How to Choose the Best Coffee Beans: A Connoisseur's Guide

June 10, 2024



    Choosing the best coffee follows the same rules, no matter the circumstances. Quality and consistency are a cornerstone of any good product, including coffee. However, you have to consider other essential factors when choosing the best coffee.

    For business owners, selecting the perfect coffee makes all the difference in helping your brand stand out. Discover these top 9 expert-recommended factors in choosing the right kind of coffee.

    Top factors to consider when choosing coffee beans

    1. Pick the coffee type

    Interestingly, over 10 different coffee bean varieties exist. However, only 4 varieties–arabica, robusta, liberica, and excelsa, are readily available on the market. Of these 4 varieties, arabica and robusta beans are the most common.

    Arabica coffee beans are synonymous with everyday coffee, whether espresso or specialty coffee drinks. Accounting for nearly 60%-70% of global coffee exports and consumption, Arabica beans are the most popularly sought-after beans.

    Arabica coffee is much sweeter with a balanced profile and pleasant aroma. That cup of cappuccino or Mocha Cookie Crumble Frapuccino you order at Starbucks is made from Arabica coffee. On the other hand, Robusta coffee accounts for nearly 40% of global coffee sales. Other coffees make up less than 1%.

    Boasting twice the caffeine level of arabica, robusta beans are earthier. They also contain more chlorogenic acid and less sugars, explaining their higher caffeine content and somewhat bitter taste. Robusta beans are commonly used in espresso blends (for their rich crema) or instant coffee mixes.

    However, robusta beans are gradually capturing the market as specialty beans, too. Many coffee lovers embrace robusta coffee from Vietnam and Brazil to make specialty drinks, like trendy Vietnamese coffee.

    2. Choose the taste and aroma

    Coffee experts use aroma, body, and acidity to describe the flavors or tasting notes of the beans. Further, these three key descriptors influence your overall coffee-drinking experience. Over 500 coffee flavors exist, ranging from sweet and fruity to nutty and chocolatey.

    • Aroma: describes what the nose picks when you first come in contact with the coffee. Words, such as floral, fruity, chocolatey, and nutty describe the aroma.
    • Body: describes how the coffee feels on the palate, particularly, the weight and texture. Words, such as creamy, light, buttery, and smooth, describe the body.
    • Acidity: describes the quality of the coffee, typically, using words, such as low acidity, dry, tangy, or bright.

    Characterizing the coffee based on flavors allows for an easier coffee-choosing experience. While coffee roasters disclose the flavors of the beans, you can also taste test them out yourself. Coffee cupping is the best way for taste testing.

    3. Identify the coffee’s origin

    The coffee’s geographical origin, bean type, and roasting method, influence the bean flavor. This explains why arabica beans from Brazil taste different from those from Ethiopia. Even Arabica bourbon varietals grown in Tanzania taste different from those growing in Kenya.

    Even coffee grown in the same country but, different farms or fincas will boast their unique flavors. Arabica beans are more delicate and demanding to cultivate. They require specific conditions, growing best at high altitudes of at least 1,840 to 3,600 feet above sea level with minimal rainfall and heat.

    These conditions slow their growing process, offering adequate time for all the sugars to develop. This explains why arabica coffee is much sweeter. On the other hand, the more forgiving robusta grows at much lower altitudes than arabica coffee. While more resistant to diseases and environmental changes, robusta coffee is bitter, earthier, and high in caffeine.

    But, here’s how specific conditions impact the flavors.

    Ethiopian coffee-growing regions are mountainous at extremely high altitudes and with mineral-rich volcanic soils. This is the perfect environment for arabica beans to thrive, explaining why Ethiopian coffee is among the best in the world. 

    Here is a summary of the flavor profile of single-origin beans from various coffee belt regions:

    African coffee

    African beans develop a more fruity taste profile, with varying tasting notes and undertones, depending on the region.

