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  • Writer's pictureManu

Buy the right coffee - My tips

Updated: Mar 31

Imagine you're in the greengrocer's and looking for a salad. Are the leaves intact and crisp? Is the stalk light in colour? Does it smell fresh? Does the lettuce come from the region and even from organic farming? This is some of the information you can gather from a salad. Without any misleading and outstanding designed packaging - because you only need your nose and your eyes to decide which lettuce to buy.

How do you choose your coffee? Do you do it in a similar way to a salad? This could be tricky, unless you open the coffee bag, put your nose in, take out a few beans and then discard the bad-looking beans. This could be an approach at home after purchase.

In fact, there are some information that we can gather without opening the coffee bag in the shop.

I would now like to present the 6 most important information that you could find on a coffee bag and that will quickly show you how honest and transparent a roastery wants to be with you. Your benefit? You will be able to identify your flavour preferences more quickly and, with a little experience, you will know how to adjust the parameters according to the provided information for your coffee preparation.

1. The Roasting Date

During the roasting process, a natural flavour protector, carbon dioxide (CO2), is produced in the coffee bean. As a rule of thumb, you can assume that you should wait up to 2 weeks on average after roasting before making espresso. During this time, a lot of CO2 degasses from the coffee, which is beneficial because excessive CO2 can restrict the optimal development of flavors. The crema is too dense and the espresso can taste bitter, gassy or carbonated. Coffee beans in an unopened bag can retain most of their flavour for up to 3-4 months. An opened bag should be consumed within a week. You should only fill the bean hopper with the daily consumption of coffee beans. Remember, the packaging is the best home for the coffee and protects it from enemies such as light and oxygen. Without the roasting date, all these considerations would be unnecessary. We remain interested and want to enjoy good coffee. That's why the roasting date is important.

2. The Roast level

Roasting brings out the familiar flavours in coffee. What and how coffee is roasted depends heavily on the roastery's philosophy. To explain the degree of roasting simply, one speaks of 'strength' and 'acidity', which are then indicated on a scale from mild to intense. Another option is to mention the suitable beverage, e.g. 'suitable for espresso', 'suitable for café crème', etc., or to indicate the appropriate preparation methods such as espresso machine, fully automatic machine, mocha, filter, etc. Other roasters directly indicate the degree of roast from light to very dark. This mostly depends which type of consumer a roastery is looking to reach or they just choose their own way to communicate.

For me, the indication of the degree of roast (light to very dark) suffices. When brewing filter coffee, I exclusively opt for light roasts from a single producer. I avoid blends. This choice is driven by my preference for the enzymatic and natural flavors that reflect the distinct characteristics of a coffee. However, when preparing espresso, I transition to medium to dark roasts, which can be from a single producer or a blend sourced from different countries

3. The Producing Country

Ethiopia, Honduras, Indonesia or Brazil? Coffee is grown in more than 80 countries. Over time and with a little experience, you will recognise which producing countries are more suited to your taste preferences. It's also interesting to know where your coffee comes from.

4. The Cooperative and the Producer

Today, at least 125 million people are involved in the cultivation of this natural product and sell at least 165 million bags of 60 kg each year. These may be several farming families working for a co-operative, or producers who buy coffee cherries from independent farmers and process them. There are also producers who grow and harvest their own coffee. If you know who is behind the coffee bean, you can look for background information on the internet, and why not, amaze your guests when serving coffee with a story!

5. The Growing Altitude

Have you heard of highland and lowland coffee? More specifically, the term highland coffee refers to the Arabica plant, which grows on average between 600 and 2,400 m.a.s.l. . The Robusta plant, on the other hand, grows between 0-900 m.a.s.l. and is therefore referred to as lowland coffee. The higher a coffee plant grows, the more acidity is released into the fruit.

6. The processing

The way in which coffee is processed after harvesting gives an idea of how it might taste. This information is generally hard to find in standard coffees. This is where we enter the realm of speciality coffee.

The aim of processing is to dry the coffee beans immediately after harvesting to a residual moisture content of between 10 and 13% in order to prepare them for transport. The two most common processing methods, which are also the oldest, are the natural and the washed method.

In the unwashed method, the coffee cherry is dried in the sun and then hulled. In the washed method, the pulp is first removed with a pulper, the seeds are fermented in water baths, then rinsed with fresh water and laid out to dry in the sun.

As a guide, washed coffee tends to have more acidity and lighter body, while unwashed coffee can be sweeter with a heavier body. However, it doesn't always have to be exactly like this. Always remember that coffee is a natural product.

One more tip

It can be frustrating to stand in front of the shelf in the shop and search in vain for relevant information. Even if you finally find a suitable coffee, the roasting date could be a long time ago. So why not go straight to the source?

There are now roasteries almost everywhere, and they look forward to welcoming curious visitors. My above tips should help you to ask the right questions or to better understand what you are being told. You can also ask for the preparation recipe, and sometimes you even have the opportunity to take a look inside the roastery.

So now you know what to look out for when buying coffee and how it can turn into a real shopping experience!

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