Great coffee has become a staple in the modern diet – why else would we go out of our way in search of the ‘perfect’ coffee shop, or spend our hard earned cash on a home barista setup? We like our coffee black, with cream, loads of sugar, whipped into a Frappuccino, upside down, shaken and not stirred. We want double shots, triple shots or just pure and classic like the Italians do it. Morning, noon or night we need our coffee.
The fact is, the coffee industry is booming and everyone wants a cup. If you are a lover of all things coffee and want to venture outside of your average, everyday grind we have a list of the 10 best coffee beans you should try before you die.
Whether you like a strong, dark Columbian bean or a medium roast with light, refreshing floral undertones there is something for everyone on this list.
Read on with us as we travel the globe asking one simple question; who has the best beans in the coffee business?
Where to buy great coffee Beans...
Good coffee comes from people who care. Who cares about coffee as much as you do?
The answer is local roasters. When you buy coffee directly from a local roaster you get the important benefit of fresh roasted coffee.
These local coffee companies tend to be very passionate about the craft of roasting. Your first step in buying great coffee is to start exploring any roasters nearby and trying their coffee.
Don’t see any local roasters around you? No problem. Check out a farmer’s market. Many people who have really small scale operations sell at such markets. These are often very fresh and worth a try.
If you don’t have access to a great local roaster, there are also great ways of ordering coffee online. What’s important is that you choose a company who clearly says that they only roast coffee once it’s ordered.
This is important, because you don’t want them roasting coffee 2 months in advance of shipping it. For example, if you order coffee from Ruby on Monday, they will roast and ship it on Tuesday.
Where NOT to buy coffee Beans
While there are some places you can find the best coffee, there are many places that you should definitely not buy coffee from.
The grocery store is one of those places. Not only do most grocery stores sell really old coffee (they claim a shelf life of up to a year), they are also extremely low quality.
Do yourself a favor and stay away from the coffee aisle.
The exception here is Whole Foods and other artisan grocery stores, which carry coffee from reputable roasters.
Amazon is another place you probably shouldn't be buying coffee from.
Again, it’s the question of freshness. Most of the stuff on Amazon sit’s in a warehouse before it ships. That means it was roasted ahead of time so it could be packaged, shipped and stocked in the warehouse.
PRO TIP: Even if the Amazon listing says, “Fresh Roasted,” it might be 6 months old, as that is fresh in comparison with many of the other store bought beans.1
A 2 Minute Crash Course In Terminology
What are we even talking about?
Sometimes coffee bags are covered in words that don’t mean anything to us.
Let’s decipher some of those for you.
Arabica vs Robusta
Arabica beans are far superior to Robusta in terms of flavour and quality.
Arabica beans can be grown at higher elevations, giving the beans more time to develop their favor.
Robusta beans however contain more caffeine than Arabica. They are also much more disease resistant and produce a higher yield. That is why farmers still like to grow robusta, even though they sell for a much lower price.
Robusta is grown for companies that produce instant coffee and other lower quality, grocery store blends.
You probably won’t see a roaster advertising their Robusta coffee. Stay away from it if you love great coffee.
Acidity vs Bitterness
Different coffees will have different amounts of acid content.1
Acidity is not a bad thing, as that is what gives coffee its natural flavour. Some people like more, some like less.
The acidity present in coffee has more to do with taste as opposed to pH, though many claim acidity in coffee to cause digestive issues.
Coffees from Africa are typically characterised by a higher acidity, with fruity or floral tasting notes. Coffees from places like Brazil or Sumatra tend to have a much lower acidity with cocoa and nutty notes.
Bitterness is the result of brewing. If you extract too much out of the coffee grounds, the result will be a harsh, bitter finish. This usually happens when the grind size is too fine. The particles are smaller, so the water can touch more of the coffee, and ultimately extract more of it.
Bitterness in coffee is something you can avoid by brewing properly. Acidity in coffee is natural and cannot be avoided by brewing. Though, you can “cover” some of the acidity by roasting darker or simply buy beans with a lower acidity.
Single Origin vs Blends
Many coffee companies will offer single origin coffees as well as blends.
Single origin simply means unblended. It’s a coffee from one specific region, such as an Ethiopia Yirgacheffe.
A blend, therefore, means its a few beans, blended into one packet. Duhhh.
So why do some people blend beans? There's a good reason and a bad reason.
Blends are designed to produce a balance in terms of flavor, body and acidity. A roaster might blend a coffee with a full body with another coffee that has very bright tasting notes in order to get the best of both coffees in one cup.
Thats what happens when a roaster knows what he/she is doing. If they don't, they may blend to hide poorly roasted beans among normal beans. Stick to roasters that have a good reputation.
Interested in blending the beans yourself? Learn all the tips here.
3 VERY important questions to ask yourself before choosing one of these coffee beans
Answer these questions before you read the list below. If you do, you'll choose the right bean for your needs; meaning you'll be slurping a hot, smooth, silky and full-o-flavour cup of exotic tasting coffee every morning.
