Buying coffee beans is an essential skill for coffee Brewers. Even the most expensive equipment cannot brew a cup of good coffee with a batch of bad beans. In this post, we will reveal 7 insider tips on how to buy the best coffee beans for your money.
The Idea of A Bargain: Novice vs Pro Buyer
Walk into a durian stall and you can easily differentiate a novice buyer from a pro buyer.
A novice buyer takes a quick glance at a durian, checks the price and start negotiating for a better deal.
“How can I buy this durian more cheaply?”
A novice buyer’s idea of a bargain is if he can buy a product more cheaply than the displayed price.
A pro buyer examines the fruit from all angles: touching, smelling and if possible, tasting a sample – before he even looks at the price.
“How much is this durian worth?”
A pro buyer’s idea of a bargain is if he can pay less than the true value of a product.
The key difference between a novice and a pro buyer is their ability to assess a product’s true value.
Similarly, professional coffee buyers have the ability to assess the true value of a batch of coffee beans. You too, can jump start your coffee buying skills by following the tips below on how to buy the best coffee beans.
Tip 1: Freshness is Vital
A freshly roasted average coffee trumps even the best coffee that has passed its optimum brewing period.
Coffee like any other food products has its best before period that can affect the taste of your brew.
Roasted coffee beans are extremely vulnerable to staling, a process that occurs as a result of exposure to oxygen. At best, a stale brew would taste flat, or even downright rancid in the worst case.
As a rough guide, freshly roasted coffee is at its best from 24 hours to about 1 month out of the roaster.
However, this period may vary from coffee to coffee. Some coffee roasters would test their roast and identify the optimum brewing period for their coffee. Try asking your coffee roaster if the roasting date is not labelled for your coffee.
Tip 2: Buy Whole Coffee Beans
Whenever possible, buy whole coffee beans rather than pre-ground coffee. Grinding your beans accelerates the staling process by increasing the surface area that is in contact with oxygen.
Within a day of grinding, the coffee will lose much of its original character; and within a week, it will taste no different from canned coffee.
Additionally, by buying whole coffee beans you can confirm that it is made of 100% coffee with no extra additives. You may have heard of the awful case where a Vietnamese factory was caught producing coffee from used batteries and dust. Although such an outrageous incident is unlikely to happen in our region, it never hurts to be sure of what we are consuming.
If you really, really don’t want to bother with a grinder, try to buy pre-ground coffee in small packages enough for only a few brews to ensure freshness.
Tip 3: Packaging Matters
Packaging is an important step to delay the staling process by separating the coffee beans from the environment. As buyers, it is helpful for us to know some of the signs of a good coffee packaging.
The coffee bag should be properly sealed and airtight. After a few days post roasting, a coffee bag should appear full with carbon dioxide. A coffee bag that remains flat may indicate an improper seal (or excessive squeezing by an overly eager Brewer).
Your coffee bags should also come with an inner metallized film or a high-barrier polyester. This barrier will keep out oxygen, UV, and other factors that might affect your coffee beans.
We have chose to custom design the coffee bags for our Mystery Box subscription and have gained a lot of valuable knowledge about coffee packaging in the process.
Interested to know more? Read: Why We Custom Design Our Coffee Packaging.
Tip 4: Observe The Storage Condition
Specialty coffee roasters take great pride in their craft and some will even go the extra mile to preserve the quality of their roasts. You can get a rough idea of how good a coffee is by observing how well their coffee is cared for.
Find out how the coffee is stored. Roasted coffee should be stored in a cool and dry place away from direct sunlight. In our hot climate, this would mean that the coffee should be ideally stored in an air-conditioned room at about 23℃. If you notice the coffee is stored in a hot and humid storeroom, chances are the beans are not in optimum condition.
Another trick is to check the average roasting dates for all their coffees. If you notice most of the coffees are within 2 weeks of roasting date, the coffee store most likely has a decent turnover rate.
Tip 5: Expensive Coffee is Not Always the Best
While specialty coffee is generally more expensive and better quality than commercial coffee, keep in mind that where specialty coffee is concerned, pricier may not necessarily mean better.
As highlighted in our previous article on the stages of coffee production, coffee undergoes an elaborate process before reaching you. Consequently, the bulk of the price of a coffee is due to the production and marketing costs rather than the quality alone.
A good example is Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee where its production is limited to the slopes of the Blue Mountain. This disproportionate supply vs demand has greatly inflated the price of the coffee. While it is indeed delicious, coffee from another region with a similar quality would only cost a fraction of its price.
Learn more! Check out: Stages of Coffee Production: The Journey from Seed to Cup.
Tip 6: Understand Your Coffee Label
To the untrained eye, specialty coffee labels may look like an alien document as it is usually filled with unfamiliar coffee terms. The ability to understand coffee labels helps to differentiate important information from marketing noise.
It is important to note that a coffee with a detailed label does not automatically equate to a high quality coffee. Some smaller coffee roasters may have simple labels but may still produce high quality coffee beans.
A good technique is to ask questions regarding the coffee. Most would be happy to provide you with details regarding their product. If the roaster or salesperson is reluctant or unable to give you further information about their own product, you are probably better off buying your coffee elsewhere.
Tip 7: Sample Before Buying
Have you ever wondered how coffee professionals buy the best coffee beans?
Grades and scores aside, a professional coffee buyer would ultimately depend on his own taste buds to consider a purchase.
By tasting a sample of the coffee before buying, you can objectively assess a batch of coffee while taking into consideration your own taste preferences.
However, due to the high cost of roasting, this privilege to sample coffee is traditionally reserved for coffee professionals.
In BrewersClub, we believe every Brewer should have the privilege of sampling before buying.
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