Home Brewer: Tips for choosing the right beans

Posted by Stella Cochrane on

When it comes to selecting the right bean for your home brew the offerings can be daunting; with a world of jargon and information to decipher which inevitably ends either grabbing an old faithful or putting your trust in the prettiest packaging. To assist you in taking a new step along your coffee journey we have put together some of the key factors we think you should look for in your beans; unlocking a exciting new world of tastes.

Tip 1: Freshness

Coffee is a fruit, a cherry in fact and it is a carefully grown, agricultural product and therefore has a shelf life. Rule of thumb (as with any fruit) - fresh is always best. That's why we label all our bean with their roast date so you can easily identify the products' freshness. 

So when should I look to buy and finish my coffee by? Buy it as freshly roasted as possible and look to use it all up no later than three weeks after the printed roast date for maximum enjoyment. The ideal ‘peak’ flavour times are usually found between day 7 and 14, which will be the norm for most of the great cafes you visit. You can still potentially look to use beans for up to 4 weeks, but most of the time, after day 14 the quality and flavour intensity will start to fade and leave you with some very flat cups and sad faces.

Tip 2: Roast Profile

You should adjust your roast profile according to your preferred brewing method but here at CMCR we only roast to light or medium as we find this brings out the best bean characteristics ranging from fruity and herby to nutty and chocolatey. We call these espresso and filter roast, catchy names right?

So what is the difference? An espresso roast coffee has been developed in the roaster for longer, increasing caramelisation and body, which suits being prepared on an espresso machine to extract delicious elixir. It is generally more robust so it can stand up to the heat and pressure exerted by the machine during brewing. On the other hand, filter roasted coffee has been developed less in order to retain more of the sparkling acidity and delicate flavour perfect for a pour-over or immersion brew.

Dark roasts tend to have a much more smoky and spicy flavour which we feel masks the true flavour of the bean. However, this is a purely subjective and you may find that a darker roast suits your particular taste buds - only way to find out is to drink lots of coffee!

Tip 3: Blend or Single?

Our rule of thumb, if you want to drink your coffee with milk, choose a blend. If black coffee is your thing, choose a single origin however this can vary tremendously depending on where the coffee is from, more on this later.

With a blended coffee, most of the time, specific single origins have been chosen to use in that blend that create a complex and balanced espresso while still having a milk based beverage in mind. The coffees have been carefully selected to provide increased body, some delicious brown sugaring flavours, or to simply add some floral complexity in order to help balance the espresso. 

A single origin coffee is from a single known geographic location, such as a farm or estate. This allows the coffee drinker to appreciate the specific nuance that a particular growing region provides. So if you are a black coffee drinker you will be more likely to perceive and enjoy this subtlety of flavour easier without milk masking it.

Tip 4: Choosing your origin

Growing conditions and economic factors vary greatly across the planet and so it’s no surprise that coffee grown in one country will be different from the next. Coffee prefers to grow in the warmer latitudes between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. This band of latitudes is often referred to as the ‘coffee belt’. Within this band a vast array of variables exist including altitude, rainfall, soil conditions and sunlight, all of which will alter the outcome of how your coffee will taste.

So how do I narrow this huge offering down to what I might like best? If you seeking fruit driven flavours and floral aromas, starting with African coffees is a great option. Many coffee drinkers swoon at the thought of excitedly opening up a bag of Ethiopian beans to deeply inhale the complex berry and wine like aromas. Or salivate at the thought of slurping on a juicy stone fruit influenced coffee from Kenya.

South and Central American coffee might be your thing if you are looking for clean coffees exhibiting delicate sugar browning sweetness, like chocolate or buttery pastry, accompanied with a softer fruit character. As most of the world's coffee production hails from this area, it’s highly likely that you will find a winner here. Brazil is well known for producing coffees with a heavier body and peanut character. While further north in Colombia these flavours a mellowed and typically present more so as caramels and toffees. Sounds delicious! Do I even need to look elsewhere?

Perhaps if you prefer a coffee to be heavier bodied and earthy, selecting from the India and Indonesian region is for you. Often exhibiting a luscious and syrupy body combined with herbal and savoury flavours, these tend to be the most dividing in personal preference and definitely sit in the ‘Love or Hate’ bracket.

Tip 5: Choosing the right varietal

Since coffee is a fruit, there can be huge flavour differences between the most common coffee varietals; namely Bourbon, Typica and Caturra. While many countries will tend to favour growing a particular varietal, it’s not uncommon to see some varietals transplanted into different growing regions. The Geisha varietal is one of the most sought after on the planet. It’s saturated sweetness, clarity and vibrant flavours can range anywhere from dark berries to mangos or even peaches, if you see this on the shelf be sure to catch it whilst you can!

Tip 6: Processing

Washed, wet processed, honeyed, natural process....what do these all really mean in terms of flavour? Well if you are looking for a clean, bright and sweet brew then a washed bean is the one for you, but if you want something much more fruitier and bolder look out for a natural processed bean.

A washed coffee, or ‘wet processed’, has had the outer pulp of the cherry removed, then placed in fermentation tanks before being washed and placed out to dry. The result is often a coffee with a great clarity of flavour while exhibiting a bright complex acidity to match. A very popular method with producers as the fermentation process is controlled and leads to less defects.

A natural processed coffee is a coffee that has been dried with the cherry still remaining on the bean and parchment throughout the drying process allowing the fruit flesh and sugars to impart upon the seed. The result is often a ‘fruit bomb’ with a spectacular aroma and wine like characters. These are the two more common methods available but many others exist, such as Honey Processed (somewhere between Washed and Natural) and Wet Hulled.

Tip 7: The higher you go, sweetness and acidity is gained

Coffee prefers average temperatures between 18˚C – 23˚C and, in order to maintain that while still getting enough rain, higher altitudes are often preferred.

So what numbers should I look for? Anything growing above 1500 masl (meters above sea level) is quite a high growing region, and will generally exhibit a refined sweetness and acidity (remember those tasty Kenyan coffees we talked about earlier?). While lower down at 1000masl – 1250masl the acidity is mellowed significantly and more earthy tones are found, think Brazil or India.

So there you have it, our seven key indicators for choosing a good coffee. As I have said before though, nothing is set in stone and the best way to find out which coffee bean is right for you is to try as many as possible and remember to have fun along the way.

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