In our last post, we gave you an overview of our coffee brewing basics – four steps that will help you brew better coffee at home. We wanted to get a little bit more in depth on the first of those steps, which is all about getting good coffee beans.
When you buy coffee beans, are two things you need to think about. The first is to make sure that the roast date is somewhere on the bag. Any good specialty coffee roaster is going to put the roast date on the bag. Coffee starts to degrade very quickly after it’s been roasted. Ideally, you should buy your coffee within two weeks of when it’s been roasted.
Floating around in coffee-world is what some have called the “Rule of 15’s.” The Rule of 15’s says this: If you’re going to get good coffee, the green unroasted coffee should be 15 months from when it’s harvested, brew your coffee no more than 15 days from when it’s roasted, and grind it no more than 15 minutes from when you’re going to use it. You can keep that in mind as you’re looking at the roast date on your bag. You can see how the grocery store distribution model doesn’t work well for finding fresh coffee beans. Their warehousing and transportation model lends itself to coffee that’s sitting on the shelf for a very long time. That is far from ideal.
The second most important point about coffee beans – find somebody you can talk to. We’d strongly suggest a local coffee roaster. That’s where you’re going to get the freshest beans. It’s worth developing a relationship with them. You might have a local coffee roaster who also runs a café. They might be in an industrial area and focus more on wholesale sales. Either way, find them; go talk to them.
Ask your local coffee roaster what their roasting philosophy is. The bottom line: They should have one. It should be more than, “I turn it on and stuff comes out.” Do they like to roast lighter, do they like to roast darker? Do they focus on blends, or do they focus on single origin coffees? How do they source their coffee beans? Direct trade? Whatever’s on sale? Do they look for a particular flavor profile and focus on that? Do they have the same coffees year-round, or are they more obsessive about sourcing seasonal coffees?
Then try their coffee. See if they have some sample sizes available. Whatever you do, DO NOT ask your coffee roaster what their favorite is. If they’re a good coffee roaster, they’re ALL favorites. If it wasn’t good, they wouldn’t be selling it. Instead, ask what their most popular coffee is. Describe how you brew your coffee and whatever descriptors you can come up with to let them know how you like your coffee. Do you prefer lighter and brighter flavors? Deep and earthy? Ask them to make a recommendation based on your taste and your brewing method. They should have a good answer for you.
If you absolutely cannot find a local roaster you like, start looking around online. There are a ton of great roasters selling their coffee on the internet. Buy directly from their website. Do not buy it from a site like Amazon or something like that. Amazon (particularly if you’re buying using Amazon Prime) is exactly like a grocery store; it’s a big warehouse and does not lend itself well to coffee that is freshly roasted and is within two weeks of the roast date. Those are some great tips for making sure you get great coffee beans.
Stay tuned for some more. We’ll be doing some more coffee brewing basics next time, talking in detail about grinding coffee.