The best coffee beans for your morning rituals can be an overwhelming apparition. Coffee beans that’re worth your taste-buds and money aren’t that easy to come by.
Sure, you have the limited offerings of the grocery store and the alluring aromatics of commercialized coffee brands. But the things is, finding quality beans need a little bit more background to identify.
Fortunately, our team of Coffee lovers banded together to create this guide on coffee bean scrutiny. Those packaging aesthetics won’t be the only reason you buy a pack of coffee anymore!
In this guide, you’ll learn about:
- The Process of Coffee Production
- Coffee Bean Types
- Other Coffee Bean Varieties
- Coffee Roasts
- Ground Coffee or Whole Bean Coffee?
- Coffee Beans to Brewing Method
Let’s get started!
The Process of Coffee Production
We’re fairly familiar with whole coffee beans, ground coffee beans, and instant coffee. But few can say that they’re knowledgeable in coffee production.
Coffee beans with the best quality are processed with careful and meticulous hands. A great cup of coffee doesn’t begin from the whole beans to the cup. I’ll take you further than that!
Did you know that coffee beans are also seeds?
Unprocessed coffee beans or seeds are planted to grow coffee trees. The seeds are initially planted in shaded beds. Once they sprout, they are transferred into pots to grow vigorously. Plenty of shade and water are needed to ensure a strong coffee tree.
After that, they are then replanted to their permanent places. These coffee trees take 3 to 4 years before they can begin fruiting, depending on variety.
Once the coffee cherries start to bloom, they are then picked for processing.
Coffee cherries start from a green color and ripen to a red or dark red color. Farmers harvest coffee cherries either by hand or by machine.
Strip picking is when a whole branch of cherries are harvested while Selective picking is when the red ones are taken and the green ones are left to mature.
Since the coffee cherries are considered as fruit. They are processed immediately to avoid spoilage.
There are two methods in processing coffee cherries:
The Dry Method
This method is usually practiced in areas where water is hard to come by. It is also known as unwashed processing of cherries.
The dry method is done by leaving the fresh cherries out in the sun to dry. This takes 15 to 20 days. Drying beds are often elevated to make sure that air can circulate around the drying cherries.
The cherries are raked and moved a lot during the day to avoid fermenting and continue the drying process.
The dry method makes it easier to remove the cherry skin.
The Wet Method
This is a new process of coffee processing and requires industrial equipment. The cherry fruit and coffee bean is separated using water, which is why it’s called the wet method.
The coffee cherries are placed in vats of water to allow them to ferment, making it easier to remove the cherry fruit.
This method is usually used by bigger coffee farms or commercial companies. Note that even though it’s called the wet method, the coffee beans still need to be dried for milling.
The coffee cherries or beans are then milled to green bean form or the unroasted coffee bean.
Coffee milling takes the processed coffee beans and polishes them for coffee roasters. The milling process includes removing the dries husks, namely the exocarp, mesocarp and endocarp. This is achieved through Hulling machinery where the dried coffee cherries pass through.
There is also the selection and grading of the green beans to ensure quality is met.
After the milling, the green beans are shipped off to coffee roasters for packing and distribution!
Coffee Bean Types
Coffee beans have different types which embody different characteristics based on size, shape, taste, farming altitude, and origin. These types of beans are different in coffee plant species.
There are four primary types of coffee beans:
Arabica Coffee Beans
The Coffea Arabica plant or Arabica beans is the most popular coffee species in the market. With its nuanced and delicate coffee taste, it makes up 60 percent of global coffee production.
Arabica beans originated in the high altitudes of southwestern Ethiopia. As one of the most sought after variety, it supplies 60 percent of global coffee production and is cultivated globally.
It is grown in higher altitudes of Tropical countries (600+ to 1900+ above sea level). Although it likes humidity, the Arabica plant doesn’t like harsh climates, especially not frost. It prefers areas with plenty of rain and shade. The Arabica bean has 1.2 percent to 1.7 percent of caffeine content per 100g.
High quality beans of this variety have a slightly sweet flavor. With profiles leaning towards chocolate, caramel, fruit and sometimes nuts. The Arabica bean is oval in shape, with a line in the middle reminiscent to the letter “S”.
Robusta Coffee Beans
Robusta beans come from the Coffea Canephora coffee plant species. It originated from central and western sub-Saharan Africa but has since been cultivated globally. The biggest exporter of Robusta is Vietnam.
Unlike Arabica beans, Robusta beans are smaller and rounder. They aren’t as delicate to farm, either. Resistant to insects and diseases, it makes 40 percent of global coffee production due to it growing in lower altitudes (sea level at 600 meters).
The Robusta bean has higher caffeine content ranging from 2.2 percent to 2.7 percent. It sides with the earthy and nutty profiles with a harsher bite to the tongue in bitterness. Additionally, it is the preferred bean type for producing instant coffee.
Robusta coffee is rarely enjoyed as is. The natural strength or robustness of the coffee is usually diluted with milk or creamers in brewed cups. In whole bean form, the Robusta is usually blended with Arabica to add strength to the cup of coffee.
