KNOW YOUR METHODOLOGY - HOW DO YOU INTEND TO BREW YOUR COFFEE?
Knowing what method you will be brewing your coffee and how you take your coffee is a great place to start when trying to decide which coffee beans to buy online. Whether it will be a French-press, pour over, espresso, your standard at-home coffee machine, or even an outdoor aeropress on the go, learning how different coffees will brew using different methods will help you select the best coffee to suit your taste preferences.
Different beans, origins, and roasts are best suited to different methods, for instance: Washed Colombian coffees with deep notes of chocolate and caramel will be great as a French press and will stand up to a good splash of your favorite milk. While lighter roasted coffees with more “exotic” tasting notes such as a washed Ethiopia or Kenya will be better suited to more technical filter methods such as pour overs and Aeropress. Balanced blends and single origins with more traditional and robust flavor notes will offer more versatility across multiple brewing methods.
Also, it will be important to know if you plan on adding milk or milk alternatives. Traditionally, blends will be your best bet to pair with a milk as well as single origins aka “batch brew coffees” with notes of chocolate, caramel, and nuts. If you prefer your coffee with milk added, it’s better to stay away from acidic coffees like those from Kenya or “citrusy” coffees as they are better off enjoyed as is. Knowing how you will be brewing your coffee and how you prefer to drink it will help you decide which coffee to buy online and will also help your local barista or roaster point you in the right direction when asking them for recommendations.
CHOOSING A SPECIALITY COFFEE ROASTER
With so many coffee roaster options out there selling coffee beans online, and most shipping all over the country and even internationally, it’s always good to look for a few of these key indicators to help you decide: roasting facilities, having reputable customers, and location. Coffee being roasted in their own roasting facilities will provide transparency and easier access to asking questions about a coffee or a certain roast type. A simple web search and visit to their website should provide a look into their roasting practices. Also you can use Instagram, and other social media outlets to dive a bit deeper into the authenticity of the roasting operation. Next, look for any reputable wholesale customers they supply and satisfied online customer reviews that the coffee roaster displays on their information pages and online review platforms like Yelp, Google, and other social media pages . Another important factor when deciding between which coffee roaster to buy coffee beans online from is location. Coffee being shipped locally will always be fresher but if you are getting your coffee shipped across states, make sure they are using expedited shipping methods to ensure your coffee beans are arriving as soon as possible to ensure freshness, usually within 2-4 days. Knowing where your coffee is being roasted and by who, will provide you with a better sense of where your coffee is coming from and make for a better purchase experience.
BLENDS VS SINGLE ORIGINS
A coffee blend is made when beans from different countries or regions are combined or “blended” to achieve a desired flavor and body. Creating blends usually require lengthy experimentation of different origins and how they interact with each other. Blends also require examining the roast profile solubility and ratios of each coffee in the blend to achieve a desired taste. Blends are usually complex, rich, and heavier in body and based around creating consistency for a familiar taste profile.
If you aren’t sure which coffee beans to order online in the beginning of your search, we’d recommend starting with coffee that has familiar notes of chocolate, caramel, toasted nuts, and cocoa. The CRR Venice Blend with its approachable flavor notes of caramel and toasted nuts and Award Winning Brunswick Blend with its balanced notes of chocolate, toasted almonds, and berries are both go-to blends across many brewing methods and hold up as is or with milk very well. If you are just starting out in specialty coffee and aren’t sure about a “lighter” roast, the CRR Darkside Blend offers a steady medium-heavy coffee with familiar roasty and dark chocolate notes you’ll find in your classic ‘cup of joe’.
Single origins are coffees that are from one particular lot, farm or region. These are left untouched to shine in the cup alone as their producer intended. Single origins are often unique in taste and can show off a region's coffee growing terroir in the cup. With single origins, no two are the same year-to-year because of the different environmental variables that come with coffee farming. Because they usually come from a unique farm or location, Single Origin coffees can be a celebration of a particular coffee, its history, and how it was produced. If you enjoy exploring different coffees or feeling adventurous, looking for single origins with notes that you wouldn’t associate with your “traditional” coffee is great way to expand your palate and experience flavors from the many different growing regions.
WHICH SINGLE ORIGIN SHOULD I CHOOSE?
There are now thousands of coffee growing regions around the world, with new ones appearing each year. All these different countries and origins can seem a little overwhelming and it can be hard to decide which coffee region is your favorite because even coffee from the same region can end up tasting very different because of the unique coffee varieties being grown, processing methods being used, and regional microclimates. As a starting point I recommend to our customers to begin with the renowned coffee producing nations. Some of these that come to mind would be Colombia, Ethiopia and Brazil. These are good starting points because you will begin to identify the different nuances, general flavors and undertones unique to each of these countries' coffees.