Click each question to reveal more information.
1) WHATS MY BREW METHOD?
Everyone has their preferred way to brew coffee. What’s yours?
French press? A coffee with a full body and lower acidity will be your best choice here. I would recommend coffee from Guatemala, Brazil and Sumatra.
Pour over? Coffees with medium body and higher acidity are excellent as a pour over. The paper filter and the shorter brew times create the ideal cup.
Coffees from Central America, such as Costa Rica or Panama are great for a well balanced pour over.
Espresso? This is where blends do really well. Espresso blends are crafted for just the right amount of body and acidity. These will also be excellent in milk drinks like a cappuccino or latte.
Automatic drip? I’d recommend coffees from Central America as well as blends. These will be the most balanced in body, acidity and flavor.
2) HOW DO I DRINK MY COFFEE?
Do you like it black? With a little bit of milk? Or do you prefer adding flavor?
If you like it black, what do you like to taste?
Fruit or floral notes? Go with African coffees.
Chocolate and nutty notes? Coffees from Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico will hit the spot.
Sweet honey? Try coffees from Costa Rica.
If you prefer it with milk, coffees with a full body and lower acidity will mix the best and produce the best cup. Dark roasts are great for milk, as you can still taste the coffee after adding milk.
3) WHAT ROAST TYPE DO YOU PREFER?
Do you like them light and bright, or dark and heavy?
There are certain coffees you simply don’t want to roast dark, due to how expensive they are.
When you roast dark, you cover up most of the coffee’s natural flavor, so you wouldn’t want to use a really rare coffee bean.
THE BEST COFFEE BEANS (WHOLE BEAN COFFEE)
Ok, enough with the education. You're ready for the list.
Here are 10 beans that you should get on your coffee bean bucket list before you die.
1. Kona Coffee Beans (Hawaii)
Hawaii is the only place in the United States where coffee is grown. Kona is the largest Hawaiian island and is the best for growing high quality coffee. The best coffee in American, in fact, voted by Forbes,
WIth an excellent microclimate, the perfect blend of rain and sun, and fertile, volcanic soil, the slopes on the big island just happen to be perfect for growing coffee.
Read more about Hawaiian coffee beans here.
To get your hands on high quality Kona coffee, you will have to pay a premium. Not only is coffee from here limited in production and highly sought after, it’s grown in the United States where farmers are paid much more than the average farmer in a traditional coffee growing country.
A high quality Kona coffee is worth the money, as long as you buy the real thing.
Never buy a blend, as only 10% of the blend will be Kona. Always buy Extra Fancy (the grade) as that is the highest quality.
Kona beans will typically be found as a medium roast, because they want to preserve and highlight as much of the natural flavor as possible. With a medium body, low acidity, and rich, smooth taste, this coffee will be an excellent addition to your auto drip or pour over routine.
Koa Coffee is our favourite place to buy Authentic, quality, coffee beans.
2. Blue Mountain Coffee (Jamaica)
Another rare, extremely sought after coffee.
Jamaica produces a relatively small amount of coffee each year, and not all of it comes from the Blue Mountain. But the coffee that does grow here is grown at a very high elevation.
It’s extremely limited in production and about 80% of each years crop goes to Japan. Plus, these beans are extremely labor intensive to produce, needing to be handpicked from the mountain slopes.
The high elevation, cool temperatures and volcanic soil helps result in a harvest that takes nearly 10 months, which is much longer than that of other coffee growing regions.
The resulting cup will be well balanced with a full body, medium acidity with a mildly sweet taste. Some say blue mountain coffee is the smoothest brew they've ever enjoyed.
So getting these quality beans in the States will cost you a pretty penny. Is it worth it?
Anyone that has tasted Blue Mountain Coffee will say: F-yes.
But like Kona, Blue Mountain is one of those coffees that needs to be purchased wisely.
Many brands will mislead you into buying their coffee, claiming the Jamaican Blue Mountain name. Avoid blends and any Jamaican coffee priced less than $20/lb. To call a coffee Jamaican Blue Mountain Blend, only a very small amount of the coffee actually needs to be Blue Mountain.
The profile of this coffee will make for an excellent drip coffee, whether pour over or automatic. Drink it black and enjoy one of the most sought after coffees in the world.
3. Kenyan AA Coffee Beans
Kenya coffee beans are among the finest in the world. The effort that farmers go through cleaning and processing these beans is unmatched.
Perhaps one of the greatest contributors to the quality of Kenyan coffee is the fact that the farmers are rewarded for better coffee. The government runs an auction in which all the coffee in Kenya is sold. Higher quality coffees sell for a higher price, giving farmers an incentive to improve their crop.
AA is the largest sized bean, followed by AB. In Kenya, the bigger the better. Always look for AA. These coffees are characterised by sweet fruit notes, a winey acidity and a syrupy body. Due to the processing, these coffees are among the cleanest tasting in the world.
