What to look for when buying coffee
With so much coffee to choose from these days it can be a little confusing if you are not sure what to look for on the bags and labels. We have put together a short guide to help you choose the best coffee for your money.
If you can afford it, purchase a grinder. In our opinion a grinder is the single most important item when making coffee. Even a cheap grinder will make a huge difference to the taste of your coffee. A burr grinder is what you need to look for.
- Buy freshly ground coffee. If you have to buy ground coffee try to buy it from your local coffee shop where they will more than likely be able to grind it freshly in front of you. Ground coffee starts to lose its taste and flavour almost as soon as the grinding process starts. Some of the bags on supermarket shelves may well have been ground months before you purchase it!
- ALWAYS ensure you buy coffee showing a roasting date. Ideally buy coffee within 8 weeks of the roasting date. Even whole beans will start to lose taste and flavour after a few weeks.
- Look for a farm name on the label. Much like wine, if the coffee can be traced back to a specific farm you will know that the quality will usually be much better. The added benefit here is that you know that the farmer will be getting a decent price for producing a quality product. We try to ensure that we only buy coffee beans that are completely traceable back to an individual farm; sometimes back to the exact field in which the coffee was grown.
- Buy single origin coffee rather than own brands or Fairtrade. Although Fairtrade coffee is okay it still only pays slightly above the minimum price set by the Coffee Exchanges to the growers. Much better to look for single origin coffee where the farmer will have been paid a much fairer price for his endeavours in producing a high quality product. If you are unsure go and visit your local speciality coffee shop and they will be able to guide you in the right direction. Supermarket coffee will have been produced on an enormous scale with the aim of producing the exactly the same coffee year after year. Boring!
- The strength system used by supermarkets is misleading. Unfortunately the system used by many supermarkets is not the best indicator as to how a particular coffee will taste. This system usually corresponds to how dark the coffee has been roasted and therefore the level of bitterness the coffee will give. Any coffee can be made “stronger” by either increasing the dose or the brewing time. We advise trying several different coffees and keeping the bags of those that you really like. Over a period of time you may see that the tasting notes on those bags are similar and you can then keep an eye out for these on your coffee buying expeditions!
- Buy your coffee from an independent coffee shop or retailer. Firstly they will be able to guide you to a coffee you will enjoy just by asking a few questions. Secondly, if you want your coffee ground a speciality coffee shop will grind the beans for you when you buy, so you know it’s fresh. Thirdly, they will almost certainly love coffee and be able to answer any questions you may have about the coffee they sell. Finally, by buying a single origin coffee from an independent retailer you will be helping keep the high street alive and helping farmers in some of the world’s poorest countries make a living.
The main thing is to enjoy your coffee. There are so many different coffees out there and so many ways of making a good cup of coffee. Try lots of different coffees. You won’t like them all but have fun trying.