because so many factors influence the final taste of coffee, it’s hard to generalize about specific regions. The website or printed material from a good coffee roaster will be able to tell you about the specific crop of beans that they are roasting and selling, and this will be more relevant than generalizations about growing locations. However, there are a few regional generalities you should be aware of:
- Central American and Colombian coffees tend to be familiar to Americans, since most of our major brands are sourced there. They are mostly fairly light and well-balanced, a bit acidic, with good fruity undertones.
- Brazilian coffees consist mostly of robusta beans, and they are used for many grocery store and espresso blends. They have a heavy mouth-feel, sometimes with chocolatey overtones, and they are often used in darker roasts.
- Ethiopia is where coffee plants originated. Here they have more biodiversity than other growing regions. Many of their coffees are described as syrupy, with strong overtones of strawberry or blueberry.
- Kenya features bold-tasting coffees that some people find tropical, with a black-currant quality and sometimes even a tomato-like acidity.
- Indonesian coffees have a dark earthy or smoky quality with a long aftertaste reminiscent of unsweetened cocoa.
- Hawaiian coffees have a sweet scent and a mild, floral mellowness.
Growing and Handling
When beans are harvested, they are graded, or separated into different categories according to their appearance. Even good coffee plants can produce some defective beans, which are off-color, broken, sour, or the wrong size. European grade beans have no more than 2% of these defective beans, and they are more expensive. American grade beans are permitted to have up to 4% defective beans, and this grade is less expensive and more likely to have off-tastes.
The best-quality coffee beans come from suppliers that are specific and transparent in describing the origin of their beans; if you deal with roasters able to give you detailed information about their growers, you will end up with higher quality.
Certifications can include organic, shade grown, sustainable, high-altitude, and fair-trade. In general, such labels are excellent indicators of a fine quality product. Even if a characteristic such as “fair trade” doesn’t specifically refer to the taste of the beans, it does mean that the progression from coffee tree to your cup has been closely and carefully attended to. Achieving and maintaining organic certification is not easy, and growers are held accountable for the way they treat their product. You can feel confident that there are no traces of pesticides in your cup of organic coffee, and that the natural pests that attack coffee trees have been controlled through nontoxic methods.
The first question to ask about freshness is how long the green coffee berries were stored. Coffee beans are dried seeds, quite stable in their un-roasted form. Their outer shell is not very porous, and the moisture content can be as low as 10%. Because of this, they can safely be stored for as long as a year without losing quality, if the storage conditions are good. It’s important that they not be stored in a very humid storage facility, however, because bacteria can grow on the bean and the oils in the beans can take on some off-odors from the environment.
You might occasionally see beans advertised as “aged,” and this is a designation that is often misused. There are instances where green coffee beans are carefully stored in their country of origin, stirred and turned frequently to avoid the growth of any bacteria, and generally kept in low-humidity, high-altitude conditions. This can create a distinctive mellow aged flavor that some coffee drinkers appreciate, but it’s an expensive process.
On the other hand, an unscrupulous seller might simply have some unsold inventory of beans that have been sitting untouched in hot, humid warehouses, and might re-label them as aged, when in fact they have lost a great deal of their taste and character.
Make sure that the coffee you buy has a notation of the date on which it was roasted, or buy it direct from a roaster who can tell you when they roasted it. Quality begins to decrease almost immediately following roasting, so you should buy your coffee in small enough quantities that you can drink all of it within two or three weeks of when it was roasted.
The flavor of coffees are strongly influenced by the skill and duration involved in the roasting process. Here is a brief outline of the different types of roasts available:
- Light roast: Used for milder flavor, this type of coffee can taste almost like wheat or grain. The surface of the bean is light brown, with no visible oil.
- Medium roast: With a stronger flavor, this is sometimes termed “American roast,” because it is the most typical roast for supermarket coffee brands. The beans look medium brown, but still have no visible oil sheen on them.
- Medium-dark roast: Richer and darker, with a bittersweet aftertaste, these beans will have a slightly shiny look from the coffee oils.
- Dark roast: Shiny black beans, with some bitterness but very little acid taste, these beans are used mainly for espresso.
Choosing a Source for Your Coffee
The best coffee retailers stay very closely connected to the growers that they buy from, and they do all their own roasting. They will “cup” or taste their coffee beans on a frequent basis, and they will try not to keep their supplies of green coffee beans for longer than about six months. A good rule of thumb when searching for a source of the freshest coffee is to seek out retailers who describe themselves as “coffee roasters.”
West Coast Roasting We've been painstakingly roasting every batch by hand, and every order, to order, since 2005. You know, before people put mustaches on cars; before every other corner here in LA sported a 3rd Wave coffee shop; and before it was cool, or the norm, to do so. Why are we good? Because 3 things really matter, when it comes to coffee nirvana: the quality of the bean, the quality of the roast, and how fresh those awesome beans are. We nail all three. (The 4th, brewing, is on you!). We also donate $.25/lb sold to the International Medical Corps, because we feel strongly about the amazing relief work they do in war-torn, oppressed, and disaster-stricken areas of the world.
Sweet Tree Artisan Roasters
Sweet Tree Artisan Roasters is a small-batch coffee roasting company located in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. We offer highly distinguished, specialty-grade coffees from storied farms & micro-lots meticulously roasted in very small batches. With a focus on single-origin, we want you to know the full story of our coffees from seed to cup so you can truly appreciate what makes each and every bag so special.
This coffee company, located in Eugene, Oregon, has a relationship with fair-trade cooperatives of native Mayan farmers. Their arabica coffee is grown at high altitudes in Chiapas (Mexico) and in Guatemala. Cafe Mam generally roasts its beans on the same day it ships them, so you receive them at the peak of freshness. Its audit trail guarantees the entire process of “growing, cleaning, drying, milling, bagging, transport, shipping, import customs, USDA inspections, warehousing, roasting and packaging.” It is justly proud of the way in which its shade-grown organic coffee farms are nurturing the forests and the indigenous birds, and even the Cafe Mam delivery truck runs on bio-diesel fuel.
Thanksgiving Coffee Company
A small family-run operation, Thanksgiving Coffee Company also focuses on fair-trade organic sources, but sells a larger variety of beans from all over the world. It provides subscriptions and wholesale quantities as well. This company offers blended and single-origin coffees, and provides tasting notes as well as information on the growers.
Zoka Coffee Roasters
This chic Seattle coffee roaster appeals to the coffee-loving locals in Seattle, as well as catering to a far-flung online clientele. It showcases a number of single-origin and blended coffees, and has recently begun to offer an option of paying for online orders through a customer’s Amazon account. They offer tasting notes as well as fascinating windows into the lives of their suppliers.
Kona Rainforest Organic Coffee Company
This company actually grows its own coffee on its 41-acre estate in Hawaii. Its coffees have been showcased at official White House dinners, and the business owner invites customers to visit the island of Hawaii and enjoy a private farm tour.