The Ultimate Guide | Finding the Best Coffee Beans

Finding the Best Coffee Beans

Finding the best coffee beans is a crucial part of making delicious coffee. Even if you got a state of the art coffee grinder, when you use old or low-quality coffee beans you still will end up disappointed. 

These are the first two parts of the Ultimate Guide for Grinding Coffee Beans, a comprehensive guide in which you'll learn anything needed to making the perfect coffee. In this article we will cover the different types of coffee beans.

New: Check out our new guide for finding the best home espresso machine!

1.0 - Introduction to The Ultimate Guide for Grinding Coffee Beans

There are many things to consider when making a truly great cup of coffee, the first of which is finding the best coffee beans to use. The mistake many people make, however, is assuming that the process stops there. Buying the most expensive coffee is not enough to ensure a great tasting finished product.
Even before you grind the beans, you have to be aware of the different types of coffee, growing regions, acidity, oiliness, and overall flavor profiles. It is also important to know how to store coffee beans to maintain as much of their delicious aromatics as possible.

It is also of paramount importance to an excellent cup of coffee to know how to grind coffee beans, what settings to use, and what consistency to expect for different brewing methods. Many people make the mistake of assuming that all grinders do the same thing, and thus settle on the least expensive solution with the highest online rating. Many others assume that they can buy the best coffee grinder available and be done with it.
Without understanding the nuances of different types of coffee grinders, grinder maintenance, grinds consistency, uniformity of particulates, and ideal brewing methods, both groups are likely to brew subpar cups of coffee.

The aim of this guide is to teach a specialty coffee novice everything he or she needs to know to brew an excellent cup of coffee at home, from start to finish. We will cover everything from beans, storage, and brewing methods, outlining the most important considerations every step of the way.

As the guide name suggests, we will also discuss grinders in great detail. We will compare and contrast the electric coffee grinder design with the hand coffee grinder. We will help you find the best burr grinder, hand grinder, or antique coffee grinder available. Building off of that knowledge, we will explain how to make French press coffee, how to make espresso, how to make cold brew coffee, how to make Turkish coffee, and how to make drip coffee.

By the end of this guide, you will have enough advanced coffee knowledge to brew a café quality cup of Joe, and you won’t have to break the bank to do it.

2. What are the Best Coffee Beans to Make Coffee?

Although taste is highly subjective, there are several objective factors that determine the quality of coffee beans. The first important factor is the species of the coffee plant that the beans came from, primarily broken down into two groups: Arabica and Robusta. Although related to the species, but not entirely dependent, are the regions where the plant is cultivated.

In this section, we will cover the different strains of the Coffea plant, growing regions, flavor profiles, the importance of whole bean coffee, and the distinction between regular beans and espresso beans.

2.1 Arabica Coffee Beans

The most popular species of coffee, Coffea Arabica (Arabica coffee) was originally indigenous to Ethiopia. Known as the species of coffee that contains the most balanced flavor profile, Arabica beans are also speculated to be the first coffee to be cultivated in the world. Its less bitter taste and intricate aromas make it the ideal species of coffee for gourmet coffee beans, and it is usually the de facto strain used in cafés.

Arabica has a higher content of sugar and flavorful coffee oils, with about half the caffeine content of Robusta. Because Arabica plants are more sensitive to environmental conditions, there are fewer climates where it can be grown. Arabica coffee beans are considered to be overall the best coffee beans.

Arabica beans are primarily grown in tropical regions, with the highest number of beans coming from Central and Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Each region has its own distinct types of coffee beans with unique flavor profiles (sometimes even as deliciously flavored coffee).

Brazilian Coffee Beans
Brazil produces the vast majority of the world’s Arabica coffee beans. Traditionally focusing on volume over quality, Brazil was formerly an exporter of mainly cheap and lower quality Arabica coffee. Since the 1990s, however, Brazil has begun to cultivate and sell milder, higher quality gourmet coffee beans. A mainstay in many espresso blends, Brazilian beans are heavier in body than other Latin American beans, with subtle aromas of spice and undertones of chocolate.

Columbian Coffee Beans
Columbian coffee beans have a much lower market share than the cheaper and more widely available Brazilian alternatives, but they are known as being the best on the market. Although recent climate change events have decreased Colombia’s production even further, the demand of Colombian coffee beans does not seem to be slowing down. A combination of mild taste and complex aromatics make Columbian varieties the best coffee beans in the eyes of many specialty coffee drinkers. Columbian coffee beans are typically known for their balance, medium bodies, nutty undertones, and smooth, somewhat sweet finishes.

Vietnamese Coffee Beans
Vietnam is the largest producer of coffee beans in Asia, and the second in the world. Arabica coffee makes up a small minority of Vietnamese beans, however, with the majority being Robusta coffee. Like Brazil, Vietnam has been historically focused on volume production, not quality. Recently, however, Vietnam has ramped up production of subtle, high-quality Arabica coffee beans to meet worldwide demand for fine coffee. Vietnamese Arabica is similar to Indonesian, with a dark, heavier, earthy flavor with notes of smoke, unsweetened cocoa, and herbs. While not known for producing the best coffee beans by global standards, Vietnamese coffee is very popular in Asia, where preferences for more bitter varieties are more common.