    • Ethiopia arabica: Sweet, floral, rich berry, berry jam, or citrus tasting notes with mild to intense acidity and light to medium body.
    • Tanzania arabica: Sweet, cedar, fruity, or berry-tasting notes with dried fruit, spice, chocolate, or nutty undertones. Bright, wine-like to medium acidity and medium to full body.

    Americas coffee

    Coffee grown in the Americas offers an equally varied flavor profile. Beans from Central America tend to have a brighter floral or fruity profile with brown sugar. Coffee from Latin America has sweet, chocolatey, or nutty flavors. 

    • Hawaiian Kona arabica: Delicate fruity or berry with sweet or spice hints, medium body, low acidity, and ultra-rich aroma.
    • Colombian arabica: Crispier taste with mild fruity, citrus, nutty, or maple-like sweetness, medium acidity, and medium body.
    • Brazilian arabica: Balanced sweet, caramel, or chocolate-tasting notes with a full body and faint acidity.
    • Brazilian robusta: Dark chocolate, cacao, or cherry-tasting notes with earthy undertones, heavy body, and balanced acidity.

    Asian coffee

    Asian beans are rather distinct in every region. Unlike other parts of the coffee belt region, robusta coffee farming has a massive presence in Asia. For instance, robusta makes up about 90% of coffee harvested in Indonesia.

    • Indonesian Sumatran arabica: Sweet with notes of dark chocolate, cocoa, tobacco, earth, smoke, or cedar with medium-tropical fruit acidity and balanced body.
    • Vietnamese robusta: Strong and bold with sweet, nutty, and dark chocolate notes with clean acidity and a full body. 

    4. Consider the processing method

    While this may not be easy with sellers like grocery stores, coffee roasters disclose the coffee’s processing method. It's much easier to trace the origin and processing method for single-origin beans than blends.

    Similarly, you can know the processing method if you opt for ethical coffee with a transparent supply chain. Farmers usually do this crucial coffee-flavor-determining step after green beans are harvested.

    Coffee is typically:

    • naturally processed,
    • washed,
    • or honey-processed.

    Natural (dry) process

    A popular method among small-scale African coffee farmers, this step involves outer skin layer removal from the coffee cherries before sun-drying them.

    As a result, the bean develops an intense fruity and dark berry-like taste. The dry process helps to tone down the coffee’s acidity and enhance its brightness.

    Washed process

    The process is popular among Latin American, Asian, and some African farmers. This process involves soaking and fermenting coffee beans in water for half a day. The soaking and fermenting remove the outer skin before the beans can be sun or mechanically-dried. 

    After up to 10 days of drying, the coffee develops a crisp taste with more acidity. The washing process also gives the coffee a stone fruit to citrus taste with sweet floral undertones.

    Honey process

    Popular among Central American coffee farmers, this process keeps the honey-like outer layer of the coffee intact.

    In the honey process coffee seeds are removed before the drying process. As a result, coffee beans develop a honey-like sweetness with a wide range of taste notes and aromas.

    5. Green vs freshly roasted coffee beans

    Some people prefer to roast their beans while others prefer pre-roasted coffee. Whether you choose green or roasted beans, you must pay attention to the quality. Selecting high-quality coffee ensures the best flavor and overall drinking experience.

    When choosing green coffee, consider the following factors:

    • Supply chain tracking: This doesn't just ensure you purchase fairtrade and ethical coffee, it guarantees quality and freshness. Being able to trace the supply chain can tell you where and when the coffee was harvested.
    • Trace the origin: The origin of the green coffee tells its full story. You can find out its growing region, climate, soil type, altitude, and processing method. These factors play a massive role in the overall coffee’s quality and taste. For instance, Hawaiian Kona or Panamanian Gesha coffee offers better quality than other regular Central American arabica varieties. Similarly, arabica coffee growing in volcanic and higher altitude mountainous areas of Mt.Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), Mt Kenya, and Sidamo region (Ethiopia) offer strikingly delicious flavors. Some coffee sellers establish direct trade relationships with farms, allowing for even more direct tracing. Single-farm, single-origin coffee beans offer their unique flavors.
    • The appearance: The best way of examining coffee quality is to do it physically. A visual check for uniform shape and size with no deformity confirms your coffee’s quality. Consistently sized coffee with no deformities ensures each bean is roasted equally. In this way you don't end up with burnt or under-roasted parts of the coffee–ensuring a consistent flavor. Further, ensure coffee beans look dry with no mold build-up - a clear sign of proper processing, transportation, and storage.

