Choosing the right coffee beans might seem like a simple, everyday decision, but in reality, there is a whole range of factors that dramatically affect the flavor of your coffee.
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You’ll need to understand how the roast type, growing altitude, and type of bean will affect your coffee before you can expect to find the perfect brew.
The following list will walk you through the main points to consider on your journey to finding an at-home brew that meets and exceeds your coffee expectations!
1. Arabica vs. Robusta
The first step to brewing coffee is deciding what type of coffee bean you want. There are four main types of coffee beans – Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa.
Liberica and Excelsa are less common due to complex growing requirements. So in this article, we’ll just look at the two main types of coffee beans used for at-home brewing: Arabica and Robusta.
The Arabica coffee bean is the most common type of coffee in North America.
It has a sweeter and more delicate flavor (you may feel some notes of chocolate or fruit while drinking it) that makes it popular with Western coffee drinkers. The Arabica coffee bean’s oil is also generally less acidic (sour).
Here is a fun fact to remember while drinking your coffee: Arabica coffee is thought to be the first species of coffee ever cultivated and it is still the most popular coffee crop grown!
Robusta is the second most common type of coffee bean. It is the most popular coffee bean used in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Robusta beans are known for having an incredibly high caffeine content and are more robust and resilient than Arabica beans. Because Robusta beans are more resilient, they’re easier to grow and harvest than Arabica beans. This makes them a cheaper option.
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They are most commonly used in espressos, inexpensive coffees (instant), or as fillers in dark roasts.
2. Bean origins
A region where your coffee is grown and processed will significantly impact the flavors in the final brew. Coffee generally grows best along the “coffee belt.”
There are multiple locations along this belt that turn out great coffee, but the three major location groups are Latin America, Africa, and India.
While there are several factors that can influence the flavors of each bean, the following generalizations are good points to remember:
- American beans are clean and sweet.
- African beans are fruity and complex.
- Asian beans are earthy and luscious.
3. Blend vs. single-origin
Deciding between single-origin beans or a blend is a decision that divides many coffee drinkers.
As a general rule, most baristas recommend a blend for milk-based coffees like lattes or cappuccino and a single-origin for black coffee. However, this is definitely subject to personal preference, so don’t be afraid to try different options.
Blended coffee usually comprises beans grown from various locations to create a complex and well-balanced coffee. The beans used in a blend are carefully selected to provide a fuller body and flavor profile and are usually made with milk-based beverages in mind.
As you might expect, single-origin coffee is coffee grown in a single geographic location (such as a farm or estate) and enables the drinker to enjoy a more nuanced flavor profile specific to the region.
Single-origin is usually more popular with black coffee or espresso drinkers. The lack of milk enables the drinker to appreciate the single origin’s subtle, complex flavors better as it is not diluted by the taste of milk.
4. Light vs. dark roasts
Now, it’s time to take a look at the difference between the types of roasts. Any type of bean from any region can be roasted at different levels to adjust the taste.
Light roasts tend to have lower acidities and a lower body profile (less flavor). They have a light-brown color that’s similar to cinnamon.
Light roast coffee also offers more antioxidants than darker roasted coffee does.
Medium roasts are medium-brown in color and have acidities in the middle range. They have a fuller body than light roasts but still offer a relatively delicate flavor profile.
Medium roasted coffee is a great middle-ground or starting point for anyone who is unsure about their roast preferences.
Dark roasts are a chocolatey or even blackish color and may even have visible oil around the beans. These are full-bodied beans and may have a slightly bittersweet aftertaste.
Since this type of roast is cooked the longest, coffee’s mass is significantly reduced, making one scoop of dark roast coffee less caffeinated than lighter roasted coffee.
The brewing method you choose will also affect the flavor profile of your beans. So, it is important to keep this in mind while shopping.
Some coffee bean blends are made with specific brewing methods in mind. For example, an espresso roast has been further developed in the roasting process to give a more caramelized bean that tastes best when brewed in an espresso machine. On the other hand, a filter roasted coffee is usually selected to retain more of the sparkling acidity that tastes best in a filtered coffee.
For the best tasting home-brew coffee, you will also need to give some thought to your equipment. For example, if you’re going for a pour-over coffee, you’ll probably do best with a light-medium roast. But you’ll also need the right type of equipment. A gooseneck kettle (like this one from Uno Casa) can make a substantial difference to the temperature and speed at which the water pours over your beans.
Finding the perfect coffee type for your home-brew really comes down to personal preferences at the end of the day. No matter what we (or any other barista) might suggest, the best coffee is always the one you like the most. So start experimenting!