Indonesian Coffee Beans
Indonesia, the fourth largest coffee producer in the world, is best known for the Arabica beans cultivated on its island of Sumatra. The highly varied environments of the Indonesian islands, stemming from factors such as iron content in the soil, produce very different flavor profile in coffee beans. Sumatra, for example, produces balanced body, earthy notes of smoke, tobacco, and cedar wood, with undertones of tropical fruits like grapefruit. Coffee produced on Silawesi, on the other hand, typically features notes of cinnamon, black pepper, and nuts, with a similar intensity and body to Sumatran beans.

African Coffee Beans
While African coffee production is notably lower in volume than Latin American or Asian production, coffee experts often laud African varieties as being some of the best coffee beans available in the world. The two most notable regions for growing Arabica coffee beans are Ethiopia and Kenya, which house several plants for gourmet coffee beans. Ethiopian beans are known for a dense sweetness to their flavor, often tasting of strawberries and blueberries, with herbal undertones of jasmine and lemongrass. Kenyan beans are juicier and bolder, often carrying tomato-like acidity, a deep savory-sweetness, and hints of berries and citrus.

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2.2 Robusta Coffee Beans

Coffea Robusta (Robusta coffee) is a more versatile plant than Arabica, able to grow in harsher climates due to its decreased sensitivity to soil pH and a natural resistance to pests. Its larger crop yield also makes it more economical to grow than Arabica, and contributes to its substantially cheaper price as a consumer product. Robusta beans are typically considered to be of lower quality than Arabica, and are thus used in the production of instant coffee and as filler for pre-ground coffee. Despite a lower global demand for Robusta, its higher caffeine content and a bolder, full-bodied, bitter taste makes it quite popular amongst coffee drinkers in Asia. Higher quality Robusta coffee is also often present in premium espresso blends popular in Italy, used for a richer crema and a deep, earthy flavor.

Despite its higher yield and climate tolerance, Robusta is grown in less regions of the world than Arabica. Most of the world’s Robusta comes from Asia—notably Vietnam—with South America and Africa trailing behind.

Because of the heavy bitterness of Robusta blends, it is much harder to pinpoint flavor subtleties. While many Westerners may describe the taste of Robusta as rubbery or burnt, there are a few subtleties pervasive across Robusta beans of all types. Robusta beans carry a dimension of earthiness, usually described as woody or smoky. Robusta coffee is also known for a much heavier body and stronger aftertaste, which may not be very appealing to Western palates.The Coffea Robusta plant may not produce the best coffee beans, but its higher quality varieties can be favorable additions to high-complexity multi-region blends like espresso.

2.3 Whole Bean Coffee

Put simply, whole bean coffee is any coffee that has not been ground prior to packaging. Seeing as this is a coffee grinding guide, this is the only type of coffee that we’ll be examining at length. Alternatives include instant coffee, which is heavily processed to dissolve in water, and ground coffee, whose flavor profile degrades substantially before it is even put on the shelves.

Note, that while the term “whole foods” refers to products that have undergone minimal to no processing, whole beans undergo a myriad of processing, including drying, milling, cleaning, polishing, aging, and roasting. If you are looking for beans that have undergone minimal industrial processing, you should look at purchasing green coffee beans and roasting them at home.

While the best whole bean coffee is particular to the drinker, there are several things that you need to look out for when purchasing whole bean coffee:
Types of coffee beans: As explained in sections 2.1 and 2.2, the best whole bean coffee comes from the Coffea Arabica plant.
Growing region: While highly dependent on personal preference, understanding the different flavor profiles of coffee beans from different regions is paramount to figuring out what the best whole bean coffee is for you.
Roasting date: The best coffee brands will typically stamp their packages with roasting dates. The best whole bean coffee should be roasted two weeks or less from the purchase date.

2.4 Best Espresso Beans

Hawaiian Espresso

Often mistakenly called “expresso beans,” there is a lot more confusion about the nature of espresso beans than just how the term is pronounced. Espresso beans are often mistaken as a fundamentally distinct product than coffee beans. Also, given the new Starbucks culture that has sprung up over “high-end” espresso beverages, many casual espresso drinkers assume that espresso beans are somehow more premium or special when compared to regular coffee.

Not only is the pronunciation of “expresso beans” incorrect, so are the two aforementioned assumptions (the Starbucks coffee beans are pretty good though). There is no distinct species of the Coffea plant that is used in creating espresso coffee beans, with the vast majority being made from different types of Arabica coffee beans. Some of the best espresso beans that are popular in Italy are also mixed with cheaper Robusta beans. This fact disproves the idea that espresso coffee beans are fundamentally different, or that they are somehow more premium.

Suggested article: Espresso Beans vs. Coffee Beans: What's the difference?

Traditionally, there are three distinctions that have been used to determine the best espresso beans:

1. While almost any beans can be used in an espresso machine, not all of them will stand up to the pressure of extraction. Thus, the best espresso beans are those that can withstand the high pressure of an espresso machine.
2. Although there are single-bean blends that can maintain their subtleties in the high-pressure environment of an espresso machine, experts believe that they lack the complexity of multi-region blends. Complexity is paramount to the traditional perception of the best espresso beans.
3. Espresso purists also believe that there is a very specific way that espresso should taste and look. In their eyes, proper espresso coffee beans exhibit low-acidity, a full body, a subtle complexity, and a rich layer of crema making it the best coffee beans you can get.

We made a Top 10 of the best espresso beans, including origin and tasting notes. Check it out!