    6. Understand the roast levels

    If you opt for pre-roasted coffee beans, learn how to distinguish the roast levels. Each roast level tells a deeper story. From the coffee taste to suitable brewing methods, picking the right roast levels ensures a pleasant coffee-drinking experience. Most roasters offer 5 key roast levels. 

    Light roast

    Light roast coffee has the shortest roasting duration, typically, done after the first crack (with an internal temperature of 356 to 401 degrees Fahrenheit or 180 to 205 degrees Celsius). Also known as the cinnamon, Half-City, or New England Roast, light roast coffee doesn’t develop its full flavors. 

    Since they don’t complete the full chemical reaction and oxidize all the sugars, they retain their natural flavor profiles. They tend to have fruity to citrusy flavors and more acidity. However light roasts are the best options for sampling single-origin coffee as they retain their natural flavors. 

    Unlike popular belief, light roasts have a higher caffeine content than dark roasts. After all, the shorter tasting period doesn't oxidize all the compounds, including the chlorogenic acids (caffeine source).

    Our tip: Choose the matching grind for single-origin light roasts to the brewing method. Light roasts are best brewed using drip coffee brewing methods, pour-over, Chemex coffee maker, or French press (ideal for medium grind (coarse) coffee).

    Medium roast

    Medium roast coffee undergoes a slightly longer roasting process, after the first crack and right before the second crack. Medium roast coffee beans reach an internal temperature of 410 to 428 degrees Fahrenheit (210 to 220 degrees Celsius). 

    Also known as American or City Roast, most house or breakfast blends are medium roast beans. Medium roast coffee beans have more depth, but, lower acidity than light roasts. They are also great for everyday consumption as they develop a more balanced profile.

    Medium dark roast

    Medium dark roasts are ready after the second crack and develop an internal temperature of 437 to 446 degrees Fahrenheit (225 to 230 degrees Celsius). Medium dark roasts undergo a slightly intense chemical reaction, leaving a dark color and some surface oils.

    The longer roasting also gives them more body and a slightly bittersweet taste. Further, medium-dark roasts have a full body and less acidity. Also known as light French or light espresso roasts, they are ideal for espresso lovers who want less intense flavors.

    Medium dark roasts can also serve as everyday coffee for coffee lovers who prefer stronger and more intense flavors. 

    Fun fact: Medium roasts are sometimes known as Full City or Vienna Roast.

    Dark roast

    Dark roast coffee takes the longest roasting period, developing visible oils due to high temperatures. Dark roast options reach internal temperatures of up to 482 degrees Fahrenheit (250 degrees Celsius). Dark roasts break down all their organic coffee compounds due to the high temperatures.

    This, in turn, gives them their smoky and bold, but, smoother taste. However, since they caramelize their sugars, dark roasts become sweeter than other roasts. Unfortunately, their compound breakdown loses their natural flavor profile.

    So, it may be unwise to dark roast single-origin coffee since you won't get any of the original flavors. Instead, dark roasts are great for blends and espresso preparation or specialty drinks, like cappuccino and lattes.

    Additionally, dark roast beans have less caffeine than other other roasts. This is because they break down their chlorogenic acid during the high-temperature roasting. So, you can take a shot of espresso without worrying about caffeine overload.

    Dark roasts are sometimes known as French, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Dark French, or Heavy Roasts, depending on their internal temperature upon roasting completion.

