So you’ve spent some time browsing around Bean Ground, and you’ve picked out a new awesome coffee maker, and you’re ready to start on your home barista coffee brewing journey. Which is going to give you a whole new coffee drinking experience far better than the typical supermarket instant coffee you’ve been slurping on previously.
Just one small problem, where to buy coffee beans? Where’s the best place and should I order coffee online or buy from my local supermarket?
Decisions, decisions. Buying your coffee beans from the wrong place could leave a bitter taste in your mouth and might just send you running back to that instant coffee you’d been brewing with before!
Deciding on the places to buy your coffee beans can be a daunting task for a beginner transitioning away from instant. There are so many different variables to take into consideration that it’s not just as simple as picking up a bag from your local supermarket and calling it a day (however this is an option when you know what to look for!).
In this article, I’m going to hold your hand and help you to decipher those geeky coffee labels, tell you what to look for when buying whole bean coffee, plus I’ll throw in a few pointers about where you can go to find the best coffee. So if you haven’t already, grab a large cup of your favorite coffee, sit back and let’s crack on.
Always Buy Whole Bean
I can’t stress this enough if you’re going to invest a small fortune in a new coffee maker don’t scrimp when it comes to buying the coffee to go in it. Never (…. never, NEVER) buy pre-ground coffee unless you have no other choice and the coffee gremlins have taken all of your tools to grind your coffee beans at home.
Buying whole coffee beans ensures that you’re going to get the best tasting and freshest coffee you can get your hands on (unless you plan on roasting your own). The wholes beans will still have their goodness trapped inside and have yet to be affected by oxidation (coffee beans and air, not a good combination).
Just make sure you invest in a good coffee grinder so that you get the most out of each bean with the perfect grind.
Various Coffee Blends
You’ve probably seen different supermarket coffee being labeled as “blended coffee” with enticing names such as “Mocha Java” etc. Mocha just refers to the coffee sourced from Ethiopia and Yemen, and Java refers to Indonesian coffee beans.
Don’t get me wrong, coffee blends aren’t a bad thing, and almost all coffee from the big name brands has been blended in some way and form.
For example, sometimes coffee roasters will combine various coffee beans to create a consistent, flavorful quality for their consumers. On the other hand, cheaper coffee bean varieties such as the Robusta is often blended with Arabica to create an adequate cup of coffee that cost less.
Think back to your supermarket bought instant coffee. This is typically a blend of the two with a higher percentage of Robusta beans because they are cheaper to source.
Not all coffee blends are simplistic, and various great tasting ratios of different coffee beans are painstakingly discovered and combined by teams of coffee geeks’ feverishly working away in secret underground laboratories trying to find the next best blend (well not quite, but you get my point).
Flavored Coffee Beans
Flavored coffees are the coffee geeks’ number one pet peeve, and to be honest, this type of coffee is best left for consumption by spotty teenage Starbucks drinkers (no offense!). I’m sure you’ve all come across flavored coffee beans in your local supermarket.
Personally, I’m not a fan, and I would recommend that you stay clear from flavored coffee when buying your coffee beans – here’s why.
Flavored coffee beans tend to be the “bottom of the barrel” coffee beans, you know those beans that no-one wants either because they’re older, bitter, or simply not good enough for anything else.
Flavor in the form of concentrated syrups are mainly added to those coffee beans to mask the mediocrity, but it rarely does a good job (and it might even be harmful?). You’ll probably never find flavored coffee in any well respected high street coffee house, not that I’m aware of anyway?
Different Roast Type
When buying coffee beans, you can quickly become overwhelmed with all of the different roast types and to be honest, this topic deserves its very own article.
However, to keep things simple and not to over-complicate things dark roasts tend to produce a slightly sweeter coffee, as the natural sugars in the beans will caramelize. Also, dark coffee beans lose some of their caffeine and acid during the longer roasting process.
On the other hand, the lighter roasts tend to be more bitter, slightly more acidic, and less sweet. If espresso is your preferred brew darkish roasts are going to be the better choice because these beans typically brew an espresso that’s sweet and less bitter.
