Want good coffee?
The kind of coffee where you take a sip, pull your head away, look at your drink and go “Damn, that’s good.”
The kind of coffee that says ‘notes of blueberry and licorice’ on the bag and it actually tastes of blueberry and licorice? (Yea, that’s a thing.)
The kind of coffee that gets you excited about going to bed at night because you can’t wait to get up and make that Kenyan AA in the morning?
Well, it all starts with the bean.
Top chefs use the finest cuts of meat. An award winning sommelier will only recommend wine of the highest quality. The best cheesemonger in the world uses the finest brie, camembert and roquefort. I guess. I don’t know that much about cheesemongering. (Cheesemonging?)
The point is… you want coffee so good that you melt for a few seconds each time you take a sip? You need good beans.
And what’s absolutely fantastic is that the standard of coffee bean you are used to is (probably) pretty bad. You should be thanking your lucky stars that the commercial coffee chains offer super sweet and highly caffeinated milk beverages with the slightest hint of coffee. You should be praising the good lord above that the whole aisle at your grocery store is full of stale coffee. Why?
Because you’re about to taste what good coffee tastes like.
The coffee you are drinking is bad
Really good coffee is rare.
The first and second waves of coffee have done some great things in bringing this beautiful drink to everyone’s kitchen table or car cup holder, but they prioritised convenience over taste. The mass production of instant coffee seems unremarkable now but it was quite the revolution over a hundred years ago. The introduction of fast serving espresso coffee in big chains across the states was another revolution itself.
The third wave is the most recent of the coffee revolutions. By most estimates it began in the early 2000s and was characterized by an artisanal approach to making coffee. High quality brewing equipment, ethically sourced single origin beans, a focus on fresh roasting and grinding. It’s transformed how good coffee can be. Kinda like the recent trend in craft beer and microbreweries where beer has gone from cheap, fizzy lager to hoppy, fragrant IPAs.
Why your coffee is bad
1. Most coffee you can buy is stale.
Here’s the big one, coffee beans that are available at grocery stores and chain coffee shops are almost certainly stale. In this context, stale means the coffee has gone off since it was roasted. Coffee that has been roasted stays at a peak flavor for about 15-20 days before there is a noticeable drop in taste.
It’s possible you’ve never even tried freshly roasted coffee. If there’s no roast date on the bag, that’s stale. The majority of coffee beans sold have been sitting on shelves for months. To get freshly roasted coffee you need to find a third wave roaster who prioritizes freshness and includes a roast date on the bag of coffee.
2. Most coffee you can buy is generic.
Coffee beans that you can buy can be grouped into two categories: blends or single origins. Coffee blends are a combination of different beans from around the world designed to produce a smooth and balanced taste. Single origins are beans from single country, region or even farm where the inherent flavors of the bean are pronounced.
Blends are not necessarily bad, but they will be smooth and balanced. Single origins offer you the chance to explore the amazing inherent flavors of coffee beans. We’re talking strong, unmistakeable notes of chocolate, honey, lemon or grapefruit. It has to be tasted to be believed. One of the delights of making your own coffee at home or in the office is you can taste the zesty Kenyan single origin or that smoky Sumatran that you love.
3. Most coffee you can buy is cheap.
The third argument against coffee beans you can buy is that most of them are at a price point that is too low to source high quality coffee beans with high quality processing and handling. To go back to the craft beer comparison, the great-tasting pale ales you can get down at the grocery store are a bit more expensive than a crate of PBR. Mass-produced stuff is cheap, who’d-a thought?
If you’re interested in great coffee, you will need to accept that you are paying a bit more. But even the more expensive fresh roasted beans will end up being cheaper than that monster sized $7 coffee flavored milkshake (or latte as they call it) you get at your local Starbuck’s.
Where to buy from
You’re a lucky so-and-so, you know that? It’s 2017 and the options for buying great freshly roasted coffee are better than they’ve ever been.
I will always recommend that you look for your local roasters. It’s great to support local businesses anyway and you have the added advantage of being able to go into the place, chat with the owner or manager and get a look at what you’re buying. You’ll usually get the option of trying a brew before you buy! And oh look, here’s a nice little article on finding the best third wave roasters that are nearby.
Failing that, there are lots of excellent options online. Some use subscription models and some give you the option of buying a bag at a time. Even though you buy from the websites you can (and should) still get them fresh from the roast if you go to the right websites. The right websites I have happily put into my article here.
There’s a whole bunch of things that go into making great coffee beans. Things that I have written in some detail on these articles if you’re interested… But the great thing is that if you’re buying from a high quality roaster then all the work is done for you. Sit back, knock off the dust off your French Press and experience a whole new world of great-tasting coffee.
– I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating, you need a high quality grinder to really get the best out of this. My personal preference is for beginners to go with preground over a cheap grinder for this reason, I go into more detail here.
– I realize I might not be coming across as the nicest person by telling everyone their coffee is bad, but at least I’m not as mean as these 1950s husbands are to their wives!