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If you’ve been on our site, you know we’ve already covered some reviews on different coffee machines and even given you a glossary of tips to help you brew like a pro. But knowing how to find the best coffee for home brewing in the first place is also a large part of the equation.
In fact, either not knowing how to find the best coffee or making poor choices can steer people away from wanting to make their own coffee at all. While coffee pods for automated machines may seem like an easy choice, even those choices can disappoint. But today we’re going to mostly focus on the very best coffee you can get for brewing. While some of these principles can apply to coffee pods as well, we’ll also be discussing some options like whole vs ground beans, which you might not have if you have an automated self serve machine.
Nonetheless, most of these tips will appeal to coffee brewing of many forms (coffee maker, French Press, Aeropress, Moka Pot, Chemex…) and will put you in a step in the right direction so you can have the best tasting coffee possible, brewing in the comfort of your own home.
Some Coffee Places Offer Tips For Home Brewing
If you ever happen to be traveling to Cape Town, the capital and oldest city in South Africa, known for is stunning waterfronts, hiking, and lively culture–you may want to stop for a cup of freshly brewed coffee.
Described as a luxury cafe in a French style, Coco Safar is “committed to bringing to you…the finest coffee”. The luxury cafe offers ‘luxury and retro-chic settings, cinematic lighting’, and ‘curated music’ and also includes a couture patissiere with artisan pastries. But the main draw is an espresso bar featuring the first Spirit Idrocompresso machine in the world, made in Holland. Even better–the espresso bar teaches patrons brewing tips for home, so can take at least some of the experience with them.
With innovative technology, quality coffee and espresso, and even a capsule emporium featuring compostable and sustainable biocapsule made from fine specialty coffee around the world, visiting here is not just an experience, but one that may jumpstart your quest to the best home brewed coffee yet.
The 8 Key Factors for Finding the Best Coffee
Of course, not everyone can travel to Cape Town, and the good news is you don’t have to. Some of the keys to the best coffee at home are simply related to knowing how to purchase coffee. It can get rather overwhelming, due to the sheer variety of choices. Though local supermarkets combined with specialty shops offer a wide selection for Americans, the ability to purchase online has widened our selection even more.
And while it is a blessing to have so many options available, it’s curious that many coffee drinkers simply go for the same variety and even same brand day after day.
Don’t get us wrong: there is nothing exactly wrong with having a favorite and having a go-to coffee can be comforting for a daily basis. Likely most people opt for the same coffee and branch out little due to three factors: convenience, lack of knowledge, and price.
Again, while there is nothing wrong with that, you may very well miss out on the best coffee you could make at home. And while this article is not about finding the very best coffee in the world (a fear that would be next to impossible to either accomplish or quantify), it is about making the best and most informed purchases possible, depending on your own preferences.
Instead of searching for the most excellent coffee worldwide, we’ll be taking a look at the key factors you need to consider before your next purchase. Whether you’ve been less than satisfied with your own coffee and find yourself tempted to often get coffee out instead or you simply want a change and a bit of variety, these steps and tips have you covered, and on your way to the best home brewed coffee yet.
The type of roast is very important if you’re hoping to find the best coffee possible for home brewing, or for any coffee purchase out. While most people have a general idea of different coffee roasts, knowledge can be limited to simply a dark roast vs a light roast. But here are some additional factors when it comes to what kind of role coffee roasts play in how much you like or dislike your morning cup of joe:
- Depending on the coffee, you may encounter either blonde or light roast at the lightest end of the spectrum. While they do have many similarities, light roast is more commonly used. In fact, the blonde roast is a label Starbucks mostly uses for its Willow Blend, Bright Sky Blend, and Veranda Blend. Their blonde roasts are noted for a ‘clean bright taste’ and have become popular for sweetened or gourmet drinks, yet they are not as light in color as some light roasts. Light roasts in general are made from coffee beans that are light in color and produce the most mild coffee. Fragrant, floral, and fruity notes are common with lighter roasts. Coffee labeled as “American, City, or Breakfast tends to be a light roast. Light roasts are considered mild.
