Are You Murdering Your Coffee Beans?
If I’m not mistaken; you’re the type of person who loves to experiment with new exciting coffee beans from all over the world.
The world of coffee opens up when you start pairing the right coffee beans with the right brew style.
But let’s be honest; pairing COFFEE BEANS with ROAST LEVELS and BREWING TYPES is harder than it sounds.
But you already knew that it was hard - that’s why you’re reading this, right?
If you don't know where to start: you’ve been murdering your coffee beans, and you’ve didn’t even realize (until today)
Get the pairing wrong and you waste coffee beans. You waste money.
And you waste the fruits of labor of those hard-working coffee farmers all over the world. You can almost feel their disappointment, thousands of miles away as you butcher the beautiful beans that they worked so hard to produce.
But today that all changes.
Today you stop murdering your coffee beans.
Take a deep breath - it’s time to learn how to pair your beans with the right brew method.
First a little required reading (education), and then I show you a few simple questions you can ask yourself to ensure you're doing it right.
The Importance Of Starting with the right beans
Whether you make espresso, drip, decaf French Press or you make pour over coffee, you know that at the heart of the process is the bean.
Anyone who has ever had a #coffeefail knows that while there are many potential reasons for bad coffee, making a good cup of coffee starts with the bean.
This might seem like a “duh, of course” moment, but in reality, there are lots of people out there who go through complicated reviews of everything from what kind of burr grinder they have, the settings, their water temperature, extraction time and more without ever going back to (coffee) ground zero: the bean.
There are several elements when it comes to making sure that you aren’t murdering your beans and you need to need to know them.
Knowing how to choose, handle, store, grind and brew your beans is, well, cool beans, dude.
We’re here to break it down for you into easily digestible sips; to make sure you walk away after reading this with the knowledge and tools to put your beans to work for you instead of against you.
Where your coffee is grown is the first important factor in how it will taste when you pour it into your cup.
Similar to how certain grapes for wine are grown in specific regions – and how that affects the taste – where your coffee beans come from matters, too.
The plain truth of the matter is that coffee grown in Thailand will taste different than coffee grown in Ethiopia or in Guatemala.
Influences such as altitude, climate (including rainfall and sunlight), and terroir (soil) all make an impact, as do growing, harvesting, and processing methods, which can vary dramatically from one region or culture to the next.
Each coffee producer, like winemakers, will produce their own distinct flavor.
Coffee is grown in dozens of countries around the world, most of which can be found on three continents: Central/South America, Africa, and Asia. We’ll go over some of the top beans and their best brewing methods below, so keep reading!
In general, coffee grown in Central and South America tends to be clean and sweet, coffee from Africa is complex and fruity, and Asian coffee has an earthier, robust flavor.
And why does this all matter?
Because some flavour profiles are better suited to certain brew methods.
For example, pour over coffee creates light, clean, and crisp black coffee; meaning you'll want to choose a bean with soft floral or fruity flavours for that method (and don't add milk to that shit, or you won’t taste those flavours... and you've just murdered your beans).
Here are some of the major coffee-producing regions around the world, along with the best brewing method for each flavor profile.
Standing out amongst the pack, Colombian coffee (along with some Peruvian types) dominates not just South American, but ALL American coffee drinking.
It has set the tone for what a typical “cup of coffee” should taste like, by bringing bold, yet gentle flavors together into a medium-bodied coffee bean.
Nutty, and even a bit earthy at its base, typical coffee from this region boasts a mild acidity and warm sweetness that is similar, yet distinct from its northern counterparts in the Central American plantations.
Brazilian coffee, for example, tends to be bolder and stay on the palate for longer.
Preferred Brewing Method
Steeping Method. This allows the grounds to remain in contact with the water, bringing out a strong, full-bodied cup of coffee. It’s perfect for the more medium-bodied American coffee varieties.
This region tends to provide coffee varieties that can be summed up in one word: balanced. They can have varying characteristics, though they all tend to share a common thread of flavor.
This is due to the similar climates and cultures (especially in terms of processing techniques, and types of beans grown) seen throughout the region, giving a uniformity to the flavor profiles.