Liberica Coffee Beans
Like Robusta coffee, the Coffea Liberica plant or Liberica Coffee is resistant to pests and diseases. It can be cultivated at lower altitudes and is adaptable to hotter climates.
There was a time in the 1890s known as the “coffee rust” where there was a shortage of Arabica beans. Due to the Coffea Liberica variety’s abundance in the Philippines and Indonesia, they became the largest coffee exporters during the time.
Currently, the Liberica variety is considered as a rare commodity with only 2 percent of the global commercial market. The Liberica coffee beans are slightly larger than the Arabica variety and are noticeably asymmetrical.
The brewed coffee form of the Liberica provides a rich aroma of a floral or fruity flavor. Taste-wise, it falls under woody and full-bodied.
Excelsa Coffee Beans
The Excelsa coffee bean variety or Coffea Excelsa was considered as its own variety. But since 2006, it’s now part of the Coffea Liberica family.
Excelsa coffee is grown in Chad (a West African country) and makes up 1 percent of the world coffee production. It has earthy notes which are rich and robust, similar to Robusta but stronger. Often mixed or blended with other varieties.
The Excelsa bean is heavy on the tongue and characterized as something coffee drinkers would need to consume regularly to get used to.
Other Coffee Bean Varieties
Blends & Single Origin
Despite coffee beans having four primary varieties or plant species, there are more choices in the market than that. For starters, we have Blends and Single Origin coffee beans.
Coffee Blends are a mixture of two or more coffee bean varieties or coffee beans of the same variety but different origin.
If your coffee bean packaging says “50 percent Arabica and 50 percent Robusta”, that’s a coffee blend. A pack that also says “100 percent Arabica beans from Ethiopia, Sumatra and Vietnam” is also a coffee blend.
While, Single Origin coffee beans are from a single farm. Coffee beans coming from a single origin is likely more expensive than a blend because of the farming conditions maintained to create quality coffee.
Organic Coffee Beans
It’s often argued that the best coffee beans are the ones that are ethically and organically cultured. True enough, most farming practices aren’t that great.
Chemical pesticides and fertilizers don’t really have an effect on the plants but carry harm to coffee consumers. Likewise, coffee enthusiasts are quick to propel the market for high quality beans that are organically farmed.
A USDA certified organic logo signifies that a product is ethically and organically produced. This is what American coffee lovers look for in their whole beans.
Are non-organic Coffee Beans unhealthy?
Not really? Non-organic coffee is still coffee and coffee is healthy.
Coffee which don’t have that certified organic seal just means that the coffee didn’t qualify for the organic status. Although, coffee in itself is a commodity from nature.
The connotation that a coffee bean is unhealthy may come from the farming practices or processing that occurred, not really from the coffee beans themselves.
Flavored Coffee Beans
Most commercialized brands don’t blatantly advertise the roast date of their coffees. They do, however, try to place an expiration date to it.
Coffee beans don’t actually expire but they do lose their flavors through carbon dioxide emission. The longer you store your coffee beans, the more it loses its optimum flavors. This is where flavored coffee beans begin.
The coffee beans that don’t pass the quality test for classic flavors are repurposed through oil flavoring. Like roasting, the coffee beans (usually dark roasts) are mixed with flavoring oils to incorporate aromatics to the beans.
So if you see Pumpkin Spice flavored coffee beans, that’s loaded with flavoring oils.
Are flavored coffee beans healthy?
It all depends on the type of flavoring oils used in the flavoring process.
If the coffee company mixed the coffee beans with majorly synthetic flavoring, then you might be consuming unhealthy chemicals. If they’re sporting a fancy logo from the USDA, then they used flavoring oils that are naturally occurring or organic.
If you’re conscious about this, be sure to check the label.
Are flavored coffee beans high in calories?
No, they are not. They’re the same amount of calories as regular or classic coffee beans. Calories in coffee generally come from milk or other additive.
Green Coffee Beans
Green Coffee beans are similar to roasted coffee beans, only they aren’t roasted. You can brew them as they are, though.
Green coffee beans have chlorogenic acid which is a main component in weight loss. Hence, people who are inclined to lose weight and are conscious about their health are likely to consume green coffee.
Green coffee beans are also flavorful like our usual cup of joe. It’s milder in taste and may be characterized as grassy.
Lighter or Darker? is what you would ask when you’ve decided on a pack of Arabica or Robusta or a blend.
Some stores sell the same coffee bean variety but with different coffee roasts. It’s important to know that different coffee roasts also affect your delicious cup. So, let’s talk about it!
Light Roasted coffee beans are light brown. They have more acidity to the cup which brings out bright floral and fruity flavor notes to fantastic coffee.
These coffee beans are higher in caffeine. As it turns out, the more you roast your coffee the more caffeine is stripped by the process.
Light roasts don’t stay in the coffee roaster for long and it has the internal temperature (at peak) of 204 degrees Celsius.
Medium roasted coffee beans are brown, more chestnut looking. It’s the most common roast in the market and considered as the best coffee bean roast for its versatility in taste.