COFFEE PROCESSING: WASHED VS NATURAL
When you are buying coffee online you will notice different types of ‘processing’ displayed on the packaging of most specialty coffee. The coffee processing method is related to how the cherry that contains the “coffee bean” is treated after harvest. The two most common are ‘washed’ or ‘wet processing’ and ‘natural’ or ‘dry processing’. Another common method is known as ‘semi washed’ or ‘honey processing’ which is a combination of the two. (and no, bees and honey are not involved!)
Natural or dry processed coffees are dried in the full cherry prior to de-pulping, whereas washed coffees are dried in the parchment without the cherry. Washed coffees or wet processed coffees are de-pulped then fermented and finally washed clean prior to drying. Honey-processed coffees are depulped but allowed to dry without washing leaving a sticky mucilage reminiscent of honey.
Natural coffees tend to have more fruit and ‘earthy’ fermented flavors because the bean has more time to interact with the natural sugars from the cherry. Producers will carefully dry naturals, turning them often and removing over-ripe cherries by hand, to avoid sour notes once roasted.
Washed coffees are prized for their clean and delicate clarity. Removing all of the cherry prior to drying allows the flavors of the bean to shine through clearly without anything holding them back. Fruit notes are still found in washed coffees, however, fermented notes and berry notes are less common.
Whether it's delicate or bold, I encourage all coffee drinkers to experiment with all processing methods as you will be able to experience the different flavor potentials coffee can offer.
WHAT ROAST LEVEL SHOULD I BUY: LIGHT, MEDIUM OR DARK?
Roasting profile information can be misleading as there is no standard unit of measurement being used and it can change depending on the philosophy of the roaster. A dark roast with one particular roaster could be considered a medium roast with another, depending on their roasting style or personal preference. So what’s correct? It's a very subjective topic and really there is no right or wrong. At CRR, we roast each coffee to best suit that particular bean's characteristics. Each coffee has a different size, shape, moisture content, and therefore roasting profile. We feel if it’s a deeper heavier flavor you are seeking, experiment with different origins roasted “medium” or “dark”, don’t just look for the “darkest” roast to try and achieve this. We believe coffee origins that are roasted darker than they should, can result in a hollow, smoky, ‘roasty’ cup, instead of a balanced, flavorful cup displaying all the beautiful characteristics of that origin. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your roaster via message or email and ask them about their roasting profiles. Again, this helps if you have chosen a reputable roastery with a support team you can speak with like we have at Common Room Roasters.
IS ROAST DATE IMPORTANT?
Over the past decade or so, the displayed roast dates of coffees have become more important and crucial in getting the right coffee for the right use. Once a coffee has been roasted, it needs 2-3 days to “settle down” after the roasting process, which involves letting it rest and de-gas, which will allow the coffee to develop into the optimal flavor of that origin. As we mentioned, once you know what brewing method that coffee be used for, it’s a lot easier to drink the coffee at its peak for that method. For instance, if you are using the coffee for pour-over, 3-6 days after roasting is ideal. However if you are using it for espresso 7-14 days when the coffee has settled even further will make it easier to dial-in and produce consistent shots. If your coffee has aged a while (3-4 weeks or more), making cold brew is a great option as the steeping time is considerably longer. As a general rule, coffee 3 to 15 days off roast (and even a bit longer if properly stored) will be the best time to use your coffee for peak flavor.
IS PRE-GROUND COFFEE OK?
The flavor of the coffee beans is mostly contained in the oil that the roasting process creates. These oils are safely stored inside the beans until the moment of grinding. Once ground, the oils are exposed to the outside air and begin evaporating and drying out. At CRR, we only sell our coffees as whole beans but we will grind them upon request for retail customers in the roastery. If you are buying pre-ground coffee, we encourage you to use the coffee quickly before the oils dry out and the flavor begins to fade. Ideally, coffee should be ground only a few minutes prior to use. When freshly ground coffee and a pre-ground coffee (at 24hrs old or longer) are compared side by side, the difference in brightness and flavor is quite obvious to even a novice coffee taster.
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BUYING COFFEE ONLINE: FIND WHAT WORKS BEST FOR YOU
Buying coffee online can be as simple or intricate as you want it to be. If you find a blend or single origin that fits your coffee needs and enjoy consistency with your cup, then sticking to a flagship blend or year-round offering may work best for you. If you like experimenting with different brew methods, prefer variety in your cup, and enjoy exploring coffee with “wild” flavors with different processing methods and origins, then switching up your coffee each purchase or signing up for a rotating coffee subscription may be your best strategy. Trying new blends and single origins over time will keep your coffee rotating and eventually help you hone in on your preferred origins or flavor profiles. You may find that a certain blend works great in your home coffee machine while a unique single origin is better as a pour over but whatever you discover, know that coffee is a never ending source of exploration and experimentation and that finding a reliable coffee roaster online can be a great way to enjoy your journey into specialty coffee.
Shop Common Room Roasters specialty coffee and buy coffee beans online from the Common Room Roasters online shop