Here are some typical names you’ll notice on bags of coffee:
- Dark/City Medium Roast: as I mentioned above darker roasts tend to be less bitter and acidic and will have slightly less caffeine. In most instances, this type is often sweeter than a medium roast.
- Medium/House/American Roast: this tends to be the “cheap stuff” (Folgers, Nescafe, Yuban, etc.) and is often a medium roast that almost all of the lower-end coffee shops in America will use in their auto drip coffee machines.
- Light/Cinnamon Roast: this roast tends to be very lightly roasted, has high amounts of caffeine, and is much more acidic and bitter. Nope, it doesn’t even taste of Cinnamon (contrary to the name) but the color is similar, and I guess this is how it picked up the Cinnamon name tag. You’ll probably struggle to get your hands on this kind of coffee.
- City Roast/French: this type of roast is darker than your classic dark roast, and the beans (in my opinion) are burnt and overly oily. Some coffee drinkers love this type of roast, but NOT me.
- Very Dark Roast/Espresso/Italian/Full City: want to go even darker? When buying coffee beans this is probably going to be labeled as espresso roast and is suitable for, yup, you guessed it espressos.
Roast Date and Use by Date, Confused?
Like all foods you buy that have a use by date so does coffee. But not only that, when you buy coffee beans you’ll also notice that there is a roast date on some of the bags of coffee. If you find a bag of whole bean coffee that has a roast date on it, that is a good thing and if the bag you have in your hand doesn’t I recommend putting back on the shelf and find one that does.
Just like the use by date which tells you when to consume the beans for the best drinking experience, the roast date lets you know when the beans were roasted.
So as a rule of thumb, always try and buy coffee beans that have a recent roast date, the more recent obviously, the fresher the beans will be – the fresher, the better!
If your’re still confused take a look at this article “Is The Coffee Roast Date Important?” which covers this topic in more depth.
Best Place to Buy Coffee Beans
In your search to buy coffee beans, you’ll probably venture into dusty stores hidden at the back of dark alleyways and led into secret doors at the back of your local supermarket, but this is a must if you actually want to buy better coffee beans that are the freshest you can get your hands on!
Where Do You Go?
If would be easy if there was a magic store in your town or city where you could go and simply buy the best coffee beans, but in reality, it’s not that simple (if you have a magic coffee bean store in your city that you’ve found, do tell).
Sure, some of the well-known supermarkets will stock whole coffee beans, but in all honesty, this should still be the last place to look.
They tend to be sat on the shelves for an extended period of time especially if the brand of coffee is not a well-known by the average Joe who simply reaches for his tub of Folgers on each shopping trip.
Your best bet when buying coffee beans is to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon online searching for any local coffee roasters in your area or at the very least, finding privately owned coffee shops that will often stock local coffee beans and who are willing to share!
When buying coffee beans try and purchase only the smallest bags they have available so you can make sure you use it while it is at its freshest.
Order Coffee Online
Your next best place to buy coffee beans is to order coffee online. Personally, I buy my coffee beans online a lot because unfortunately I don’t have too many good roasters locally and love the fact that I get fresh coffee delivered to my front door every month; it really does take the hard work out of buying great coffee.
There are many different coffee vendors online that act as the middle man with coffee roasters all over the country and beyond that bring fresh whole coffee beans directly to your front door without you lifting more than a few fingers to tap away at the keys of your keyboard.
Should You Buy Coffee from Self-Serve Bins?
I don’t recommend buying coffee beans from those big self-serve bins you find in supermarkets and various other establishments, why?
Well for starters you don’t really know how long that coffee has been sat in the bins, are they still fresh? When were they roasted? And how many hands, coughs, and sneezes have these coffee beans seen in their lifetime? (yuk!)
Plus think about all the time those coffee beans have been left out in the open air, which by-the-way is the number one killer of fresh beans, think “oxidation.”
To put it bluntly, it’s a total gamble on what quality of bean you’re going to get when you choose to buy coffee beans from these self-serve bins. It’s far better to pick up a bag that’s been sealed and has a roasted date on it so at least you know what you’re buying is as fresh as it can be …. and clean!
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