Medium roasts have the right amount of acidity and bitterness in its brew. It’s balanced, aromatic, and flavorful.
Medium roasts have the internal temperature (at peak) of 215 degrees Celsius.
Dark roasted coffee beans are dark brown. There are some oil on its surface from the longer roasting time.
Like the medium roast, dark roasts are also common in the market. It’s a staple for people who like iced coffee or mixed coffee drinks as it provides a heavier, fuller coffee taste with spicy notes.
Dark roasts have the internal temperature (at peak) of 229 degrees Celsius.
Extra Dark Roast or Espresso Roast
Extra Dark Roast is also called Espresso Roast. It’s black in color and has an oily exterior.
Baristas from specialty coffee shops often call this as burned. That’s because the coffee yield from this type of bean has none of its previous flavor notes. There is no fruity or floral or even chocolate.
Usually, the flavor notes for Extra Dark Roast is smoky. And there are people who enjoy this too.
Extra Dark Roasts have the internal temperature (at peak) of 240 degrees Celsius.
Ground Coffee or Whole Bean Coffee?
Great coffee comes from freshly ground coffee beans. Pre ground coffee beans may be convenient but they’re not a great buy.
Coffee beans emit carbon dioxide from its roasting up until it is brewed. The only difference is how long or how fast does it occur. In whole bean coffee, it’s a much slower process. In pre ground coffee, it’s faster.
This is how you get a stale cup of coffee. From pre ground coffee that sat too long in the cupboard. So always opt to buy whole bean coffee for the best cup of coffee you can make.
So what grind size should you grind your whole bean coffee? Let’s discuss the different grind sizes.
There are five different grind sizes:
- Fine Grind – powdery in texture. Think confectioner’s sugar
- Medium Fine Grind – like table salt; staple grind size for pre ground coffee
- Medium Grind – like the consistency of sand
- Medium Coarse Grind – looks like rough sand; in-between medium and coarse grind
- Coarse Grind – looks like rock salt; has chunky pieces
Coffee science dictates that the right grind size chosen for the right method and execution yields the best cup of coffee. So be sure to get acquainted with the grind sizes!
The best coffee is made by a reliable grinder. Be sure to study up on the types of grinders, especially when you’re on the hunt for one.
You can read about coffee grinders here.
Coffee Beans to Brewing Method
The best coffee beans yield great cups of coffee by essence. But if you’ve done a terrible job at brewing it, you’re sure to find a sour or bitter cup here and there.
Hence, it’s best to know which coffee and roast fits each brewing method. You can mix and match coffee beans with these methods but it’s safe to assume that you’ll be dealing with Arabica and Robusta.
Here are a few of our picks:
Pour Over Coffee
The Pour Over makes bright, clear, and often acidic cups of coffee. It’s best enjoyed as black with little to no additives.
Roast: Light Roast to Medium Roast
Grind Size: Medium-coarse grind
The Drip Coffee offers less control in the brewing method but is automatic. Seeing as it’s a machine. You just pop in the coffee grounds in the filter and let it do its magic.
The coffee is often bitter due to over-extraction.
Roast: Medium Roast
Grind Size: Medium grind
The French Press is a nifty coffee appliance that makes full-bodied coffee. It’s one of the easiest home brew methods.
Roast: Medium Roast to Dark Roast
Grind Size: Coarse grind
The Moka Pot creates espresso-like coffee through pressure. Although not as strong as real espresso. It can be enjoyed in Iced coffee drinks or as it is.
Roast: Medium Roast to Dark Roast
Grind Size: Fine
Turkish Coffee Pot
The Turkish flute traditionally uses hot sand for brewing. But modern technology has created electric versions for people to enjoy its delicious coffee. It produces a sugary-like consistency which tastes a solid bittersweet.
Roast: Medium Roast to Dark Roast
Grind Size: Extra fine
Espresso Machines – home or industrial versions – make a special kind of coffee called Espresso. Espresso is made through the use of hot water and pressure to brew the coffee.
Espresso is bitter because the caffeine is packed in 30ml shot glasses. But if brewed correctly, it has a slightly sweet aftertaste along with the pleasant bitterness of coffee.
A distinct characteristic of Espresso is a light brown foam called Crema.
Roast: Medium Dark, Dark Roast, Espresso Roast
Grind Size: Fine
Cold brew, regardless of the method, uses the same grind size and roast.
Light roasts are discouraged in cold brewing because the whole point of brewing your coffee cold is to mellow down the acidity. Light roasts have more acidic features which won’t shine in a cold brew.
Roast: Medium Roast or Dark Roast
Grind Size: Coarse
You can read up on How to Make Cold Brew with this guide.
The Best Beans says…
The best whole bean coffee available in the market is the coffee that you like… and the coffee that’s freshly roasted. Choosing coffee beans for the best possible cup of coffee is a tedious process. You have to consider its origin, its process, its variety and even the brewing method that you’re into.
Guided with the basic principles of coffee, you’re next objective is exploring every variant available to you and figure out the best coffee beans for you. And that’s the fun part!
If you’re interested in getting to know more about coffee, you can browse through guide in brewing a cup of coffee.