Acidity in these coffees can vary and is often accompanied by a smoothness that is loaded with a soft, almost caramelized, sweetness.
Preferred Brewing Method
Steeping Method. Once again, this method allows the grounds to remain in contact with the water, bringing out a strong, full-bodied cup of coffee. It’s the perfect way to enjoy the more medium-bodied American coffee varieties.
Let’s zoom in a bit here to take a look at two big shots in African coffee production.
The age-old home of coffee – and coffee variety! Not only does the climate of Ethiopia vary wildly, but so do the coffee beans that are grown there.
The kinds of beans change from location to location, and the processing techniques are divided between the washed/wet method and natural/dry method.
These methods generally lead to two different flavor profiles. The wet method tends to yield a lighter, floral taste, akin to tea, while the dry method is bolder and holds on to more of the raw, fruity wine taste.
Preferred Brewing Method
Here you have some options. Use a filtration method if the coffee was processed using the wet method (to help enhance gentler flavors). Use a steeping method if it was processed using the dry method (to draw out an abundance of flavor and get a stronger cup coffee).
Kenyan coffee screams bold!
It is often a favorite of coffee aficionados, and it’s no wonder, as beans from Kenya can tend to be powerful (though still medium-bodied) in their flavor.
They put on a balancing act, riding the line between a tangy savoriness and a nippy sweetness.
This creates a delicately flavorful and kick-ass coffee that is infused with a fruity, wine-toned acidity.
Factors such as a lack of shade, as well as a well-research, planned and supported processing method (that can include, for example, post-fermentation soaking), all contribute to this popular flavor.
Asian and Oceanic
Once again, let’s zoom in to where these two regions meet in the famous coffee-growing region of Indonesia.
Indonesia tends to bring a variety of dark, often full-bodied, coffees to the table. Many of these are quite earthy in flavor and can have long-lasting aftertastes. Yet at the same time, they can be surprisingly gentle in their acidity levels.
Coffee from the Indonesian island of Sumatra, in particular, is famous for its dark roast and smoky flavor.
Other areas in the region, though different, also produce exquisitely stout, earthy coffee varieties that can both challenge and enrapture the most avid coffee enthusiasts.
Preferred Brewing Method
Filtration Method. Once again, the filtration method is tried and true, giving you control over the whole process and helping to gently coax every bit of flavor out of the beans. It is an excellent way to bring the gentler floral or fruity elements of the stronger Indonesian coffees to center stage.
Final Notes on Bean Origin
As you go about purchasing, just remember that when working with any kind of specialty beans, it is imperative that you don’t drop a fortune on organic, environmentally-friendly, fair trade beans and then butcher them in the process of making a Folgers-quality cup of coffee.
Make sure to read up on the best ways to brew coffee, and keep in mind that if you want power, you’ll want to look at steeping or boiling methods, whereas if you want to taste the details of that flavor profile, you’ll want to turn to something like filtration, drip, or pressure methods.
And, as always, remember that every plantation, every roast, every bag, hell, every cup of coffee is different.
So don’t take these beans and brewing methods as laws but guidelines.
Start there and adjust as you go. Find the best combination for you that helps you get the body and flavor profile you’re craving.
Okay, let’s talk altitude for a second.
The altitude that coffee beans are grown at makes a difference... to the coffee growers at least.
For us, this is just a cool, quick detour to see how height helps create some of that variety we see from region to region.
A general rule of thumb is that higher altitudes are considered to produce better-tasting coffee.
That’s part of why Kenyan coffee (grown in some of the highest points in the world) consistently comes in as a bestseller.
Height and Coffee Beans: Quick List Guide
COFFEE BEANS PRODUCED
2500 feet and below
Not great. In general, coffee beans below this level will be mild and simple (with some notable exceptions like Kona coffee or coffee grown in shade).
Tend to be smoother and sweeter.
Often has citrus, chocolate, vanilla or nutty notes.
5000 feet and above
Can taste fruity, floral or spicy.
Any good coffee bean producer worth his or her salt will tell you their processing method. Why?
Because this is something that should be flaunted, not hidden.
It’s part of what makes each cup of coffee what it is.
Typically, the processing method can be found on the bag.
