Coffee is one of the most complicated beverages you can consume with more than 800 volatile aroma compounds. Aroma is the primary influencer of taste in coffee, sensed by smelling with the nose as well as via retronasal sensations (when the coffee has been swallowed and the volatile compounds drift upward into the nasal passage).
Only when coffee is handled well from harvest to brewing, will it reach its full aromatic and flavor potential. For this reason, it is important to:
- Buy whole bean coffee. Whole bean coffee keeps better and gives you fresher aromas and flavors if you brew right away after grinding.
- Buy coffee that is roasted by a company that demonstrates expertise in roasting. A good roaster will coax the most out of their beans without over-roasting.
- Talk to the purveyor. Shops that stock good coffee likely love to talk about it and should be more than happy to answer any of your questions and guide you to a few good bags to try.
- In our experience, single origin beans (from a single plantation or a single region) offer a great opportunity to taste a high quality bean that has been carefully roasted. Blends, on the other hand, tend to have bolder profiles and may include beans that didn’t make the cut for the special single varietal roastings (not bad! – just different).
- Check the roast date. Many of the best roasters will provide a roast date. Some old school (and still excellent roasters) will not. We like roast dates more than “Best Before” dates which are arbitrary and do not provide any real information about the freshness of the coffee.
- For lighter roasts, we like to brew within four weeks following roast date. Darker roasts seem to hold up a bit better and we’ve had good luck brewing them into the second month after roasting. It all comes down to a slow loss of complex aromatics and flavors over time and exposure. Some modern packaging techniques can slow the process, but there are arguments for and against the efficacy of that packaging. The trend in brewing is certainly in the direction of fresher coffee, but some folks whose palates we trust also prefer older beans where the edgier aromas and flavors have softened a bit. As with most food and drink, there’s plenty of room to find your own preferences – these are our preferred guidelines, but we encourage you to come up with your own!
If you follow these suggestions, you’re certain to purchase a good bag or can of coffee. Now all you need to do it brew it well. For more information, visit our Coffee Education page.
Want to learn more about coffee?
Lucky you! We have a whole education section dedicated to coffee. Go ahead, get nerdy with us, we won’t judge!