Kenyan coffee beans make for excellent drip coffee, pour over or automatic. The medium-full body and bright fruit notes are sure to leave you smiling with each cup.
4. Peaberry beans from Tanzania
What is a peaberry? And where is Tanzania?
Tanzania is a country in east Africa situated between Kenya, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A peaberry is a single, round coffee bean inside the coffee cherry. A normal coffee cherry holds 2 beans, side by side, each with a flat side. The peaberry is alone inside the cherry and shaped differently.
Because of the round shape and the fact that these beans are more dense than most coffee beans, they roast more uniformly.
Only about 5% of all coffee beans are peaberry. In order to get a lot of strictly peaberry beans, rigorous hand sorting is required to separate them from their half-bean counterparts. This added labor increases cost.
Peaberry coffee beans from Tanzania tend to have a brighter acidity, medium body and notes of brown sugar and subtle fruitiness.
Peaberry is made for an automatic dripper and is great as a pour over. Grab a serving here.
5. Dark Sumatra Mandheling Beans from Indonesia
Sumatra is the 6th largest island in the world, and one of the largest in Indonesia. Mandheling coffee is named after the Mandailing people who once farmed the coffee in northern Sumatra.
Coffees from this area tend to have lower acidity with a sweet, smooth body. The coffee can vary in taste from cocoa and tobacco to earthy and herbaceous. Many people choose to roast Sumatra coffees dark to enhance sweetness and it’s almost spicy flavor.
Coffees from Sumatra as a whole are typically processed with a hybrid method, akin to wet-hulling. This processing method is perhaps the largest factor in the outcome of the coffee.
These coffee beans are different, there’s no doubt about that. The fact is, some people swear by it and some people won’t touch it. It’s one of the great controversies in coffee.
Due to it’s full body and low acidity, this coffee does very well in a french press or in an espresso blend.
6. Sulawesi Toraja Coffee Beans
Sulawesi, formerly known as Celebes, is an Indonesian island to the east of Borneo. Toraja is the name of the group of people who grow and harvest the coffee here.
Coffee is a family business on this island. Many families grow coffee on their property as a means of adding some income to their household, but is often not a priority. Therefore, the coffee infrastructure isn’t very strong.
This may be the reason these beans aren’t very common.
Coffee beans are partially processed by the family before being sold to a middleman at the local markets. These middlemen then go to the larger processing mills where the beans are completely dried and the work is finished.
The best coffees from Sulawesi will be very sweet and complex, with a low acidity, full body and some earthy and herbal notes to it. This coffee will make for a great medium-dark roast, highlighting the sweetness and full body present in the coffee.
Brew up a french press or pull a shot of espresso with this solid, unique coffee.
7. Central American Geisha Coffee Beans
Geisha coffee beans are among the most unique in the world.
Though they can in theory grow anywhere, they have a special reputation when grown in Panama and Costa Rica. The most famous farm is Hacienda La Esmeralda.
The Geisha bean was originally discovered in Ethiopia, near the town of Gesha. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that this bean varietal made it to Panama.
What makes the Geisha bean unique? It has a natural tea-like body with a ton of clear, bright, sparkling flavors such as citrus, mango, peach and jasmine. You may also pick up on some bergamot or vanilla notes..
This is a tough coffee to find for a few reasons. Few cafes serve it because it is an extremely expensive coffee and it is served best as a filter coffee. Cafes serve mainly milk based beverages, so it doesn’t make sense for many to serve a coffee that can only be taken black.
You’ve likely never had a coffee like this before. It is truly unique. If you enjoy lighter, brighter coffees, this is one you need to try.
8. Monsooned Malabar beans from India
Mellow flavor lies within the Monsooned Malabar beans from India given their name because of how the wind disperses them during the monsoon season.
The beans expand with moisture and create a rich finish - so we recommend trying them if you live in a humid environment to get the most out of the experience.
9. Yiracheffe Beans from Ethiopia
Yirgacheffe is almost regarded as holy among the global coffee community.
Ethiopia itself is regarded as the birthplace of coffee and beans from Yirgacheffe are it’s pride and joy. Sidama is a region in Ethiopia that contains the microregion of Yirgacheffe. Within Yirgacheffe, however, are even smaller regions; Adado, Aricha, Kochere, Konga, and more.
These coffees are typically wet processed, producing a coffee that is light in body, almost tea-like, with complex fruit and floral notes.
Go into any specialty coffee shop and you are likely to find coffee from this region on the shelf. It’s easy to see why these coffees are known as the gateway to great coffee.
When roasted lightly, these coffees are excellent in an automatic drip or pour over. They also make for a refreshing iced coffee or cold brew. Roast a little darker for a unique shot of espresso.
Mmmm, is your body craving a fresh, exotic brew after reading about the above wonder beans?
Whatever your taste is for the day you will find something unique and different within each bean and within its given region of growth. From earthy to fruity, bold to bitter expand your taste buds and explore some of the best coffee found throughout the world. Find them online in coffee bean marketplaces such as Volcanica Coffee