While there are new methods being developed all the time, here are the main processing methods used around the globe.
Washed or Wet Process
This can be done in multiple ways.
One option is to wait for microbes to break the pulp down through fermentation, which releases the coffee beans from the cherry, and will then be dried.
Another method uses a machine to scrub the coffee cherries until they break and release the bean.
The washed process banks on the coffee beans having absorbed all of the flavor during the growing process, as it actively removes the cherry before any extra flavor can be infused.
It’s a great way to see how single origin beans, in particular, truly taste without being tampered with.
Wet processed beans often produce a more controlled and balanced coffee, with lower acidity.
OUR BREWING SUGGESTION
Filtration Method. Using a filtration method with a wet-processed coffee can help bring out the flavor profile, especially in the fruitier, more gourmet beans which tend to be processed in this way.
Natural or Dry Process
This one is about as simple as it gets.
The coffee cherries are spread on the ground to dry over a period of days or weeks. They are raked regularly to turn them over and ensure they dry evenly and thoroughly.
It’s an ancient process, and is also considered low-quality, as it can be done sloppily and on the cheap.
However, when care is shown, it can produce great beans and enhance a coffee’s profile rather than damage it.
The coffee produced in this natural method is usually strong, full, and smooth.
OUR BREWING SUGGESTION
Steeping Method. This suggestion comes from the desire to embrace the power the coffee beans retain when processed in this way. Using something like a French press or even a boiling method can be the best way to fetch the strongest flavor for an incredible cup of coffee.
Semi Dry Process
Also called wet hulled or semi washed, this process is fairly new and more popular in Brazilian and Indonesian coffee processing. It yields a very full, heavy body to the coffee.
OUR BREWING SUGGESTION
Filtration Method. Using a Chemex or pour over method with this helps calm the beast in this strong processing method, while steering into the skid of the smoothness it can deliver.
Natural Honey or Pulped Process
Named after the stickiness of this approach, this process is a bit of a mixture of the wet and dry methods (and, to be clear, it DOES NOT involve actual honey).
Initially popular in Costa Rica, the method involves pulping the cherries and extracting the beans from the outer skins, but leaving them in a layer of mucilage that contains high levels of sugar and acids.
It is a very scientific method that requires care and attention and, when done correctly, can yield fantastic results.
It is one of the most influential processes that directly impacts the flavor of the bean itself.
OUR BREWING SUGGESTION
Filtration Method. Once again, the filtered method shines through, as honey-processed beans simply have too many flavors to ignore. Use something like a Chemex to reduce the acidity and draw out the gentler flavors.
The Roast Profile
Coffee roasters are scientists and artists. They take the soft green coffee beans and work their roasting magic on them, turning them into the brown, delicious things we all love to see pouring out into the grinder.
The roasting process involves heating the beans quickly to very high temperatures in order to literally change the chemical makeup – and therefore the flavor – of the beans.
It’s not a simple task, and a good coffee roaster needs to be thinking about the end game when they start the roasting process.
Seriously, if you ever get a chance to talk to a coffee roaster, do it. It will change how you see coffee forever.
Coffee beans are roasted to different levels or categories, which should then be brewed using specific methods.
While the global coffee industry doesn’t really have industry standardizations, overall roasts are put into one of four general color categories: light, medium, medium-dark and dark.
Each roast tells you what to expect from the beans.
For example, a classic misunderstanding is that a darker roast – which can smell and taste intense! – has more caffeine.
But hold the phone. It actually doesn’t! Lighter roasts are less “cooked” and typically hold on to more caffeine.
In general, lighter roasts will be less roasted, allowing more of the nuances and flavors of the beans to remain, whereas dark roasts are more impacted by the roasting process itself, since they spend more time actually being roasted.
Let’s break down each roast and get an idea of what we’re working with here.
- Light brown in color.
- Little to no oil on the surface of the beans.
- Tend to be used for milder coffees.
- Can often have a brighter, fruitier, or more floral flavor profile.