- Medium Roasts produces a medium brown hue when brewed, though the beans themselves are rather dark and a little oily. A mild bitter aftertaste is common, and more common flavor notes include bittersweet and moderately deep flavors. Overall, medium roasts are considered mild to bold.
- Dark Roasts are the boldest in flavor and produce the darkest hue. They are actually the least acidic–not initially, but for some reason become so during the brewing process. Coffee beans should be nearly black, oily, and smell a little bitter. The darker the bean, the more intense the flavor and bitter notes. The flavor is bitter and bold to extra bold.
- New Orleans, Espresso (like Lavazza), Italian (like Illy Coffee or Lavazza), French, and Viennese are a few examples of dark roasts, Italian and French tend to have a more smoky flavor.
2. Coffee Bean Grade
While most consumers know to pay attention to the coffee roast type, you also want to, if possible, find out about the coffee bean grade as well. Although there is no universal grading system, coffee grade can at least give you an idea of the overall quality and characteristics of the beans. Grading is mostly based upon the following factors:
- Altitude and/or region
- Botanical variety
- Preparation (wet or dry process = washed or natural)
- Bean size (screen size), sometimes also bean shape and color
- Number of defects (imperfections)
- Roast appearance and cup quality (flavor, characteristics, cleanliness…)
- Density of the beans
What coffee bean grading can tell you is what quality and attributes the beans had at harvest–that is, before roasting. The best coffee shop owners and purchasers might inquire to the grade of coffee they are purchasing. While it may be harder for consumers to find out, you can also ask and check labels. Coffee grades are as follows:
- Grade 1: Speciality Grade Coffee Beans.: As the highest bean quality, this is what you ideally want to purchase. Beans must have no primary defects only up to 3 full defects and at most a five percent variation from normal size.
- Grade 2: Premium Grade Coffee Beans: The second highest quality of beans are also the most likely ones you’ll encounter, producing good coffee but without the big price stamp. They can have up to 3 primary defects and 8 defects overall. allowed a maximum of 3 Quakers and 0-8 defects.
- Grade 3: Exchange Grade Coffee Beans: This is a very common grade for beans sold in mass commercial settings like supermarkets, and the lowest grade you should consider drinking. Up to 23 full; defects are permissible, though, so if you think mass commercial brands don’t taste quite as good you’re probably right. While this grade certainly won’t get you the best coffee, you won’t get the worst either.
- Grades 4 and 5: In an ideal world, these beans would not be sold to customers and there are enough defects you should go out of your way to avoid such coffee.
3. Organic vs Conventional
Is organic worth it? Most of us have wondered this once or twice for other products, but it’s possibly something you’ve never considered when it comes to your morning coffee. While most of the time you won’t notice a large difference in taste, advocates of buying organic point to health benefits, or rather, the issues with conventional coffee.
- The Difference: Organic coffee, like Bulletproof Coffee, is held up to standards, if properly enforced, that beans most be grown without synthetic fertilizers or growing agents. Certification in the United States and Europe requires a three year process and the entire supply chain for that coffee must be organically grown.
- Is Conventional Bad for You? There’s little doubt that when it comes to conventional coffee, a number of fertilizers and herbicides and pesticides are normally used. Whether or not such chemicals are harmful to humans is still ambiguous. Pesticides and fertilizers are regulated for acceptable quantities in foods, and the thresholds are very low and on the more cautious side. Still, there is some concern about consuming something on a regular basis, especially if you are consuming other foods and beverages grown with similar chemicals. Most studies have shown a correlation with repeated chemical exposure and health concerns; proving causation is very difficult, and there is still much research to be done. Among other findings, high levels of chemical consumption have been a correlation, but not explicitly labeled a direct cause to certain childhood cancers and ADHD, though other studies did not show increased risks.
- Is it Worth it? Organic coffee is a good deal more expensive, so it depends on you if it’s worth it. It is possible conventional coffee may pose health risks; we simply do not know. You also may have less selection of flavors and roasts, depending on where you shop. Some drinkers of organic coffee claim it tastes fresher. We recommend trying Kicking Horse Coffee!
