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The 3 Golden Rules When Buying Coffee

Follow the 3 golden rules so you can explore the world of coffee with fewer mistakes.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Java Groove's Tips

How to Buy the Best Coffee

That’s the goal with this article, is to avoid buying bad coffee. In order to steer clear of coffee you don’t like, you’re going to have to understand the fundamentals of coffee.

Here’s the thing. If you have coffee that you love, be it a coffee roaster or a coffee brand, that’s great! We’re not here to persuade you to stop drinking that. However, part of the joy of coffee is the diversity of flavor. Whatever kind of coffee you’re currently enjoying, keep in mind there’s something else out there that we feel you would enjoy just as much or even more.

The worst feeling is splurging on something new, ready to gamble on a well packaged coffee; only to hate it.

The worst feeling is splurging on something new, ready to gamble on a well packaged coffee; only to hate it.

Want to learn more about coffee without being a snob about it?
Click below to read a guest post from a newbie in the coffee world & how she makes coffee without all the fuss.

1st Rule when buying coffee:

Buy fresh. But what does fresh mean? Let’s dig into this: Coffee, after roasting, declines steadily over time. It loses its aromatics. The aromatics of fresh coffee dissipates into the atmosphere and escapes. Coffee develops unpleasant flavors when it goes stale, and it begins to oxidize (oxidation technical explanation).

The combination of these things is what happens when coffee becomes stale.

Keep in mind, from a food safety perspective, it’s safe to drink decades after it’s been roasted. It’s not recommended, but possible.
Coffee will be dated in 1 of 2 different ways. Specialty coffee typically offers a roast date, the date on which the coffee was roasted. This is useful because you’ll know exactly how old the coffee is.

Strategic Supermarket Coffee Tactic

Supermarkets have a strategic tactic in order to sell older coffee. If you’re purchasing coffee from a supermarket, they don’t want you to put a roast date on there. They hate roast dates. They prefer a “best before..” date. This is often 12, 18, and up to 24 months after the roasting date.

Unfortunately, consumers don’t really know when the coffee was roasted. This is not a choice that the roasters get to make. It’s the supermarkets. Therefore, understanding this can be a bit confusing; where you buy your coffee will impact the information that you have. We’ll circle back to this in a moment.
Want to Know Where to Buy the Best Coffee?
Click below to learn about the 3 main places to buy coffee and the pros & cons of each

What does Fresh Coffee Really Mean?

Today we’re going to cover coffees for both filter coffee and espresso. Where it gets confusing is that fresh is and isn’t always the best.

Let’s explore this a bit. When you roast coffee, a lot of CO2 is released. That’s why some bags of coffee will have a little valve on it that you can squeeze the gas out off.

When it comes to espresso, in particular, fresher isn’t always better. That’s because there’s a lot of CO2 in fresh coffee beans. When you try and brew them as espresso, a lot of gas comes out in this pressurized environment, and it causes a disrupted brewing process.

It’s harder to brew very fresh coffee. Many people “rest”, or leave the beans for 7 to 10 days. You may hear 2 weeks or longer, to make it a little easier to brew espresso.

With filter coffee, it’s less of concern. A day or two is fine. It’s relatively easy to brew from that point onwards. It gets a little bit easier the older the coffee is when you’re trying to time it perfectly.

The best time to consume filter coffee is anywhere from 1 to 6 weeks.

Ground vs Whole Bean

While we’re on the topic of the best time to consume coffee; we need to talk also about ground coffee versus the whole bean.

We will always, always, always advocate for whole bean coffee for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it’s better value for money. With ground coffee, they’ll often pack it in a protective atmosphere, but once you open that bag and air gets in, the clock’s ticking, and you might have 1 or 2 days to enjoy it at its best.

Yes, it’s still drinkable. Yeah, it’s probably okay for a little while longer, but you’re not getting what you paid for. Whole beans last much longer, and when you grind them, they begin to degrade, but if you grind before you use them, you’re just going to have a better time. It’s better value for money to buy whole beans.

Secondly, grinding coffee is one of the great pleasures of life. We don’t want people to miss out on having their morning be that little more aromatic and enjoyable.
How to Decode a Bag of Coffee
Learn how to Decipher What Coffee Companies are Trying to Tell You

Quick Reference on Coffee Freshness

2nd Rule when buying coffee:

Buy traceable coffee.

Buy coffee from as distinct a location as you can. That might be a single farm. That might be a cooperative of growers. That might be a region in some cases, but historically coffee was just sold by country of origin.

Consider wine connoisseurs, they would be skeptical if a bottle was simply labeled France.

That’s not descriptive enough for them? Same goes for coffee. You need more geographic information. Which region of which country is the coffee sourced from?

Just because the coffee is from Guatemala or Colombia, that doesn’t really tell you enough about how it’s going to taste. There’s large variation within just about every single origin of flavor, of styles. So, knowing what country it’s from isn’t that useful to you. It’s a little useful, but it’s not that useful.

If you can’t tell where in a country a coffee is from, it’s not traceable. Here’s a little secret. It costs companies more money to keep the origins hidden. If the coffee is really good, the brand doesn’t want you to know. If the coffee is really bad, they don’t want you to know because that area is known for bad coffee.

There’s no point keeping a coffee that doesn’t taste very good traceable all the way through because it doesn’t have the value necessary to kind of return on that investment.

So that’s why traceability is a nice little shortcut to quality.

We don’t want to tell you how much to spend on coffee, but a general rule of thumb is if you’re buying from a reputable roaster you’re generally getting better quality, better-tasting coffee, and more of that money is likely to go back to the producer.

That’s why we are explaining how to buy the best coffee. If you know a bit about what to look for you’ll make less mistakes when splurging on a new coffee.

3rd Rule when buying coffee:

Buy seasonally.

Here’s the deal, different countries around the world harvest coffee at different times. This means that the raw coffees are arriving into consuming countries at different times of the year. Keep in mind, raw coffee lasts longer than roasted coffee.

A roaster may carry a coffee anywhere from a few weeks to 8 months. Classically, roasters would carry a coffee all year round, right? They would have a Guatemalan offering 12 months of the year even though for three, four, sometimes five months, that coffee wasn’t very good because the raw coffee was a bit out of date.

The specialty has embraced seasonality, which means that you may only see coffees from certain origins for 6 months out of the year. We’re not going to ask you to pay attention to which country is harvesting when or understand shipping dates and all that stuff. However, look to buy from roasters and coffee shops where they advertise seasonal coffee.

If they’re doing that, if they have different products on the shelf quite often, while that can be initially frustrating, it’s actually a good thing. It means that the raw coffees are nice and fresh, and you’re going to get the best possible experience.

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