- Types of light roasts include:
- Half City
- Light City
- New England
OUR BREWING SUGGESTION
Filtration Method. Lighter means less roasted, which leaves more of the original beans’ profile of flavors. These need to be coaxed out with something like a pour over in order to get many of the floral and fruity tastes to shine through. A filter also doubles as an acidity-reducer for those who want both the light profile and a smoother cup of coffee.
- Medium brown bean color, darker than most light roasts.
- Stronger, bolder flavor than most lighter roasts, but still fairly gentle.
- Often referred to as the American Roast as it is very popular in the USA.
- Types of medium roasts include:
OUR BREWING SUGGESTION
Filtration Method. Once again, these beans are light enough in their profile that you will want to draw the flavor out.
- Rich, dark color.
- Can have some oil on the surface of the beans due to a longer roasting time.
- Can be fairly bold and smooth; often has a bittersweet aftertaste.
- Types of medium-dark roasts include:
- Full City
- Light French
OUR BREWING SUGGESTION
Filtration or Steeping Methods. Here you have some options. Medium-dark roasts can be a bit of a halfway house between the brightly distinct, yet acidic, lighter roasts and the boldly in-your-face dark roasts. They can be filtered in order to bring out the subtleties of their flavor or steeped to bring out the full-bodied wholeness of the longer roasting process.
- Often have a pronounced bitterness (a good thing in the world of coffee).
- Have noticeably less acidity than other roasts.
- Vary from “sort of dark” to dark – this can be more subtle. Talk to someone who can help explain where each roast lands on the dark roast scale.
- Types of dark roasts include:
- New Orleans
OUR BREWING SUGGESTION
Steeping or even Boiling Methods. That’s right. Whether steeping it in a French press or getting adventurous and boiling up some cowboy coffee, getting the grounds right in the water to steep is the best way to get a strong, bold, full-bodied cup of dark roast coffee.
If you want more information on roasting, check out the great infographic that the National Coffee Association of the USA created that explains the different types of roasts in detail (at the bottom of the article).
Blend vs Single Origin
Single origin beans are a pretty simple concept, and are pretty popular right now, too! Simply put, it refers to one kind of bean, grown in one kind of place (a farm, region, country, etc.).
Blends, on the other hand, are a bit more complex.
See, a good coffee roaster is like a chef or mixologist. They’re not just roasting; they’re artistically bringing the right ingredients and elements together in order to create some damn delicious magic.
That’s key. It’s not just a process, it’s art.
And one medium of the art of coffee roasting is blending.
Coffee roasters look at the strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of beans and marry them together to make the end result that much better than the individual ingredients.
The goal here is to create a clearly identifiable flavor profile and be consistent with it.
It’s like mixing paint. You need to know how you got the color, or you’ll never get it again.
If you want to mix and match, but still want to know what ingredients are in there, you might want to stick with lighter flavors. They won’t cancel each other out.
Dark roasts, on the other hand, can combine to give even more kick to each cup than a single origin bean might.
If you’re interested in trying it out, here’s some more info on blending like a pro.
Best Single Origin Coffees
On the other side from blends are single origin options. Some popular single origin coffee includes:
The list goes on…
Best Coffees to Blend
These are more general rules of thumb to follow:
Don’t blend expensive beans with cheap beans. You’re throwing your money away. The good stuff will be drowned out in the burnt, cheapo white-noise of the low-quality beans.
Combine flavors that complement each other. In other words, if you’re enjoying a fruity, light-roasted Indonesian coffee, try getting a South or Central American medium roast with a chocolatey or nutty flavor to mix together.
Use coffees you know you like. There’s no need to go experimenting with new flavors in a blend, the blend itself is already a new flavor!
Experiment in small batches, as this helps ensure minimal waste.
Here is the right bean choice for You (based on your taste preferences...)
So now you know about coffee beans, flavours, and the relationship between the two. This should be enough information for you to make an educated choice when next browsing for beans.
But if you're the type of person who likes to ask the barista...
There is an easier way (considering that when you buy online, there ain't no barista there ready to answer your questions),
Just ask yourself either one of these questions:
1) What TASTE am I looking For?
Everyone has different taste buds and their coffee preference might not be the same as yours.
What type of coffee taste are you after?
- A crisp and clean tasting black coffee?