4. Fair Trade Coffee
The term fair trade may have spiked in popularity in recent years, but what exactly is it? Fair trade coffee. Fair Trade products, like Counter Culter Coffee or Volcanica Coffee Company, are produced and certified through a worldwide network of companies, producers, and affiliates. Fair Trade USA, the American branch, certifies products that adhere to four principles:
- Income Sustainability: Laborers and producers must be paid what is considered a living wage (this varies by location).
- Empowerment: Standards are applied to support those in the industry and protect against discrimination based upon gender or social status.
- Individual and Community Well-Being: Committees are formed in local and global communities to make investments for community needs through production, including access to education and clean water.
- Environmental Stewardship: Production should take place in areas that do not present environmental harm and promote sustainability through limited use of chemical
Fair trade coffee, like organic coffee, comes with a bigger price tag, and you’ll have to find specialty stores, venues, or shop online. All Fair Trade products will have a Fair Trade certified label. On a large scale, Fair Trade coffee supports communities and pushes for more fair labor practices, so it is ‘worth it’ in that sense. If you’re on a budget, it may not be realistic for you every day.
5. Whole vs Ground Coffee
Assuming you aren’t buying pods, you’ll have to make the decision between whole bean and ground coffee. Since coffee must be ground at some point to brew at home, you may think that there’s no reason to purchase whole bean coffee, but the reality may surprise you. Whole beans will tend to be more fresh, and by grinding them yourself you also have control over how they are ground. Ground coffee will last less time and go stale more quickly. Of course, ground coffee is quicker and more convenient to make. But the best-tasting coffee will likely come from whole coffee beans.
When you’re buying any other food or beverage, you check the best buy or sell by date, so why wouldn’t you do the same for coffee? The roast date refers to when the coffee was roasted. Coffee becomes stale through a natural degassing process unless very tightly sealed. While coffee can stay fresh for several weeks if tightly sealed, the key to the best and most fresh coffee at home is to only buy the amount you’d use in about a week (you might want to get a coffee scale) and get as close to the roast date as possible, preferably within half a week to a week.
Some brands, like Black Rifle Coffee Company, roast to order so that the coffee is as fresh as possible when it arrives.
7. Coffee Origin
Coffee origin refers to where the coffee was originally produced, but here we also mean where you’re purchasing it from. Different regions around the world are known for different roasts and specialties, and while what you like is a matter of preference, you should make an effort to find out where the coffee is from. Single origin coffee is preferable. And when it comes to actually making a purchase, you should do your best to buy from a specialty store or a subscription service rather than a supermarket, if possible. Sometimes higher quality coffee is sold in more general stores, but there’s a better chance for the best coffee elsewhere.
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8. Aroma and Flavors
Aroma and flavors make up most of the overall taste of coffee, as well as other factors, such as level of acidity and if it’s a full or lighter bodied brew (fuller is a heavier feel in your mouth, and vise versa). Aroma and flavor are perhaps the most individualized choices you’ll make when it comes to finding the best coffee for home brewing.
- Common Flavor Notes include: sour, winey, acidic, mellow, bland, sharp, harsh and pungent, with many variations. If you want some extra flavor, you can also try a french vanilla coffee bean, Elevate coffee (that is also supposed to be good for mental clarity) or White Coffee.
- Aromas include flowery, fruity, herby, nutty, carmel, chocolate, resinous, spicy, and carony. Consider trying Peaberry Coffee for a nutty and sweet aroma.
- Ask to try samples, as some specialty stores will allow, or go to a local coffee shop to get a sense of what flavor and aroma combinations you like
- Acidity is not a bad thing in coffee, but it needs to be in overall balance with aroma and flavor. In fact, too little acidity results in a lifeless and dull cup. The longer coffee is brewed, the less acidic it becomes.
- No matter what flavor you select, make sure you’re brewing coffee at optimal temperature, or 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit.
Finally, selecting the best coffee for you is only the first step to achieving the best home brewed cup. Check out our previous article for tips on brewing coffee like a pro.