Deciding on the right coffee for you

Is coffee just a convenience drink, something you don’t give much thought to, or does it represent a little more than that and what should you consider?

For some of us, coffee is a little more than just ‘coffee’, it’s part of our daily ritual. Often though, we have to strike a balance between our passion and, for want of a better description, convenience. After all, we can’t always have a grinder available, or indeed our bean of choice. It rather depends on where we are and the time we have available. Although, there are some of us that take a more ritualistic approach to their coffee and may not even drink it unless they’ve prepared it.

Here are just a few of the considerations you may want to make, especially if you’re just starting to explore your passion for coffee.

There’s no doubt about it; if you really want a great cup of coffee, you need to choose the bean you like and grind it yourself just before you brew.

That’s passion. Enjoying a cup that much takes planning and preparation; planning because coffee deteriorates once it has been roasted and shipped, so you need to use it regularly so it’s not sitting around for weeks on end slowly oxidizing. Preparation, because with the best coffee, the beans need grinding and then there’s the time for it to brew. Overall, not something you reach for if you are in a hurry, rather something you make time for because you are passionate about what you drink. So, for most of us working types, there needs to be a little compromise somewhere. But where to compromise?

  • Buy the bean or buy the grounds?
  • Buy on-online or buy from the supermarket?
  • Single-origin or blend?

Many coffee connoisseurs would likely faint if you said you buy coffee grounds, but then they have pallets trained to detect the subtle differences – that’s their passion.

Most of us probably couldn’t tell the difference between fresh ground coffee beans and freshly bought coffee grounds (I hear experts fainting again) and even if we can it probably wouldn’t be the biggest problem of the day. What you should know is unless you bought beans from a roaster directly, those beans or grounds maybe a few weeks old already, sometimes much older.

The fact is that coffee roasting brings out the natural coffee oil, which is volatile and is quickly lost or oxidized when exposed to air. As you can imagine, grinding the coffee releases that oil more effectively along with the gasses and natural flavors trapped inside the bean. This means that it spoils easily and quickly and thus should be used immediately. If you’re buying pre-ground coffee and it comes vacuum-sealed, you have longer.

Regardless of whether you buy beans or grounds, you are always going to have a storage issue. The best thing you can do is transfer the coffee into an airtight container of an appropriate size – keep the air in the container to a minimum. Use a smaller container to keep a ‘daily use’ supply, this way you don’t have to keep opening the main supply and exposing it to fresh air. Keep both containers in a cool, dark and dry place. If you buy grounds, this is the best way to keep them. Don’t put your coffee in the freezer. Fridges and freezers are humid (that’s why there’s ice crystals everywhere) and that will damage the coffee further.

Here’s the convenience bit. Nothing quite like picking up whatever you want while in the supermarket or from your favorite local roaster.

Here’s where the compromise can really happen though. How well do you know your supermarket’s coffee supply or it’s own brands – beans or grounds?  Have you noticed that some of the supermarket brands have stopped saying “100% Arabica?” This is because the price of arabica beans has increased over the years and that means less profit for the supermarkets. So what they have done is changed their own brands to a blend of arabica and the cheaper ‘robusta’. If you really want to buy your coffee from a supermarket, ask them about their practices and how long it takes then to get them from roast to the produce aisle. Look them in the eye when you ask, if you are asking the right person, they will know without a doubt, if you can’t find anyone who can answer with certainty, you have your answer.

Ultimately it’s your price, and taste, compromise to make, the supermarkets are already doing it with their own brands.

Single-origin is usually the gourmet, more expensive varieties. Blends can be blends of a single variety such as arabica or a blend of arabica and robusta. Robusta is the cheaper, harsher tasting coffee variety, however, some prefer it because it is more ‘robust’ tasting. Also, you may not know that robusta has around twice the caffeine content of arabica! Just because a coffee is a blend, that doesn’t make it inferior. In the world of wine, blending grape varieties is an art that leads to some of the worlds finest wines. Similarly, with whisky, while single malts command a connoisseur following, there are hugely more terrific blends. Each of us has a different taste pallet to explore – that’s half the fun. Fortune favours the brave where taste is concerned.