- A strong tasting, dark and rich black coffee? [insert joke about desirable boyfriend here]
- A mellow, acidic black coffee?
- A heavy, musty, chocolatey-tasting black coffee?
- A fruity, florally tasting black coffee
- A subtle-coffee flavoured milk based coffee? (e.g. something with overpowering milk taste, such as a cappuccino, latte, flat white etc)
- A strong-coffee flavoured milk based coffee? (e.g. something with milk where the coffee flavour still dominates, such as a ristretto, piccolo latte, etc)
Of course these rules are not set in stone; they are just guides to help you get started, but feel free to experiment!
Ask yourself that question before ordering beans.
Sometimes you feel like something different so grab a few different types of beans (better yet, sign up to a coffee subscription service like one of these).
Simply scroll up to the section on bean origin above and take a look at the infographic... and pay attention to the 'taste notes' column.
Cool, done that? Written it down? Good stuff!
Of course, just knowing what taste you want is only one part of the process.
Now, you need to identify how you are going to make this coffee... because not all brew methods where created equal...
2) How should I brew?
Now that you are clear on what type of taste you're looking for from your coffee, its time to match that bean up with the right brew method.
... And here are some suggestions for each, based on the flavour profiles above:
Now, it’s like putting a flavor puzzle together.
BEST ROAST TYPE
PLACE OF ORIGIN
crisp and clean
Pour ove, Drip machine, aeropress or syphon
Kenya or Tanzania
Strong, dark and Rich
Espresso, French Press, Aeropress or Turkish Ibrik
Dark Roast/Espresso for an espresso shot
Africa, Indonesia, Central & South America
Mellow and Acidic
Pour Over, Drip Machine, Syphon
Medium, Medium-Dark Roast
Guatemala, Mexico, Costa Rica, Hawaii
heavy, musty, chocolate taste
French Press, espresso machine, Moka pot
Nicaragua, Mexico, Brazil, Thailand, Indonesia
fruity or florally
Pour ove, Drip machine, aeropress or french press
Medium, Medium-Dark, Dark Roast
Ethiopia, Columbia, Brazil, Costa Rica
Are you making these coffee bean mistakes?
While I am all about trying new things with coffee, there are some common mistakes that people make when it comes to their beans that can be avoided.
- Don’t assume that a darker roast has more caffeine. It’s just not true. The stronger flavor of a dark roast comes from it being roasted longer. It has nothing to do with caffeine.
- Don’t assume that a light roast is “light”. While it might not have the dark, rich color of a dark roast or an espresso roast, light roast tastes can be overwhelming dramatic for some people. The light roast is all about the bean – and that means you get the on-flavor of it, the good and the bad.
- Don’t use the same roast or coffee bean for ALL of your coffee needs. Depending on what you want, different beans are for different moments and flavours.
- Don’t use just any bean (roast or origin) in any brewer. As you've just learned, specific combinations of roasts, beans and brewers go together – the easiest example being an espresso roast and an espresso machine! Match them up.
- Experiment with different origins and roasts of beans. Every person has distinct tastes and what may taste too acidic or too floral for one person may not be that for you. Being a coffee lover is fun – and trying new coffees is one of the rewards.
- Make sure your beans are fresh. If there isn’t a “roasted on” date on the package, don’t buy it. An expiry date doesn’t count, that’s a fake out and you are likely getting stale coffee. You have about two weeks from the roasted by date for the coffee to be at its prime. You can get away with four weeks, but after two weeks the quality begins to degrade. Keep it fresh, homey.
As much as this coffee adventure we are all on can be frustrating and crazy-making, the fact is – we’re all still here.
And part of what keeps us here is trying new things.
Buy different roasts from different countries and keep a coffee log. Think about what you want to get out of that specific cup of coffee.
Early morning – do you want your taste buds to come alive with its complexity?
Mid-afternoon, a rich espresso shot with a nice crema can bring you back to life… and understanding how the country of origin and the roast directs how the coffee should be made is a necessary step in getting to that perfect cup.
Coffee is a complicated, complex subject.
And the more you learn, the more passionate you will become.
And now, armed with this knowledge - you are ready to stop murdering your coffee beans and create the right brew with the right beans and the right roast!