This is the ultimate guide to rule all other coffee guides on buying your coffee beans online.
Coffee, Glorious Coffee!
It’s the golden liquid that gets most of us up in the morning and helps us stay awake during the long working hours.
Believe it or not, Coffee is the MOST consumed beverage on the planet with over 80% of the population consuming it daily. Yep, it beats Beer, Wine and Coca-cola in terms of daily consumption (Water is not classified as a beverage for this study). But despite being so popular, most people cannot even tell you what is in a Flat white, let alone name a common variety of coffee tree.
If you want to learn more about what coffee really is (hint: it ISN’T even a bean) and where it comes from.
And for those of you who are wanting to become their own barista at home, this guide will help you understand where and what coffee you should buy for your home, how to get the best results and how to avoid any online pitfalls.
INDEX OF IMPORTANCE
Before all else, you need to understand that all coffee is not created equally!
Just like cars; which can have four wheels, a steering wheel and gets you from A-B, coffee wakes you up. But we wouldn’t walk into a Rolls Royce dealership and complain about the $500k price tag because we saw a Kia down the road for only $15k. Because we’re educated about cars from birth, we inherently know that the quality of the Rolls is unlike any other car. We may not understand all the ins and outs of every part and feature, but we recognise that the craftsmanship is second to none.
However, with coffee, there hasn’t been ANY education to the public about what drives quality. So I’m going to help change that for you.
PRICE OF COFFEE
Roasted Coffee beans online prices can range from the cheap and nasty to $14kg. So high quality, rare and expensive at over $780 kg. The quality of coffee is nearly always represented within the price. This extreme pricing tells us two things: 1) All coffee isn’t created equal. 2) People will buy just about anything.
What most people don’t know (yes, that even includes all our fancy hipster friends with the stretched earlobes and latte art more complex than their sleeve tattoos) is that coffee quality ranks on a scale of 1-100 (100 being the highest quality). It’s not a linear scale either, it’s an exponential scale, which means it’s a lot harder to get a score of 80 than it is to get a score of 70 and much much harder to get a score of 90!
The problem is that the cupping score is rarely in any descriptions or on any packaging – one of the more important differentiators of coffee quality is not even used!
So how do we tell the difference in quality? Well… the price.
Coffee is always going to give you a hit, but how enjoyable that hit is going to be is directly linked to price. If you can stomach something that resembles flavours of burnt cedar and petroleum, then jump on that $14 coffee.
This coffee has probably got a cupping score around 40.
But if you’re more interested in savouring your coffee from the first sip to last instead of downing it like some dirty cough medicine, you can probably find something great for around $60/kg which will have a cupping score of 80-85.
There is one place where you can see the cupping scores of the coffees, and that’s here at JavaHava's, where you can see the entire range of coffee blends & single origins and other HELPFUL information to make informed decisions. All the coffees on the website are 82+ cupping scores.
KNOWING YOUR ROAST
Now that you understand why coffees vary so widely in price, you need to understand what sort of roast you are going to need. There are three main roast types Light/Medium/Dark and most decent online stores will tell you this information.
Dark Roast coffee
Unless you like the sort of flavours that kick you in the teeth, you should stay away from Dark Roasted coffee. Dark roast is the coffee equivalent of a Well-Well-Well-Done steak. Most people understand that if you want to cook a lousy cut of meat, you cook it for longer and the protein molecules breakdown further and make it less tough to eat. The same rule applies to coffee. A mediocre quality coffee (with a low cupping score of 70 or less) needs roasting for longer. However, just like a steak, dark roasted coffee tastes bland and “roasty” without any of the gorgeous subtle flavours of a medium or light roast.
Dark roasts are still ubiquitous in coffees from USA and Europe and Asia although the shift to medium roast is happening slowly. The variety that was most easily accessible up until about the mid-2000s was Robusta and this is the reason for the popularity of dark roasts (I’ll get to Varieties in more depth later, or you can skip ahead here). Robusta is, as the name suggests, a robust plant that will grow just about anywhere in the world, has a lot of caffeine, will produce a lot of cherries, and is resistant to a lot of diseases and pests. The trade-off, however, is that it tastes very bitter and unpleasant. And as I explained before, the way to counter the awful flavours is to roast it darker.
In the last couple of decades, we discovered that another variety called Arabica tastes so much smoother and has a vast range of natural flavour profiles. Arabica now accounts for 60% of the world’s production, but obviously, there are still varying degrees of quality produced.
Dark roasts are easy to spot when you’re in a cafe because you can see how dark and oily they are in the hopper, but how can you tell when you’re shopping online?
Obviously, you can see if it says Dark Roast like these:
There are other names for dark roasts, and these include Full City, Vienna, French or Italian roasts.
These will usually be cheaper than other coffees because the more expensive the beans, the more you want to keep the original complex flavours and not ruin them with a ‘roasty’ taste.
Medium roast coffee
Medium roast is sometimes also called espresso roast when you’re buying online.
Medium roasted coffee is kind of like the All-rounder of coffee roasts. It’s absolutely perfect for espresso-based drinks but also for other brewing methods such as plunger, filter, cold drip etc. While some people may prefer to make their filter coffee using light-roasted coffee, unless you’re specifically after specific flavours in a filter coffee without milk, medium roasted coffee will still be great.
The natural characteristics of coffee shines through with a medium roast, and you can experience a myriad of different flavours that you won’t find in a darker roast.
If you’re buying coffee online you should be lucky because this type of roast is the most common – but don’t forget that if the price is lower, it means low-quality beans and they will be dark roasts.
Light-roasted coffee is specifically for black coffees with any brew method other than espresso.
For a short time, people went crazy and used light-roasted coffee in their espresso drinks. But, just like Darwin’s theory of evolution, thankfully these guys died out. There is too much carbon dioxide in light roasted coffee and when you apply the pressure of 9 times the earth’s atmosphere, you get a very very sour cup.
No, Light roast should be kept for brewing methods that use natural gravity to extract the flavours from the grind.
So when shopping online, look for FILTER or LIGHT in the roast type if you’re after something for a black coffee made on virtually anything that doesn’t use pressure to extract (exceptions to the rule are Aeropress and Delta press which can still use light roasted coffee although its best to still go for a medium)
Ok, so Now what we’ve learned so far is:
Price = quality – the cheaper the costs the lower the quality and sharper the flavours
Roast type is important to your brewing device.
Since, we now have the right TYPE of roasted coffee, we can begin to match it to our own flavour preferences.
HOW YOU DRINK IT
With or without milk?
This is a very important variable that isn’t often covered online and ought to be. Not every coffee is good in milk and vice versa: not every coffee bean is good as a short black.
Milk has it’s own flavour characteristics so you need to understand that trying to taste jasmine and citrus in a milk-based drink just isn’t going to happen.
You need to be realistic about the flavours you will get after adding milk. For the most part, they are going to be basic and broad characteristics like Caramel, Chocolate, Malt Punchy and on occasion: Berry, fruity.
If you’re drinking it with milk try to avoid floral and citrus flavours because they will often be tasteless and flat or worse, grassy and sour/spicy.
The main flavours you will come across with blends in milk are Chocolate and Caramel. This is a coffee that tastes like sweet and rich buttery chocolate. It cuts through the milk very well and gives that nice punch.