    In addition to understanding the roast, trace your supplier's roast date. Roasted coffee can keep good for up to a year when sealed in a bag or months after opening. However, their peak freshness only lasts 5 to 30 days!

    Small-batch coffee roasters only roast what they can sell, ensuring customers always get fresh lots.

    7. Ground, whole bean coffee, or both?

    When choosing good coffee beans, consider which one appeals to you - whole bean, ground, or both. Whole beans take slightly longer to degas, so they stay fresh for longer. The best whole bean coffee can hold the flavors and aroma for up to a month after roasting.

    Additionally, whole bean coffee gives you the freedom to determine the grind level. Remember, the ground level influences brew methods. For instance, fine ground coffee is best for espresso machines while coarse grinds are better for French press.

    The reason for this is that the rapid extraction technology of the espresso machine may not adequately extract coarsely ground coffee. This can result in a watered-down espresso. French press’s longer extraction period can over-extract finely ground coffee. As a result, you can end up with bitter-tasting coffee.

    On the other hand, the freshness clock starts ticking as soon as you grind coffee.

    This means that ground coffee has a much shorter freshness window than whole beans. However, they are a convenient option for frequent coffee drinkers or those looking for everyday coffee.

    Using pre-ground beans also means you don't have to invest in additional equipment, like an expensive grinder. In addition to the shorter freshness window, you need to be specific when choosing pre-ground coffee.

    This also means that a single bag may not suffice if you want to enjoy brewing coffee beans in different methods. You may have to invest in multiple bags with different grind levels.

    8. Single origin vs blend

    Single-origin coffees refer to coffee that can be traced to a specific region, cooperative, or farm. Single-origin coffee is great for when you want to explore and sample beans from particular regions. For instance, a true coffee lover won't use Panamanian Gesha to make espresso or a cappuccino.

    Single-origin beans are best enjoyed through a brewing method that accentuates their characteristics. These include pour-over, drip, aeropress, and French presses. On the other hand, blends with multiple-origin beans (usually untraceable) are selected by brands or roasters to achieve specific flavors or profiles.

    Coffee blends give you the freedom to enjoy your coffee how you want to. A good example are blends made for espresso. Espresso beans tend to incorporate dark-roasted arabica mixed with robusta beans. Espresso blends aim to offer that bold, smoky, and strong profile with a rich crema.

    While arabica beans offer the flavors, robusta beans create the creamy and smooth crema.

    9. Check the pricing

    Whether investing in wholesale or retail, how much coffee costs can tell you more. Like any product, you want to source for the best fair price. However, don't settle for extremely low prices as this can be an indicator of non-ethically sourced beans. 

    If the prices are below average, there's a likelihood of unfair practices within the supply chain. And the victims? The small-scale farmers and laborers. On the other hand, higher prices than average can indicate higher quality coffee or a rip-off.

    How to choose the best coffee beans to sell

    Are you embarking on a private label coffee selling business or want to improve an existing one? Here’s how you can improve your brand and attain more success.

    Are you a microniche or all-rounder?

    Deciding this can help you figure out the direction and investment for your business. Do you intend to sell green or roasted beans? Whole, ground, or both? Curate your blends or highlight the best single-origin beans from various regions.

    Do your due diligence

    As a business owner, you want to let your customers know you are ethical and responsible. Make sure to conduct thorough research on the coffee you plan to sell.

    Opt for fair trade, certified organic, and sustainable beans with a traceable supply chain. This doesn't only ensure you support sustainable and earth-preserving farming practices.

    Choose the right supplier or dropshipper

    Find out their reputation, sample their coffee quality, and check delivery consistency. Successful private label brands usually stand out by differentiating themselves from other similar brands. To achieve this, ensure your supplier facilitates special accommodations and customization needs. Suppliers, such as Supliful, are great for coffee sellers who want to stand out through branding and product quality.


    Customize & Sell Private Label Products